On November 6, 2005, I ran my first marathon—the New York City Marathon. 81 days before, I lost my 30 year old brother, Michael, to suicide. I was somewhat new to running—so 26.2 miles sounded close to impossible, especially considering I was in a catatonic state and had all I could do to put two feet on the floor every day and face a world that knew my brother took his own life (a societal taboo).
The NYC Marathon was a profound experience. I ran the whole thing with tears streaming down my face, in inhaler in one hand and a picture of Michael in the other—in a plastic bag—so that I didn’t ruin on of my favorite pictures of him. I had so much love and support from friends along the streets of NYC. It was moving, but none of them could even comprehend what it was like to have a sibling die the way Michael did (thank God).
I finished NYC. I had a hard time running after that—bouts of disbelieve, grief and overwhelming sadness kept me from lacing up, day-after-day. Do you know how hard it is to run and cry? I had to learn how to live without one of my best friends, my brother. I lived in a bubble and surrounded myself with people who didn’t ask questions or want me to explain why my brother did what he did—wish I knew. It took me a little while to move from that state of shock to ‘toe the line’ again and run a race—one year and 11 months later, to be exact. On October 28, 2007, I ran my second marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon. I ran this with the mindset of, “because Michael quit.” I don’t feel that way anymore, but it took me many years to realize he didn’t quit. He just couldn’t deal.
Running became my healing journey. I slowly ramped back into a schedule and found myself running marathons again—one in the spring, one in the fall (back then, that felt so daring…TWO a year, gasp). I had Reilly in 2009, and was back out doing 26.2 eight months later. I started focusing on speed and began dreaming of a BQ (a Boston Qualifying race time to have the privilege of running the most elite race in the world, the Boston Marathon). I started running way outside of my comfort zone, and in the fall of 2011, I PR’d at the Philadelphia Marathon with a 3:58. I also ended up with a severe hamstring injury and subsequently, two years of being down from running because my injury was so bad. I couldn’t even pull my leg forward comfortably to walk.
I came back (again), on November 16, 2014 and ran the Bucks County Marathon—literally, in my back yard. If I was going to bail and DNF, I was minutes from home. It was then I decided to stay ‘tuned up,’ so I decided to do another race two weeks later, the Rehoboth Beach Marathon. This was the pivotal race that brought me into the 50-state frenzy! I was having a bad day on the course (not fueled properly and something didn’t agree with me), and literally just wanted to walk off and DNF. I ran into another Marathon Maniac (my running club), and I asked for directions to the finish line. The course was several ‘out and backs,’ so I knew my car parked at the finish line was not far. He asked if I was okay, I said yes. He asked if I needed a medical tent, I said no. He then told me he’d ‘…show me the way’ to the finish line—and that we had 15 more miles to go. We spent the next 2+ hours talking about his 50-state journey and races he had run–oh the experiences. It was then I knew I wanted to do what Mike did—run with purpose and run a marathon in all 50 states. I definitely needed a goal like this (said no one ever). I finished Rehoboth Beach revived and ready to conquer. I even have a picture of Mike and my finish on my running wall to remind me of this moment!
I shared the idea with Nish (hoping he wasn’t going to be like, “are you kidding me”)—who was eager, excited and supportive—and we were on our way to going to all 50 states and me running a marathon in every single one, as a family. I needed this ‘release’ so much because it stopped my mind from wandering into “why’d he do it” to “get these half marathoners out of my way, 10 more miles, water in 2 miles, salt pill in one…walk through next drink station, run through one after that…” Running marathons at this volume required focus on something other than the ‘why.’ It almost trained me to not think about it all the time.
Rehoboth Beach Marathon was Marathon #13 and state number 6—it took me 3 years and 10 months to run 44 marathons to complete all 50 states. I went from running because Michael quit…to running for Michael…to running for me. For every state that I have run, there is a duplicate medal for my brother’s grave. There are 50 medals ready for his grave to add to the collection that is already there in St. Mary’s on the Lake Cemetary in Skaneateles, NY.
I finished my 50 states. This has been an incredible journey, and I am so fortunate to not only have the support and resources to do something like this (there are a lot of hotel points and frequent flyer miles that have been used over the years), but the ability to put my energy and focus into doing something that I love so much.