by Mark Gallagher
“Clock's ticking Not giving her room to breathe...Loves screaming Loves missing Loves screaming So quietly and in pain” Iggy Pop croons through my earbuds as my eyes well up with tears. The burning in my calves, and the tightness in my chest is a distant memory. I’m having trouble seeing the rocks and roots in front of me, but it is like I’m not even running. My mind is back in the days leading up to when I had to suddenly and unexpectedly say goodbye to my dog, Mischa.
This all happened 5 weeks before I planned on running NJ Trail Series One Day. The race was 24 hrs around a mile paved loop. Typically in the weeks leading up to a big race I focus on my nutrition, familiarize myself with the race course, imagine the highs & lows I’ll experience. This time was different though...I was more in a state of shock with waves of sadness. I did my preparation for the race, but it was more just something I had to do.
I had to give up my dog, because she wasn’t able to adjust to our daughter. She was 11 years old, and settled in her ways. I did everything I could to make it work, but sometimes the pieces don’t fit no matter how hard we force them. I had decisions to make that squarely fell on my shoulders. I needed to not only do what was best for my daughter, but also for my sweet dog who had been with me since she was 8 weeks old. No one was short on offering their opinion. Sometimes it was helpful while other times it was hurtful.
There was one person who didn’t offer me an opinion. Michele. When she sent me my final training plan before One Day she said “Do what you can, maybe it will give you some peace.. but I know there aren't words for it as a dog lover myself”. It was a small gesture, but I teared up. It was one of the few instances that someone had not suggested what I do. I know she wants to see us do well in our races, but she also understands that life sometimes trumps running. I’d be lying if I said that getting up early in the morning to do speed work gave me peace. It didn’t.
What did give me peace though was going into the woods by myself and letting the different emotions come over me. Sometimes they were happy emotions, other times they were painful, sometimes they were blank. I’m not sure exactly what it is I went through. There is probably some sort of explanation that involves different synapses firing and chemicals being released, but I would (and still do) disassociate for a period of time. I am hyper focused on my foot placement, but also letting my body do the work. My mind is flooded with memories, but I’m also acutely aware of my surroundings. At some point I come back to reality and I feel some sense of relief, which I guess is some type of peace.
I still think of Mischa during every long run, and I still feel that sense of loss. Despite feeling my loss I have found a sense of peace. Michele was right. At no point did I put on my running shoes and say to myself “Ok, today you’ll go out and feel better” it happened by giving myself a space to move and feel my emotions. Having that space allowed me to come home and be a better husband and father to my daughter.