The Dogs We Run For

I made it about a month, quitting in the middle of what should have been a 12-mile trail run in Valley Forge National Park. I startled a deer, then stopped to walk, then buried my face in my hands. Why am I out here? Why even bother?

So I didn’t. Instead, I focused on another big change: I sold my house. That meant disassembling my life and packing up the things that had surrounded me in my house for almost a decade, including my dog’s favorite toy and blanket and the sweatshirt I was wearing as I held her when she died.

I found a short-term rental next to the ocean in Cape May, N.J., and instead of running, I wrote, I read and cross-stitched while watching old movies on Turner Classic Movies. I let myself sleep. I gave myself permission to do very little because sometimes just getting through the day and remembering to eat took up most of the energy I had.

The sun grew stronger, the days longer. I started walking: first, short walks on a still-cold beach. Then to the grocery store. Then the gym, where I told myself to do something with weights for 10, then 15, then 20 minutes.

I ran — slowly — to do errands instead of logging predetermined miles: getting cash at the A.T.M., running to the post office a mile away to mail a bill instead of dropping it in the mailbox near me.

I did this to remind myself that I could still do it, and entered a few races: a 10K, a 10 miler, two half marathons. Sometimes those races were the only miles I’d run that week, and I often felt lumpy, fat and slow.

I finished far from my best time at those races, but I finished. They were small wins, but I took them, and treated them as the victories they were.

This summer I hit the road. The plan was to see the 18 states I hadn’t been to yet, aiming for the goal of visiting all 50 by Labor Day. I hiked a lot, but I also ran in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii. I ran a firecracker four-miler in Denver on the Fourth of July, then won second in my age group in a women’s race in…

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