On the Run: Do this for you
By Alexis Mercer
Seven years ago Megan Freudigmann and I were together, enjoying a playdate for our kids. All six of them jumping on the bounce house in our front yard. Shrieking, laughing and loving each others’ company.
This gave Megan and me the chance to take a few breaths and have an actual adult conversation - something hard to come by with our busy work and family schedules.
The lack of time to do anything, absolutely anything, for ourselves came up. (Let me be clear from the start - we were both grateful for the blessings of our children, supportive husbands and helpful families, we just struggled to prioritize ourselves.) We were in the same boat. Feeling like the part of ourselves had been temporarily paused due to the season of life we were in.
In the course of the conversation, Megan spoke words to me that changed my life beginning that very day. “It is not just ok, but necessary, to take care of yourself.”
Kids immediately demanded our full attention, but after the Freud family packed up and went home that day and my own kids were in bed, I was able to process that conversation. I made a decision that I would not just look for the time, but prioritize the time for me. Because if I didn’t, I knew those temporarily misplaced parts of me would get buried deeper and deeper and eventually become unrecoverable.
So I dug out my running shoes. Neither of my pregnancies allowed me the ability to run. The shoes were dusty and unfamiliar. But they were waiting for me, ready to start from scratch. Loyal.
Slowly, painstakingly I worked my way back to being a runner. Some days ten minutes was all I could squeak out of the day. But every single time I felt better for it. Healthier. Stronger. Ready to take on the challenges of the day.
Fast forward to summer of 2021. Running is the thing I have carefully tended to for myself. One foot in front of the other. Through raising kids, surviving a pandemic, navigating the re-entry into a new school year, all the ups, all the downs: running has been my time to just be me. To process and to feel alive. (Granted often through wheezing breaths and aching muscles, but truly alive.) It is now what I confidently can say is for me. So I can best serve and love those around me.
“Let’s run a race” was what David Bailey and I said to Megan after the two of us completed the Sunrise Half Marathon at Higgins Lake in June.
“But I don’t run anymore,” Megan replied.
“There’s no time like the present,” we gently persuaded.
“Do this for you,” I mirrored back to her, all these years later.
Every few days we checked in with each other. We are spread out with Megan in Grand Rapids, David in Kentucky (though often traveling around the world) and me in Newaygo. Through text we sent photos of our training, reminded each other how many days were left, joked and laughed.
Megan bought new shoes.
“Do you think I need new shoes?” she asked, “they’re from before I had Kirra” (her daughter who is a freshman).
Persistently Megan made time for herself. Sometimes at 10:00 at night (until the three coyotes were roaming the streets of her neighborhood, then she stuck to day runs). Sometimes between work and chaperoning school trips for her kids - changing in a 3 minute window of time - but getting it done.
David travels. His goal is to visit each of the National Parks. Since June his travels bounced him from Cincinnati to Philadelphia to North Carolina to Northern Michigan to Yosemite to Mount Tremblant, Quebec, to Georgia to Raven Cliff Falls to Austin to San Antonio, back to Cincinnati to West Virginia to the Appalachian Trail to Tennessee to Indianapolis to Kentucky (and I’m sure I have missed a few locations). With a job that is flexible and work-from-home, though transitioning back to some days in office, he has taken the pandemic to explore the world.
“I don’t train,” he says in a text thread one day.
“So I’ll beat you again?” I reply.
“I mean I do 5 miles a day” (as he is in elevation).
“Oh. So yah, I’ll lose.” I sigh.
Developments and changes in work requirements afforded David the flexibility to travel and explore. So now his dilemma has come down to knowing when to say no to honor his own well-being. Too busy is still too busy regardless of circumstance.
We boarded a plane on Thursday, November 18 in Grand Rapids, ready for our races on Saturday. I looked at my friends who I have known and loved since I moved to Roscommon at the age of 5, and we knew that we had already won. That crossing our respective finish lines would be icing on the cake.
By setting the goal to run, prioritizing our health and well-being, and completing the training necessary to be physically able to run an 8k or half-marathon (or both), we had already won.
Megan and I had arranged for our collective seven kids to be with dads and grandparents for the long weekend. David had finagled multiple fights to get back to a Sunday family Thanksgiving in Northern Michigan. Our busy lives had been aligned for this exciting weekend together.
The weekend included a line around an entire city block waiting to get into the expo (but we got to see Meb Keflezighi and Aliphine Tuliamuk!!!), exploring the city, staying with my sister and her family, and laughing. So much laughing.
Thirty-one degrees at 6:00 in the morning made David and me question our life choices - but once the horn went off and we started out running toward the capitol building, we thawed out and smiled once again. Running down Walnut with the crowd cheering our names (which were on our bibs) and the excitement of the race in person has a rush of adrenaline that overrode the fatigue of our lungs and muscles.
Megan (and David - yes he ran both races...he is a machine) toed the line for the 8K. Her first race of any distance since a 5K at Hope College in 2014 (but before then 1998 - a freshman at Hope). Her goal? To finish and enjoy the experience.
My sister, her kids and I stood near the finish line and had to rush to get our cameras out because Megan and David got to our location nearly 5 minutes earlier than anticipated!
Running these races was so much more for all three of us than the physical race. It was every mile, every step, from the day we committed to doing it - it was about our friendship - a rare and beautiful blessing we do not take for granted, 35 years and counting.
It was about giving ourselves the precious gift of time. One mile at a time. One step at a time.
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