By Lisa Hatfield
If someone had told 20 year old me I would be a runner someday, I would have had a really good laugh. You see, I played volleyball, softball and a little bit of basketball in high school but I was always dead last doing laps around the field before practice. I hated running and when I got out of high school I was glad I would never have to do that again. Then came law school. Major life stress #1!
By the time I got to law school, I had developed a full time smoking habit. I wasn’t a bad kid. In fact, I was so embarrassed by my own choice that I hid it as much as possible. It was my stress release, or so I thought. But really, it was an addiction. While in law school, I met Debbie. Debbie liked to run. Debbie said running reduced stress. Debbie was persistent. And so, I took my first voluntary run with Debbie. I remember taking those first steps and thinking I would be lucky to make it a mile. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other and something miraculous happened. The sky went gray, the raindrops came, and I found my motivation to get home! Having made it two miles on my first try, I decided to try again, and then again and again. Before I knew it, Debbie had me signing up for my first 5K. And so began my love of the finish line. I began to enter a lot of 5Ks, and I found myself running after class to train and make sure I could complete them. And then came the day I went further. I had a particularly tough law school final. I came home, put on my shoes, and set out to release the stress of the day. One mile turned into two, two turned into three, and three turned into the entire path that ran through our neighborhood. Before I knew it, my 5K became 5 miles! It was then that I thought, “Wow! I really AM a runner!” And my love for running to reduce stress was truly born.
In the three years following law school came two babies and some weight gain. I continued to run the 5K distance, but began to add some cross training and developed a love of triathlon. The challenge of training for 3 different sports added a new level of fun that only someone who has done one can understand. I was comfortable with the 5K run and the sprint distance triathlon. I participated in many events at this level until, divorce. Major life stress #2.
The end of a relationship is rarely an easy thing to handle, but when your children are just 7 and 6 years old it I can be down right devastating. To be honest, I can’t remember if I ran or not during that period of my life. I remember sinking into a hole though and one day thinking, “I have to channel this negative energy somewhere.” So I did what every recreation 5K’er does. I signed up for my first marathon. And 6 months later, I found a new love for the finish line and a new passion for distance. In the years that followed, I completed another marathon, seven 10-milers, twelve half marathons, three half Ironmans and one 50K trail run. Talk about stress release and finish lines! And then came the torn gastrocnemius.
Following rehab for my calf injury, I returned to the 5K distance with high hopes of getting back to longer runs eventually. However, before I could get there, on a warm Thursday night in May, I was told my company was shutting down. Tomorrow! There would be no job, no paycheck, and no help from the owners to wind down the affairs of the Delaware office. Major life stress #3.
As the manager of the local office of my now defunct company, I would work the next six weeks without pay to get the business shut down appropriately. I wish I could say that like the other times in my life, running brought me out of my hole and helped with the stress, but this time, it did not. I don’t really know why, but I found myself running off and on over the next two years with no real goal or purpose. Then in 2017, I began to focus a bit more on weight lifting as a way to maintain bone health as I begin to creep up on 50 in a few years. I decided to keep my distance down, and to work on obtaining a good 5K time again. Then it happened. “You have cancer.” Major life stress #4.
Nothing actually prepares you for those words or the chaos that ensues next. On March 13, I was fine. By March 29, I had 2 mammograms, an ultrasound, a chest x-ray, blood work, a bone scan, an MRI, a biopsy and a diagnosis. Every new test was a scare and every new scare brought on tears. Surgery was scheduled for April 27 and another ten days of waiting for results ensued. The verdict? The tumor was almost twice of big as originally thought and chemotherapy was a real possibility. Nine more days of waiting, tears and lots of prayers. Finally, on May 16, came the good news. Radiation is necessary, but chemo is off the table. I thank God. For this I can handle.
Stress happens to us all. It is simply a by-product of life. And experts give us so many ways to handle stress. All we have to do is Google “stress” and we learn. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Meditate. Do yoga. Exercise. Breathe deep. But major life stress? Well that is an entirely different situation. Yes, all of the above mentioned ideas are helpful but, major life stress can require so much more. Often we rely on the advice of the internet and forget the need for true help. It is in these times of deep struggle, sorrow and need that we must remember we are not alone. We must rely on family, friends and even medical professionals to help get us through these times. And if you can find a way to combine the activity that helps you the most with people who support you, you will have really found the best recipe for healing both physically and emotionally. If you like yoga, join a studio. If you like helping others, volunteer where your talents are needed. And if you like running, be a part of a community like WeRunWithYou. Most importantly, whatever challenge you are facing, don’t go through it alone.
Today marks 44 days post surgery and 1 day pre-radiation. I am finally able to run again, but after over 10 weeks off, I couldn’t even finish a mile without a walk break the first day. By day 3, I finished almost 2 miles without walking. Soon, I will do 3 miles, and then 4 and eventually 5. I am still facing some challenges like fatigue as I go through radiation, but I have already vowed to treat major life stress number 4 as I treated 1 and 2. I will exercise and I will come back stronger and better for what I have experienced. I will earn the title “survivor” and I will thank God everyday that my body can still take me where I want to go. And I will run. I will run for my health. I will run for my stress. I will run for the others who can no longer run. I will set a goal and I will run. In fact, the goal has been set and I hope to be back here telling you all about that day in September 2019.
“Plan as though you will live to 90, but live as if you won’t.” – Lisa
Lisa is a Newark lawyer and graduate of the University of Delaware with a B.A. in Sociology. She started running in her 20’s while attending The University of Tennessee College of Law. Lisa has completed 2 marathons, over a dozen half marathons, 3 half Ironman events, numerous sprint triathlons and a 50K trail run. She is currently enjoying local 5Ks with plans to participate in longer distances again soon. Lisa resides in Newark, Delaware with her 2 daughters and 2 rescue dogs, Hazel and Cali.