Friday, November 19, 2010

Reflections on life, death, injuries, and other lightweight matters

(Disclaimer: My title was stolen from the VHTRC list-serve)

For the past few weeks, the VHTRC listserve has been filled with e-mails about Mike Broderick, a Happy Trail member who recently died of lung cancer, only 4 weeks after he was suddenly diagnosed, and who just completed Western States four months ago.  Stories like that hit everyone, even newcomers like me who didn't know him, because ultrarunners like to think we're strong, invincible, and able to overcome whatever life throws at us... even death. All my housemates went to the funeral, friends changed their facebook pictures to photos with Mike, and paid tribute through a blog post. It was sad to see my friends mourn a loss of another running partner, friend, and coach.

Within a week of his funeral, I got a text message from my cousin that an old friend of mine, Anne Jackson, a cross country runner at Nyack college in NY, collapsed while out for an evening run and died before her family made it to the hospital. She was a senior in college (with a 3.97 GPA--holy cow!), 21 years old, and had not a bad bone in her body. She was young, healthy, and there was no known pre-existing condition. It was so sudden and shocking, and her friends, now scattered across the country, are mourning the sudden loss of a runner and friend. I can't imagine how her family, close friends, and teammates are handling this tragedy. My thoughts and prayers have been with them every waking moment since hearing of her death.

Yesterday, after hearing the news, I stumbled onto another blog with a tribute to Mike, and I was almost angry. His life shouldn't be mourned; he had really lived, he had fair warning, he completed races around the world and had touched so many lives that police were needed to direct traffic to his funeral. Anne was too young, it was too sudden, and it all of it too shocking and unfair.

I became friends with Anne through our church when I was around 14 years old. She was two years younger than me, but we had the same group of friends. We lived near each other and so we would often carpool to events or meet up on weekdays. I have so many wonderful memories that include her, and I don't remember one in which she was not smiling... looking through her facebook pictures, I swear that she is glowing in every one.

Moving away from home to go to college is tough. She stayed close friends with everyone in Buffalo, and was the Maid of Honor at our friend's wedding earlier this year. Unlike me. I barely talk to my friends anymore. I think a comment on a facebook photo about the beautiful wedding pictures is sufficient... I didn't even send a card. I envy her ability to stay close with our friends, and I've been hearing from them throughout the last 24 hours. Things like "I feel like I should tell you I love you..because I do! and I never said it enough to anne..and I certainly don't say it enough to you." What kind of person does it make me that I haven't spoken to people that I considered my best friends five year ago, in years? Is it time and miles that bring people apart, or is it people?

And what of the friends and relationships I have now? Already, since it isn't as convenient as when we were in college, I make little room for my closest girlfriends and sorority sisters. I'm fighting an injury, and I wonder what will ever happen if I am out for months on end. If I get seriously injured, will I keep my friendships and ties with the running community I've jumped into, or will I lose them as friends too? I am thankful that while miles have hurt friendships in the past, they build friendships today.

Runners are supposed to be patient people. When we get injured we should build miles up slowly. We shouldn't race too much too quick. We all schedule only 1-2 big races a year. I keep getting told I don't need to do every big race in my first few years of running. Recent events have put into perspective that maybe we shouldn't be patient. You never know when you'll get injured, get in a car accident, or have one of your vital organs fail you. I might not be able to run Western States in 2012 or 13... and it's awful bold to think I will be.

Last night, I wanted to go out for a run for Anne. In a way, to let out all the frustrations of the week and the sadness that I feel guilty for feeling. I walked for about 5 minutes and then tried running again. I was able to run for about two minutes before my IT band felt tight. I stopped and walked home, knowing that the only way it will heal is by resting it. After just completing my 100 mile race (101.87, actually) less than two months ago, I've had to deal with a tight IT Band that kept me from doing well at MCM and kept me out of my running shoes for weeks. Even though I have never felt more strong and able, I cannot overcome this injury.
And that's what I've learned recently, as a runner and a person, that even when we feel our stongest, we're still weak and fragile.


  1. Great post, Brittany.

    You know how angry I am at Mike's passing... and am trying to move on to grieve, but my anger is still so great. That's my own deal, though...

    I know how you feel about losing friends, keeping friends... and how injury affects that. Every week I'm replying to emails from my running groups with, "Don't take me off the list!" afraid that I'll be left in the dust... literally and figuratively.

    Life is full of so many twists and turns, I guess we just need to keep our eyes open so we know when to twist and turn with it, and not miss anything!

  2. "Live Like You Were Dying" -Tim McGraw
    Nuff said.

  3. Great post Brittany. I can empathize with your feelings. One of my good friends died of heat stroke while training to begin running for the William and Mary Track team. Every year we hold a memorial race in his honor and I have only been able to run it once because I am somehow always injured around this time. Tomorrow is the race and again I am hurt. But, I will go and help out with the race in his honor and hopefully be able to run for him again soon.

    Thanks for sharing your feelings!

    Runner's world did an article on him a few years ago:,7120,s6-243-297--11446-0,00.html

  4. I'm so sorry you lost your friend. It is especially unfair that she was so young.

    You make good points about friendships - they are important to keep up, but what that constitutes depends on the people involved. For some, weekly chats are necessary; for others, once a year you pick right up where you left off as if no time has passed.

    I think one way we all mourn is to feel sad that we didn't do more for/with the person we lost.

    Don't be too hard on yourself, you're at a point in your life where you are starting out, making new friends, discovering new passions, figuring out your career. Sometimes those who stay close with old friends don't have the opportunity to stumble on as many new ones, and thus, new experiences. It's all a balancing act, in the end.

  5. It's very hard to have a friend die so very young (my best friend died in a cycling accident when she was 16; 36 years later, I still grieve).

    Ultrarunnergirl is right. You need to keep up friendships but you'll find that over the years, you'll grow differently than your friends from high school or college and there will be a mutual drifting apart. There's no right or wrong; it just is.

    I still think of my high school and college friends with fondness; they will always hold a special place in my heart. I don't keep in touch with them, except at the rare class reunion. We don't have much in common these days.

    My long-time friends are those I've worked with over the past 20-odd years and, more recently, run with. These are the friends who have shared my adult life. For me, these friendships are the deepest.

    So, Brittany, I guess this is my way of saying that as your life changes, so does your circle of friends. Cherish the friendships that you had and celebrate the ones you now share.

  6. Loss is never easy, no matter what the circumstances. I'm sorry for yours, and know you'll keep your friend's legacy alive.

  7. Dear Brittany,

    I just found your article, and it touched me.

    My wife and I just returned form the NCCAA Women's Cross Country Championships at which we had the honor of presenting the first award of the Conference Athlete-Scholar Sportsmanship Award that has been renamed in honor of Anne. I was able to share a few thoughts ... throughout life we can find ourselves in tough spots, but if we do not give up, our lives will have even greater impact. Probably next Sunday (on the 30th of October) in the Buffalo News, an article I wrote (that explains this further) will be published - "Butterflies and Caterpillars". We can be reached at or

    Gordon & Cindy Jackson