Throwback Thursday: The Power of a 20 Minute Run

As we're finishing up our third mother runner book, we're going green this summer and recycling some of our blog posts. This post originally appeared on our site on July 26, 2010

Sometimes a run cracks open the world in a whole new--and much better--way.

This landed in our inbox recently, and both Sarah and I were moved by the honesty and power of her story--and were, once again, reminded of the healing qualities of running. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say running saved the life of this mother of two, who requested to remain anonymous. We should all be so lucky to have a friend like her's.

I was a non-runner, married a marathoner. I also have a bunch of friends who are runners.  I religiously read Runners World, addressed to my husband, when it came in the mail. I cheered everybody on at races, often with tears in my eyes as I was awed and moved by their commitment to run 26.2 miles. I couldn’t imagine. I had never run a day in my life.  The 600-yard dash at school gave me a stitch in my side.

Then four years ago, my world came crashing down. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was raped.  The 9 months that followed were a blur.  I don't remember how I even got out of bed in the morning or got my kids out the door to preschool and school. Everything focused on the criminal investigation, visits with the district attorney, medical appointments and questions on how I was doing.

How was I doing? Terrible. I wasn't sleeping or eating well. My life was consumed by that night. There wasn't room, it seemed, for anything else. I felt like this was the beginning of what would be the rest of my life. I was not sure how to get out of the tailspin or even just catch my breath. I was defined by what I had happened.  I was the woman who was raped.

One day, a dear friend came over. She literally pulled me out of bed and told me that we were going to go for a short run.  Just 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes where I would not have to think about the rape or impending court case. She would just talk to me about other stuff or we could run in silence.

She slowed down for me, distracted me with stories about the kids and we ran as far as I could go.  Honestly, it all seemed so trivial after what I had been through, but 15 minutes stretched to 20 minutes that night.  More importantly, it was 20 minutes without thinking about that horrific night or the aftermath.

She came over the next day and the next.  Soon, my husband took me to buy running shoes.  We never really talked about what running was beginning to do for me, but we both knew.  I can't articulate the metamorphosis that was occurring.  It was not instantaneous, but within a month or so, I was running 4 times a week.  I was sleeping and eating better. My body was healing--and so was the rest of me.  I so looked forward to my runs! I promised myself during my runs that I wouldn’t think about the rape. I needed that time.

During the trial, I focused on the run that I would go on at the end of the day.  When he was sentenced, I went on the longest run I had ever gone on; I wasn't keeping track of the miles then, but it seemed to take forever! My life started coming back to me.  My smile was back.  Maybe that was because the trial was behind me, but I think it was mostly because of running—and what I was allowing back into my life as a result.

Now, four years later, running has flipped for me. I am too busy with the rest of my life to spend rehashing the past, but I know that sometimes I need to. So, only on my run do I think about the night I was raped or the effect it has had on my life.  It is my time to cry about it. If I want to.

Running is my escape, because I could not escape that night. Now I can run fast and get away. I could not that night. I feel strong when I run.Powerful. I hope to run a marathon next year. I know I have the strength and determination to do it.

Last week, I overheard woman at our local running store talking to an employee. She talked about how she started running after being clean of breast cancer for a year. Then she asked me why I run. She said she loved to hear other women's stories.  I said I didn't really know.

But in my head I absolutely know. I run because I am no longer that woman who was raped. Instead, I am a runner.


113 responses to “Throwback Thursday: The Power of a 20 Minute Run

  1. Oh my, wow! I hope she has a Stronger Than I Thought t-shirt! I’m not sure what I would do in those shoes but I know that running has saved me, too, just not from anything like that. In all seriousness, she needs that shirt.

  2. Brave story. I’m so glad you found running as a way to heal.

    Though I am not surprised – I too was consumed with losing a baby before he was even born at 24 weeks along. I found triathlon a few months later with the help of some friends, and the healing began. The pain of training does indeed seem trivial after the pain of loss.

  3. I am in tears. We never know what we’re capable of until we are tested and the only option we have is to be strong and brave. I struggle with depression (and have abuse in my past) and used to attend a support group to help me so I wouldn’t feel so alone with it all. But what really helped me – RUNNING! I often wonder why some of those support groups don’t head out for some healing miles.
    You are not alone, tribe-mate. I hope you’re still running strong!

  4. This brought tears to me eyes. Thanks for sharing this powerful and inspiring story. You’re a brave runner and strong woman.

  5. This brought tears to my eyes. We all have reasons we run, and hers is a powerful story. I run away from the old me: overweight, unhappy, depressed, hopeless and out of control. I have left that woman in the rearview mirror and I intend to keep running far away from her.

  6. Thanks you for posting. I’m also a survivor and I thank God for running every day. Without it and the outlet it gives me I wouldn’t be able to be a mom, wife or friend.

  7. Wow, I saw the headline in my email and thought this was going to be an article about how just 20 minutes of running is enough to give us benefits. Instead I’m in tears of awe and empathy for this incredibly strong sister of ours. To quote an Irish blessing: May the road rise up to meet you and may the wind be always at your back.

  8. Thank you for sharing this incredibly touching and personal story. An important reminder that everyone has her own personal story, as we hit the pavement.

  9. I was so moved by this woman’s story and the power that running can have to change someone’s life for the positive.

  10. Thank you for sharing your incredible journey. It is wodnerful to read about a woman who has experienced something so significant and life-changing and the impact running has had on your life. Keep on running.

  11. Thank you for posting this. It’s so inspiring to hear what running can do for the spirit, and very generous of you to share your story.

  12. I just found you and this post. What a special woman you are and so brave. I’m so happy that you signed up for a marathon and wish you the absolute best as you train, run it and WHEN you finish. Big hugs from me!

  13. I am so happy for the update on this post and to hear that a marathon is in your future! We are all behind you. RLAM love for you!

  14. I remember reading this last summer. Thanks for the reminder Dimity. It is such a wonderful story of friendship, running and resilience.

  15. Just found this post. What a beautiful story. If you see this comment, dear tribe-mate, I will think of you on many of my runs. And pray you continue to feel peace. Best of luck on your journey with the marathon! I hope we get to hear how it goes. Hugs.

  16. Hi Dimity
    I would like to request permission to reprint this story as a handout for a survivors group that I lead in Kansas City. It was brought to my attention by a client of the center I’m at. I think it speaks volumes to the potential for recovery and gives women hope that they do not need to be defined by one terrible event. I submitted my email, if you could please contact me. Thank you so much.

  17. I hope I am not too late to reply to this beautiful story. I have nothing to add that has not already been said except for those of you in the Portland or Beavertown area, there is a wonderful resource that helped my sister, (our whole family actually) through a similar ordeal. if anyone is looking for more info or help on this topic.
    Running is great therapy and obviously helps all through so much, big and small trials. Keep running, ladies!

  18. So brave to share such a personal story, one so inspiring to us all. Good luck with your marathon, and know that many people are wishing you well.

  19. I thought of you on my run yesterday. I ran a little faster up a hill that has been taunting me all summer. And I got to the top! I thought how you have climbed much bigger hills. Running is an amazing gift, so is your friend and so are you for sharing such a story. I hope we get to hear how that marathon goes for you. Something tells me you will rock it!

  20. What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing with us. I hope you’ll continue to heal and that God will bless you in all you do.

  21. You can include me in the group of women who used running as a way to deal with a sexual assault. I, too had a friend introduce me to it’s healing powers. It was after years of unhealthy habits that stemmed from the feelings I had about what happened. But running turned my life around and the decision to start running led to other good decisions. Thank you for putting into
    words what I feel when I run and why I run.

  22. Thank you for sharing this. It has taken me a while to post a comment. I was raped, too and found running to be better than anything else I tried to “get over it”. I am a mom now, with 3 kids and when people ask my why I run, I always come up with a different answer, but like you, I know in my head what the truth is. Even though we don’t know your name you are one of us–an RLAMer. Good luck to you when you start training for that marathon.

  23. I am moved beyond words reading this woman’s account of how running is healing her emotional scars, making her strong and more powerful emotionally spiritually and physically. This is the bond that all women runners share and we all “get it.” Being a woman has always been tough, but staying a victim is tougher. May we all strive to be like that friend, extending our hand to someone who needs us and sharing the healing nature of the sport we all love.

    1. I am beyond touched by this story and this comment sums up exactly what I want to say. Women runners, for the most part, mothers, especially, we get it. While I’ve never been in those exact shoes, I’ve run to escape other craziness and turmoil and I come back from a run lighter and with a clear head and a confidence that I can deal with life.

      Just found you when I got your book for a present and I’m working my way through old posts. Most make me smile, this one made me cry.

      Just beautiful!

  24. I started reading with tears as I discovered what happened to you. But, I finished with a smile as I know you have seen the light out of all this and discovered a new hope for brighter things. Thank you for having the courage to share and enlighten us that running saves us in many ways.

  25. Thank you for sharing such a powerful, inspirational story. The power of running can change a life, or even just an attitude, and I still find that so amazing. I hope that at some point the writer can share her story with other rape victims. Even if running isn’t as healing for them, they would find that there is something out there that they can do to begin to find their strength, determination, and will to live life to the fullest.

  26. Thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like running has helped you change from victim to survivor. Being a survivor is a much better place to be in every sense of the word. I am happy that running helped you when you needed it most. Keep being strong and sharing your story because not all of us have the strength to share.

  27. That is truly a blessing. Running is so many different things for different people… but for her it was an awakening of her spirit.

  28. My mother in law asked me once how it felt to be a runner, and I said “strong.” Physically strong, definitely. But mentally strong was what I meant.

    I’m so glad your friend dragged you out on a path to bring you back to strong. ((hugs))

  29. I can barely breathe. Wow. What an incredible story of hope, inspiration, and strength. My sister once told me, as I am a stinky injury plagued beginning runner…for like a year now…, that I have no idea what is going on in the heads of all the amazing women runners I see. She tells me so I am not intimidated, that I understand the pain each of them is working through, whether mental or physical. This testament above reminds me even more, that we each carry our own bag of hammers, and that we can each choose to drop them, one at a time, along the trails that we run…

    Thanks for sharing…


    1. Jen, you have summed it up with the last line, that we each carry our own bag of hammers, and that we can each choose to drop them, one at a time, along the trails that we run… that has been me since Feb of 2009!! I run to drop all the hammers – there sure is alot of them, so I keep on running!!

  30. I too am struck by two women in this story- one with courage and strength she never knew she had and one who helped her find it.

  31. Simply amazing and powerful! I too, wiped tears from my eyes. Running gives us strength through both its meditative properties and the feeling we get from reaching a goal (running 20 minutes or 20 miles). Huge kudos to the author for sharing her story and already cheering her on through her upcoming marathon.

  32. So beautiful and honest. This story says what alot of us feel but cannot explain why we run. Although my story cant compare i also found running during a difficult time. After my first child was born my marriage started falling apart and the postpartum was just too much to bear. I sat at home everyday crying and was just so miserable with my life. My son was the only thing that made me happy until a friend, much like yours, took me out to run. One week later she told me she already saw a difference in my face. That was 2 years ago and 2 marathons later. My husband and i are fine now but running is so therapeutic that i find myself gravitating to it in some of the hardest situations. Thank you so much for sharing.

  33. Truly incredible story. I have no idea of what she is feeling, but I too have to agree on the healing powers of running. I have thrown myself most into it in the last year with the difficult year our family is having. Thanks for sharing and providing an avenue for this community to be heard

  34. I am inspired by the two heroines here… I too hope to be such a good friend to someoneelse, no a woman, some day!

  35. Shared stories are shared strength. Thank you for sharing your strength with us. I think every woman who read this felt more empowered to go and run today.

  36. I know that this woman wants to remain anonymous and I completely respect that and understand it. I have a friend who was raped many years ago and it is a closely guarded secret. BUT when she (the subject of your post) starts training for that marathon next year, I can tell you that there are a ton of women here who would love to cheer her on! Will you run with your friend who took you on your first run? You go girl! And thank you for showing that SOB that he couldn’t ruin your life!

  37. I don’t think I am alone here but just knowing this woman is an RLAMer makes me sad and proud at the same time. Sad that this happened to someone in our community of women runners. But so proud to be associated with such an amazing group. I was “date raped” in college and I never told a soul. No one knows to this day. I get the feeling of running now because you couldn’t then. Thanks for sharing a story that sadly too many of us might relate to.

    1. Hi L: sorry you relate too intimately with her story. Wish that weren’t the case. This community has such resilient, strong, smart women, and I’m glad you are part of it. Glad you’re running now. xo.

  38. Thank you for having the courage to share this story and for reminding us all of the healing properties of running. I too was raped in college and one day my friend Heather, an avid runner, told me we were going for a run. I didn’t run, up until that point, unless something was chasing me. We did five miles that day and she called me Forrest Gump after that. I went to Ireland to study abroad and ran all over Ireland healing myself and came home to run several marathons. I recognized that running is a gift and one of the best tools in my toolbox for a healthy life.

    1. Hi M–so sorry you had a similar story. All too common, I’m sorry to say. I’m glad you left your tracks all over Ireland–and got your soul back in return. A run is a great tool in a toolbox: you’re absolutely right. xo.

  39. Loved this story–thanks for making the hairs on my arms stand up and giving me some perspective on what it means to overcome.

  40. I just wrote last night about how running makes me feel. Running gives me the release that I so desperately need from daily life with 3 young children. YOU are an inspiration and a motivaton for me to keep going. Thank you.

  41. The thing I like about this story is the friend who just “pulled (her) out of bed and told (her) that (they) were going to go for a short run”…. That friend didn’t say, “Hey, you should run”, or “let me know if you want to go for a run.” She went to this woman who had been through so much and was in the midst of such a dark time in her life and pulled her out of that misery with not just “a” run, but kept coming back day after day. I’m sure when the friend showed up this woman didn’t jump up and down saying, “Oh, goody, a run, just what I needed”…and yet the friend KNEW what that short 15-turned-20 minute run would do. That’s the kind of friend I want to be, although I hope I’m just pulling someone out of laziness not this kind of soul-deep misery. Kudos to the woman who became a runner…but even more so to the friend who didn’t take no for an answer and kept coming back until running became this woman’s daily reality. Thanks for sharing this amazing story!

    1. Dana: your take on their friendship was similar to mine. I love people who take action. Sometimes not the most gentle types, but ones who know what you need and get you to do it. I, too, aim to be that friend.

      1. What an inspiring story – what courage, what strength. And I feel like I am meeting myself AGAIN every time I go for a run. As if to say, “Ah, here you are!”

    1. Yes, Dim. That may be the perfect sentence about running. Thank you, Steph, for articulating something I have often felt but never been able to express accurately.

    2. Your words truly are the perfect way to describe why I run. I distinctly remember the first moment during a run when I thought, “This is who you are!”

  42. Like many others my thought when I got to the end was a huge WOW! And yes, thank you for sharing. Yes, we all have our own stories on why, but the powerful ones are even more inspiration to keep going!

  43. What a moving story. I can’t even imagine how painful this experience must have been. I am inspired by this woman’s courage, determination and heart. Keep running and living. May this woman continue to heal and may the rest of her life be full of love and happy moments.

  44. Wow, thank you so much for sharing this story. I had tears the whole time. I love to hear stories of why woman run. So many begin from something dark and scary and I’m always so happy to hear how they have helped them through it and come out on the other side fighting!

  45. Thank you for sharing this amazing story of strength. I’m reminded of a quote along the lines of you never know how strong a woman is until she has to walk through fire. This story will stay with me, and I appreciate your honesty on what has to be such a private battle.

  46. A friend of mine JUST introduced me to your book and site yesterday. I thought I would check it out this morning as I was looking for things to do besides my morning run! I SO needed to see this post! I felt like I had no motivation to get my run in this morning (and I am falling behind in training). I read this, laced up my shoes and headed out right away. I am back now and just wanted to share– I feel like I inherited a bit of her strength. What a testament to the power of running, the human spirit and friendship. Thanks for sharing it.

  47. Thank you for sharing this. Thank you. I wonder how many of us turned to running because of trials in our lives…I know I can be counted in that group. There’s something magical about choosing to push and push and push and surviving it. Surviving it and THRIVING. We are better because we push ourselves harder and farther. What a blessing it is to run.

  48. Wow! I read this post and it brought tears to me eyes. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I began running to get in shape, but I find myself working through things during runs. It’s good to know other people do too. I lost my father when I was 17 to a heart attack, my best friend at 22 to leukemia, and a dear cousin who was an avid runner earlier this year. When I finished a 10k earlier this year I was nearly crying close to the end because I was running for those that I had lost. I often think of my cousin when I run and feel that she pushes me along. I hope that running can help me deal with these issues as well. Thanks again for sharing her story, it gives me hope.

  49. What an incredible story. I don’t know this woman but what strength it took to tell this tale. And the incredible power of running/exercise. It really is a therapy for the body, mind, and soul.

  50. WOW. I read this while in a little break in a meeting and I really had to hold the tears form chocking me down. Just beautiful!

  51. What a great story. I started running during a personally challenging time. I didn’t know what else to do and somehow that felt natural. I would run and cry. Run and cry. Then, like this woman, after time, running became something different. It’s who I am now. A runner. I can’t think of any other activity that makes me feel as vibrant and strong as a good run. I am so glad this woman has discovered that as well. I know she wants to be anonymous but she has nothing to be ashamed of. She should be proud!

  52. Now that is one powerful woman. Thanks for sharing. Sending strength and love should you ever need it. We are running with you

  53. Unbeliveable courage. Great testament to the power of a woman and a mother. I am sorry for what happened to you but Thankyou for your sharing your story.

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