Clare Saumell VanderWeele

essays on living

What Happened When I Stopped Running Away

I was one of those lethargic teenagers who groaned when we had to run the mile once a year at school. I ran the straights and walked the curves, simultaneously intimidated and bored by that black hot track. It was torture.

But then, sometime around the beginning of college, I casually decided to go for a run. And then I kept doing it. Only ever a mile at a time. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but for some insane reason, I stuck with it.

After college, I grudgingly ran a half-marathon. I clung to the medal proudly, but training had killed my knees and I swore I’d never run another half again.


Later, when life as I knew it crashed down around me and I was struggling to comprehend the death of my 27-year old husband, I woke up and ran. I ran and ran until my lungs were stinging with the October chill, panting for air and life and answers.

And for two and a half years now, on and off, I’ve made a habit of running. Through the winter’s bitter cold and the summer’s sticky humidity. Pounding the miles out, relieving the tension, stretching my muscles.

Several months ago, I decided to train for another half-marathon. I ran for miles along the river, through my town’s Victorian streets, facing the biting cold and icy footpaths. Until I slipped. Until I was brought to a halt with a sprained ankle that has remained swollen for weeks. Crutches, ice packs, x-rays, therapy.


So that’s when I stopped running.

It’s also when I stopped running away.

It’s when I realized that I am all too often living in the past. I am consumed by analyzing my day, my week, my year. I set unattainable expectations for myself, guaranteeing that my inner critic will jump in to beat me up. I live inside the assumption that I can control everything.

And all of this occurs with my mind speeding at one hundred miles an hour, running ahead of myself so I won’t get blindsided by the unexpected, running away from the bitter side of life that I don’t want to admit I can’t control.


So what happens when you quit running away?

It’s called being mindful. It’s called being present.

And I suck at it.

But I think I’m getting better.

It means folding my laundry slowly and inhaling the clean and the comfort.

It means holding hands and breathing in the silence that envelopes us on a Sunday afternoon.

It means watching the pure joy on my son’s face as his windmill spins with a sudden gust of wind.

It means sitting under the cottonwood trees and sharing the feast we all made together.


It doesn’t mean I can’t reminisce and visit old memories and marvel over every moment of my life that’s led me to today. It doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of grief or melancholy or anxiety.

It just means living.

To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
~Mary Oliver


  1. Tears. Thank you, Clare.

  2. Clare, you are such a wonderful writer. I love reading your words and hearing your point of view. I’ll pray for peace and continued strength for you and your family. Thanks for being so honest with the world!!

  3. I love this one Clare. Thanks for educating me!

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