By Staff Columnist Christopher Mellott
“Chris! I was meaning to call you, because you would totally understand my situation.” The following words my friend confided in me revealed that he had abruptly ended a long relationship, and a recent engagement. He knew I would understand the influx of emotions he was having. I knew that his every moment was clouded by thoughts like “What could I have done differently?” “What happened?” “What do I do now?” I told him to be prepared for people to choose sides, whether fair or not. He needed to expect defending or explaining the decision over and over again to every person he had ever told about the engagement. As we talked on the phone a rush of memories hit me and reminded me of my own story. The story of a relationship ending and the birth of my love for running.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2012, on a park bench in New Hampshire, I asked my then girlfriend to marry me. Giving her a ring that I had purchased with my entire savings, birthday money and whatever other money I had, which to be transparent wasn’t much. The timing was right; life had fallen into place for us. We had steady jobs, I had started a graduate program and we had a place to live. Life was right on track according to my “life plan”. I had proposed to her while I was visiting her and her family in Maine so we could celebrate with them before we travelled home to Colorado.
We spent the rest of that day telling people personally in person or on the phone. The excitement built with each “congratulations” or “about time” After we told those closest to us we made it “Facebook official”. My entire community, friends, coworkers, and even my RA staff knew about our engagement. We were in love and engaged, and we wanted everybody to know. We had been dating since December 19th 2009 and because I am really bad at remembering dates, we set the wedding date for October 19th 2013; the day before my 24th birthday.
With eleven months to plan a wedding in Maine we knew we had work to do. We wanted a wedding that was family and friends, big enough to include everybody but not big enough that grandma’s long lost cousin Joe from Jersey got an invite. The venue was easy, a little bar right on the outskirts of her hometown with an outdoor area and plenty of space inside if the weather didn’t cooperate. The bar was also a restaurant so we had our venue, bar and dinner in one shot! We found a former student who was an incredibly talented photographer and had agreed to do the wedding for her portfolio and travel and expenses. The moment we had finalized the plans for the photographer is the moment it hit me like a semi: I looked like an overweight athlete. I lost sleep over how my wedding photos would look. I didn’t want my wedding photos to be something I looked back on and cringed at. I wanted the photos to show me fit and healthy at one of the happiest days of my life. I decided I was going to do something about it, so I started to run. I was going to run my way to skinny.
I had been a runner and wrestler in high school but somewhere between high school graduation and the day I proposed I had ballooned to 233.6 pounds from the 170-pound high school athlete. I was angry with myself for letting my weight get so out of control in those four years. In addition to a running regimen I would go a day maybe even two days without eating, I would sleep in layers of heavy clothing and blankets to sweat and lose weight while I slept. If there was a “magic weight loss supplement” you can bet, I researched it. I would then go to the dining hall and gorge myself which only made me furious at my lack of self-control.
Eventually my anger at myself wore off and a more reasonable diet and exercise plan was implemented. I was running three to five times a week, eating healthier limiting my carbohydrates intake and eating more strawberry yogurt then probably good for a person. I also gave up my guilty pleasure of soda for three months straight. I constantly weighed myself in my bathroom often checking and recording my weight in excess of three times a day. The weight started to come off and my confidence started to return. By July of 2013 I had reached 190 pounds. I had lost 43.6 pounds and I felt and looked better than I had for four years. I still avoided the mirror and wasn’t satisfied with the results I had experienced so far. Competition had always been a motivation for me so I decided that if I wanted to continue to lose weight I should run some races and the lighter I got the faster I got. I quickly and painfully became aware of how much heavier and slower I was than I was in high school, but I kept going because I was seeing progress on the scale and more importantly I was feeling the progress of my hard work.
I hit the goal weight of 180 pounds a month before the wedding. I was ready! We had our venue and we had done our registry running through Macy’s with a scanner gun like 007. I was feeling great about how I looked and excited to show off my hard work. However not everything was perfect in paradise; we had been struggling to communicate and it felt like we were no longer travelling on the same track. We called off the wedding. She wasn’t sure getting married was right or if we were right for each other. Talking about what our future looked like it seemed that our visions started to look very different from the others.
Our entire community knew about our engagement so we spent a few painful hours calling everybody who had RSVP’d to the wedding and telling them it was off. We had to defend the choice, explaining that “We are still together and this is what is best for us”. Every conversation felt like I had to defend her from somebody who was upset about the decision or wanted to know if there was something more sinister afoot. “Did she cheat?” Did you cheat?” “What’s really going on Chris?” We were brutally honest that the wedding wasn’t a good idea but we were still together and were working on us. I was devastated but knew something was off. I was still running fairly often but running transformed during this confusing and hurtful time. Running transitioned from something I did to look good and lose weight, to something I needed. I needed the space to process, to sift through my feelings and to settle myself.
The wedding was called off so late that seven of our friends couldn’t exchange or change their tickets without losing money. So the nine of us ended up in Maine the week the wedding was supposed to happen. We spent five days going on adventures in a small Northeast town that would give Stars Hollow a run for its money. We had dinner and drinks at the location of the venue, we visited the beach where we were going to take some of our wedding photos. There was even a river boat cruise to celebrate my birthday. Everybody worked so hard to make this a friends vacation but in my head and I am sure everybody else’s, we were all thinking the same thing “This is awkward… They were supposed to get married”. We tried to make the week the best vacation for our friends. It was sheer torture for me. I desperately wanted to know what was going on in her head but she was a stone wall. I obsessed over everything I said or did thinking that it was going to be the tipping point that would end the relationship. My head and my heart were running at a hundred miles a minute in every direction.
When I returned alone from Maine. She had stayed with her family as we promised to talk more I needed running more and more. Running became something I did so that my feelings of desperation, of unworthiness would quiet down. Running gave me the energy to still see friends and do things when all I wanted to do was curl up and escape into a video game. Every day I felt that I had to explain or defend the situation to someone new, I had to explain how I was doing. I was worn down, exhausted even, but most days I still managed to run a few miles.
With so much of the situation out of my control running was something I could control. I could control the pace, the direction and even the pain of the run.
I started my running streak on January 5th 2014. Why I couldn’t have managed to start the streak on the first will forever annoy me ever so slightly. I did not start my running streak to start a streak, I didn’t even realize I hadn’t missed a day until about a month in. I just needed something that was mine and just mine and running was that outlet. The entire time since we had called off the wedding I had been trying to hold a deteriorating relationship together from across the country and could feel her and the relationship slipping away. I ran to process often spending the entire run thinking about what was next, how I could fix this, and if it was even worth fixing.
The relationship that I had spent the last four plus years in ended on March 7th 2014, a Friday. It didn’t end in fireworks; it didn’t end in curse words or slamming doors. It ended with us talking in bed and her telling me she thought it was best that we weren’t together anymore. She was leaving to return to Maine the next morning. The relationship ended in a such a peaceful way. It was so simple one minute we were lying in bed talking and the next day she was gone. I drove her to the airport feeling numb not even sure if it was real or it was a nightmare. I dropped her off at the curb, said our goodbyes and that we would talk more later. I fought back tears as she entered the terminal and walked out of eyesight. I got back in the car and drove home tears streaming like a leaky faucet. You never really know what the best way to act is when you end a relationship. Part of me wanted to yell, to punch things, yet another side of me wanted to cry and bury myself in my sorrow, and a part of me wanted to get hammered just to numb the thoughts racing through my head. I knew I could have made sense of and excused those options, but instead to keep my running streak active I laced up my shoes and headed out the door. I remember running as hard as I could for as long as I could and my world shrunk to putting one foot in front of the other.
I was in a relationship since my sophomore year in college and ended towards the final months of my graduate program. It is devastating to be with someone for those formative years and then in an instant to be alone. I had established an identity and much of it was intertwined with her. I was suddenly a stranger in my own home…. Our home? My friends had become our friends and she escaped to the East coast and I was the one who fielded all the questions, explaining, trying to make sure friends and people who knew us didn’t see her as the villain in this story.
When I tell the story of calling off a wedding and eventually ending the relationship I can tell people that it’s okay. It got better. I can also tell them that if I had to do it all again with the same result I would. I would go back and do it again because I developed parts of identity and I found running again. My renewed love affair with running might have started off with a doomed relationship, a wedding called off and a hard break up, but it continues with miles of trail, new friendships and the continued calling of the run. I know how my friend feels to end a relationship that he had poured himself into, I know the healing won’t occur overnight but I hope that he finds something that is his, like running is mine.