Finding purpose and positivity after the loss of a loved one.
#002: Katie Camus is now raising four kids on her own after her husband Jake passed away earlier this year. Her late husband was an ultrarunner and, as she puts it, he lived to run. Katie began running after her husband’s death to try and learn what he loved about the sport. She is also using her journey of becoming a runner and emerging from grief to spread light and positivity. Be sure to have some tissues nearby because this episode brings all the feels!
- Katie shares her and her husband’s relationship story. She also shares details on who Jake was and what led to his passing earlier this year. Jake was an ultrarunner and as Katie puts it, he lived life to the fullest. She didn’t understand what he loved so much about running but has taken up the sport after his death.
- Katie discusses what spurred her to begin running and what running has brought her through this season of grief in her life.
- Before her husband’s passing, Katie said that she had never fully lived her life with purpose. Her main focus now is on getting the most out of life, living with purpose and choosing to focus on the positives of each day rather than the negatives. She’s teaching her children to do the same.
- Life is short and no one knows how much time they have left. Katie encourages other moms to also focus on getting the most out of this life. Take the trip. Go on that long run. Don’t wait to pursue your goals.
Connect with Katie:
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Welcome to the Runner Moms Podcast where we help women embrace their inner strength, take time for themselves and lead healthier lives. So, settle in and soak up some inspiration. Then rise, lace up those running shoes and embrace your inner strength because, momma, you run this world.
Hello Runner Moms! Shayla here, I’m the founder of the Runner Moms community and I’m thrilled to have you joining me for today’s show. The story within this episode truly embodies many of the reasons why I launched this community. This podcast is about so much more than running. My mission with the Runner Moms podcast is to connect with other moms and bring forward their struggles and triumphs with the hope that their stories will serve as inspirations to you.
Today’s guest is Katie Camus. She’s a widow and is now raising four kids on her own. Her late husband was an ultrarunner and, as she puts it, he lived to run. Katie began running after her husband’s death to try and learn what he loved about the sport. She is also using her journey of becoming a runner and emerging from grief to spread light and positivity.
I know that this is going to be one of those conversations that sticks with me and with everyone listening.
Katie, welcome to the Runner Moms podcast.
Thank you so much for having me! I’m so excited!
Yes! I’m so excited to have you on the podcast and, as I said just a moment ago, this is going to be one of those conversations that is just really impactful. So, I do appreciate you joining us today.
I guess, to jump into things, you’re a busy mom with four kiddos. What are their ages?
I have a 13-year-old daughter. I have a seven-year-old son, an almost six-year-old daughter and then my littlest daughter is almost two.
Oh nice! So, we have three. We’re kind of in the same board where, at some point, we’ll have one in elementary, one in high school and one in middle school.
I just realized, when my baby goes to kindergarten, my oldest will go to college. That was one of those ‘oh, wow’ moments!
You can have the college age kid come back and help out with the little one. Babysitter! Right? There are benefits there.
Yes! Absolutely, yeah, it’s a fun but chaotic way to have kids spread out.
I always say there are pros and cons to both, whether having them spread out or close together so you just have to roll with what you have. So, tell us a little about yourself outside of your role as a mother. Maybe where you live, what you do, and anything else you want to share.
Yeah! So, I live in northwest Indiana. We’re about 45 minutes outside of Chicago. I live in a small town that has been just wonderful. It’s just a great place to raise kids and we just have this awesome neighborhood that we live in.
I actually run a nonprofit here. It’s based in my hometown. I’m the executive director there and we actually provide housing and programming to homeless pregnant women. It’s awesome work. I always say I have a dream job and I’ll probably never leave unless they make me, and I might not leave after that! The work is great and the people I work with are incredible. It’s just like soul-filling work so you never feel like you’re dreading getting up and going to work in the morning. There is always something new coming—new projects to work on and new agencies to work with to really try and help these moms to better their lives and gain their independence back and that’s pretty great. So, I do that, and I coach softball and I cheer on baseball from the stands. Just everywhere, all of the time!
I can imagine, yeah! Constantly running.
One of the best parts about my job is that it’s super flexible and I work remotely a lot. So, it makes life so much easier.
Oh yeah, I can imagine. You have to have that. I mean, when your kids are involved in activities, just the normal daily life of school and then activities on top of that. Yeah, you need that flexibility.
Well, let’s turn for a bit to you and your husband. Could you tell us maybe how you met and a little about your relationship story?
Sure, so him and I met—his name is Jake—we met in middle school. He was actually my best friend in middle school. We were kind of inseparable from the time we were 11 until he passed away earlier this year. We just had the same group of friends and hung out all through middle and high school. He pretty much lived at my house during different parts of our lives while we were growing up.
I kind of went off and did the college thing and had lost touch for about a year or so and then we were actually both at an awards ceremony for our siblings who graduated two years after us. It was like we saw each other and it was like a day hadn’t passed since we had been together. At that point, we kind of started dating and three kids later we got married! Then, I looked at him one day and said, “we should have another baby.” He’s looking at me like I’m insane. I said, “I just want to know what it’s like at the hospital when everybody has the same last name.” He just started laughing and, well, we had another baby and it was no different. They treat you the same no matter what!
I always say that she’s the baby we didn’t know we needed. She’s like the best combination of everybody in the household and she just brings this new light and lightness to our lives. And, we’re just us. I don’t know. I just wrote an article for a magazine recently and I was kind of telling our story and I love it. It’s so similar to a lot of like high school sweethearts but we weren’t. My mom told me, I think we were probably 12 or 13 and she said, “You’re going to marry him one day. You need to marry your best friend!” And I was like, you’re out of your mind woman! I don’t want to marry him! I have no interest in him! Then, at our wedding, I’m like, “Ok, ok, I see you.”
Alright, fine. You got me!
You’re right. I’ll tell you you’re right this one time!
When you talk about your last child that you had, that’s totally our third. He’s definitely the child we never knew we needed. We call him our voice of reason in our household. He brings some calm to the chaos.
Everyone’s like, “She’s so well behaved.” And I’m like, “Well, she doesn’t have a choice!” She’s just kind of carted around where everybody else is.
She’s dazed from the older siblings fighting! At least that’s how it is in our household.
Well, could you introduce us a bit to your husband? Maybe talk a bit about what he enjoyed doing and a little about who he was?
Yeah, absolutely. So, he enjoyed everything. We’re doing this run coming up and it’s called Pushing the Limits because that was my husband in every sense of his life. It was zero to 100 on everything he ever did. He loved running. He got into that probably the last three or four years. But, before that, he loved basketball and football, and he loved coaching our kids. He really loved just kind of laying on the couch watching TV and cuddling with our kids. I always said that was his home moment. Like where everything was kind of calm and he loved watching like old TV shows and old movies with our kids. I think that’s probably what they miss the most because I’m not one to sit down and watch a whole lot of TV. My six-year-old said the other night, “Can we just have a movie night?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” She said, “I just want to cuddle on the couch.”
He was just that balancing force in our house. He was the calm. For as outgoing and personable as he was, he made friends everywhere. I couldn’t even send him to the grocery store to get like one thing I needed for dinner because he’d be gone for an hour. And, I’m like, “We live two miles from the grocery store! What happened?” And he was like, “I ran into this guy that used to come and see me at work.” And I’m like, “Ok, I’m just gonna go next time because now dinner is done and I haven’t finished making it!”
He made everybody feel like they were the only person in the room when he talked to them. He had this really unique way of listening to people. Even if he could care less about what they were saying or have any interest in the subject they were talking about, he made them feel like they were it. That he was totally invested one hundred percent of the time. There wasn’t a joke he wouldn’t laugh at. There wasn’t somebody he couldn’t make small talk with. He just really made you feel like you were his absolute favorite person and he did that with everyone he met. And I think that is probably the one thing I miss the most. That he could just have that ability to make everybody feel so special. That’s a hard thing to find in people just in general. To find people who are truly interested and invested in other people. Whether they were two or 92, he just really took the time and had so much patience with people and that’s why everybody liked him and wanted to be around him because it was just this love that he exerted. I always say, you never guessed or wondered if he loved you. He loved so hard that it was never a question. It was this palpable thing in the air that you could just feel which was just amazing.
I had somebody ask me one day how the kids were doing. And I said, “Strangely enough, they’re really well adjusted.” I think it’s because we told them after he passed, “You’re so lucky to have had a dad that loved you so much in the short time whether it was 13 years or two years. So many kids don’t get that in a lifetime and you had that so hard all the time.” I think that they really do know that, and it sits well with their soul. So, they never had to question that.
But, yeah, the last couple of years, he loved running. He’s completely insane and he just decided one day that he’s going to do this ultrarun. And, I was like, “What are you talking about?” And he was like, “Oh, I’m just gonna do this run with these guys from work.” And I’m like, “Ok.” And he’s like, “Well I need this and I need that.” I’m just like being the naggy wife asking, “How is this run costing you $700 in stuff?”
Then, he left, and he did the run over the weekend. I’ll never forget him telling me the story about it. He said, “We did the run and it was awful and amazing. There are just these people. You just don’t understand the people that are at these kinds of events. They are just incredible people. People that you want to be around. It was like this energy and this good vibe. We ran this 50k and then we went back to our hotel room and I’m just not really sure what happened the next 18 hours. I remember waking up at some point in this dark hotel room and there was just like a lamp on and this guy was just eating pizza in the dark by the light of this lamp. I had no idea what time it was because the room was pitch black. Then we just got up and drove home the next day.”
I remember him not running for a good four or six weeks after that race. He didn’t train. I think he probably ran a total of 15 miles before he did this ultrarace. And I laugh about it because I’m like, “Who does that?”
Oh my gosh. I have to say that sounds exactly like my husband when he ran his first marathon. It was very last minute. It was a group run. The teammate dropped out, so they needed someone to fill in and they called on my husband. He was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” He had never run more than two or three miles at a time before that and he just jumped in and ran 26 miles. At one point I saw him, and it looked like he was bleeding from the eyes. Like, not good! Don’t do that!
Yes! I just remember not wanting to talk to him for a few days after that run. I’m like, I’ve never felt like that about you in our lives. He was so happy and proud of himself but, like, by the time he got home that weekend, I think he was so physically defeated that he didn’t know what to do with himself. So, after that, he started running on a consistent basis. You know, after his ultramarathon. He would always laugh because he’d always pick the funniest times to run. We went out to dinner with his parents and his aunt for dinner in a town like probably, it was a 15-mile run. He was like, “Oh, I’m just gonna run and meet you.” And I’m like, “What? We’re going out for dinner in an hour.” And he did. We drove past him when we were driving to dinner and the kids were waving out the window all excited to see him and he ran to dinner and he sat there sweaty and just a big old smile on his face.
Sometimes, I think he’d run places just to prove to me that he could. Because, I’d be like, “Are you really going to do that? Am I going to have to come pick you up?” And never. I never had to go pick him up anywhere. He always made it. I never understood it. I’m like, why would anyone ever want to run? In high school, I was a sprinter. Well, I was in softball and I could run the base path and that was all I was interested in. So, I was like, I’m pretty quick, so I’m gonna try out for track. I’m just gonna be a sprinter and it’s gonna be great. So, I made the team and then, the first practice they wanted me to run a mile warmup and I was like, “Wait a second, what? I’m a sprinter. I don’t run a mile.” It was the first and only time in my life that I’ve quit something. I was like, “I’m just not game for this. I don’t want to run far. This is not what I signed up for.” So, my track season was really short. And I just stuck to softball until recently.
So, he was just everything to everybody. He loved his work. I remember sitting there at the funeral home putting together his obituary and my mom looking at me like I was crazy when I wanted to mention the guys he worked with and his work in his obituary. And she was like, “Really? Just stick to your family.” But I’m like, “That was his family.” I’m going to try and say what he did but I don’t really know that I know. He was an inspector. So, he worked in oil refineries inspecting welds and piping and stuff. At one point he did Xray and ultrasound. The last couple of years he did visual inspection. But, when he first started on this career, he was sometimes working 100 hours a week. Nobody does that when they don’t like their job unless they can’t feed their family. He just loved what he did, and he loved the people that he did it with. And that’s how he got into running was with guys at work. He was good at his job and I think it was fulfilling for him. He just enjoyed being there. So, it was like us, and work, and running and that was pretty much everything he could ask for in his life and he was content with that.
Well, that’s amazing. He sounds like an amazing person. You said that he passed away earlier this year. Would you mind sharing the story of what happened?
Sure. So, he died of a drug overdose. And, I’m always not careful, like I don’t tiptoe around that. The reason being is because he was the guy in town that everybody knew and loved. I work in the mental health field. So, I see it a lot that people kind of look at addiction in this bottom of the gutter and worst of the worse kind of light. While fighting that stigma and stereotype, I don’t think is the sword that I want to fall on for the rest of my life. I just don’t think that’s the battle that I need to be fighting. But, I also know that cushioning that, or sugar coating it isn’t helpful either. So, I say it because it’s everywhere. It’s in stay at home moms and lawyers and doctors and union workers and politicians and grade school teachers. It’s everywhere and not only where people think it is.
He was kind of a classic tale. He got hurt when we were, gosh, I think we were like 15 or 16. I don’t even think I could drive yet. I remember going to the hospital with his sister after he got hurt. That kind of started it. He had some really bad nerve damage in his neck and his arm. 20 years ago, pain meds were highly unregulated, and kind of this new phenomenon was happening in the pain management world. It got really out of control really quickly. He unfortunately got doctors who, I try not to place blame, I don’t want to say that they didn’t know what they were doing, or they didn’t know what they were getting into. I don’t know, maybe they didn’t care. I doubt that is the case, but I’ve seen it happen and it was a pretty classic pain med to street drug flip.
For most of our adult lives, he battled pretty hard and pretty well. He was in recovery for a long time and he took pride in his sobriety. The only reason I talk about this is because he was so open about it. Some people that are in recovery, they call it anonymous for a reason. It’s not somebody else’s story to tell but he was comfortable talking about it. So, for that reason, I am too.
He was proud of his sobriety and he worked hard at it. But, you know, sobriety is one of those things that you just can’t plan for sometimes and it’s one of those never-ending battles, I think. There’s no real cure for it. He was in recovery until he wasn’t, and it had been a long time since he had used any sort of street drug. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the trigger was. It’s funny. The things that I always would have thought would have been a trigger for anybody, you know, like that I think would trigger me, is always so far off the radar of any addict I’ve ever worked with. It’s always something like, somebody spilled milk. You know, we say the same thing about sobriety. Sometimes, crashing your car and losing your job and living on the street isn’t what get people sober, but they yell at their sister about knocking into them at a family party and they’re like, “Oh god, that’s my rock bottom.” It’s little things that can be that trigger either way for people. I always say, I couldn’t read his mind when he was alive, so I’m certainly not gonna try to read his mind from beyond the grave. I don’t know what happened that day. I do know that he fought for a long time and that he loved his life. Things happen. Unfortunately, one of the consequences to drug use is death and, it’s a crappy side effect but it happens, and I wish it didn’t, but, it does.
Well, thank you for sharing that story with us. So shortly after his passing was when you began running. What inspired you at that time to take up the sport?
The first couple of weeks after he died, are just a blur. We are insanely blessed to have an incredible support system—family, friends, neighbors—our community as a whole, people I don’t even know, reached out, donated, brought food, showed up, prayed for us, any number of things. At that time, I kind of remember just kind of dazing off all the time. Almost like this, you know in the movies when everything is moving in fast motion and you’re just kind of at a standstill. That’s kind of how that first couple of weeks felt like. So, he passed away on a Thursday and I think our kids were sent home on the stay-at-home order on like Monday or Tuesday or something like that. So, it was a really crazy time in the world in general. Then, for our family too. So, people had nowhere to go but my house, which was great because I needed people to step in and cuddle my babies and play with them outside and cook them meals when I was just kind of trying to grapple with what was happening. This terrible thing happens and then you have to make these arrangements and plan and write checks. It’s just like this overwhelming process that happens.
After I started to slowly come back to reality. People, you know, go back to their lives and they go back to work and go home and go on with their normal life. Then, you’re just kind of here trying to figure out, what does normal life look like? Because everything I knew about normal life was now demolished. I said earlier there were times when he would work 100 hours a week and that’s true. I was used to sometimes having to run the kids by myself because he was working late or working weekends, but it’s a different kind of alone. It’s just different. So, I’m trying to figure out, what does our life look like now? So, now it’s just the five of us. Even with an incredible support system, those kids still look to you to be that constant need filler, emotionally, and they need their bellies filled. They need somebody to talk to. They need somebody to break up their fights.
I always call it solo parenting because, I think it’s different when you’re a single parent. Whether it’s single when you have a child or you’re single because of divorce, I think when your spouse dies it’s just a little bit different. So, I always call it solo parenthood. You go from this family. He was not a helper. Our family was 50/50. He cooked and he cleaned and he ran kids and he coached kids. He did bedtime and he did baths and he did homework. He did all of these things. So, it went from having 50 percent of this family load to now, it’s mine, and that’s fine. But, how does this look going forward?
I was so used to kind of being able to go and do what I wanted to do. I’d go out with my girlfriends or do whatever, run to the store by myself. Just to get some alone time. Because work-at-home moms, it’s a special kind of job. You don’t get out a lot and you’re always multi-tasking. So, just being able to go and have that time by myself to clear my head and just to do something for me was something I was used to. I was fortunate to always have that in my life and never have any guilt associated with it I think was the big thing. He never made me feel guilty for doing things for myself. He encouraged it. So, I instantly felt like this weight. Like, now what? Am I still allowed to go do these things? The world is shut down now. I don’t even want to go to the grocery store. It was just this weird feeling.
Then I had this, like, oh gosh, well now I don’t want to go to the grocery store. What if I get COVID and then I die and then who is going to take care of my babies? You have all of these crazy thoughts when it’s now just you. So, I was like, ok, this is not me. I remember sitting on my couch and I had somebody ask me how I was, and I was like, “I just feel like I can’t catch my breathe. I feel like I’m constantly taking deep breathes.” And they’re like, “Katie, that’s called anxiety.” And, I’m like, “What?” And they’re like, “Yeah.” And I’m like, “I don’t think so.” And they’re like, “Yep, that’s what that is.” And I’m like, “Whoa.” And, in the moment, it gave me like this instant appreciation for every person that deals with anxiety on a daily basis because, holy moly. I’m just so grateful that I don’t because I was just instantly like mad. I was like, wait a second, I don’t want this. I don’t want to feel like this.
So, I was like, OK, I need to get back to something with myself. Like, I need to find some peace here. I didn’t know what that looked like. I had always, very parttime, taught dance at a local YMCA. So, I was always there. So, I’d workout or do whatever at the gym but, at the time, the gyms were shut down. I just, I didn’t know what that looked like.
So, I was like, you know what, I’m gonna run. I don’t know what it is about running that Jake loved so much. In my very first Instagram post, I think I put like, I don’t know why I ran. I don’t know if it was to run away from the chaos in my house. To run away from the responsibility and that weight that I felt on my shoulders all of the sudden. I don’t know if I was running to be closer to him. If I was running to give myself just 30 or 60 minutes of quiet time. Sometimes I think I ran to feel something. To feel the pain in my legs and in my lungs. At the time, it was still early in the year, so it was cold outside. To feel that coldness in my breath. Because, you kind of, not you, I, kind of had this just numb feeling for a while. You know, you’re trying to keep it together so that your kids feel secure. So, it’s just kind of like this blah. So, sometimes I think that’s part of the reason why I started running was just to be able to feel something. Whether it was misery or happiness. I didn’t really care. I just wanted to feel.
Part of me just wanted to see why he loved it. What are these people and this community that he could never stop talking about? What is this vibe? What is this feeling that he loved so much? Why would he come home after a two-hour run, purple in the face, with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen? What is that? Because I had never felt that doing a kettlebell class at the Y. I’m like, ok, I feel like I did something, but I certainly wasn’t on top of the world from it.
So, I started running. I had a couple of friends who would suffer through that were not runners and would just kind of appease me and go with. We would start walking. We’d walk a quarter mile and we’d run a quarter or a half mile and then we’d walk again and then we’d run. We’d kind of do that for a couple of miles. We just kind of slowly built up until it turned into this, I’m running because I like it now. I love it now. I have this need to run now. It was no longer, probably after two weeks. I’m super bad at creating good habits. I always say I fall into lazy really quickly, maybe because my life doesn’t allow for a whole lot of lazy time. I tend to, if I’m going to be lazy, it happens really fast. So, I can’t let myself make excuses. So, I had to be very purposeful about running those first couple of weeks and really kind of turn it into a habit. Turn it into something that was expected of me every day because I wanted to continue it. Because, at that time, I still wasn’t sure why I was running.
I didn’t really like it, but I was doing it. I thought, at the very least, I was going to be a little bit healthier. Heart disease runs in my family. So, I figured the cardio was not going to hurt and then it just kind of turned into this thing. I was actually running one day when I was like, I’m going to start a separate Instagram account. I’m just going to write about my running. I think I did it because, some people just care to read about other people’s fitness journeys or their running. And that’s great. I honestly didn’t care about people’s fitness journeys for the most part. I feel like I’m somebody that always is rooting for people. So, like, I’m always super happy when someone is doing well or hitting new goals. I am a cheerleader at heart and I want to lift other people up. But, I’m going to be honest and say that I scroll past most of it. Like scrolling, scrolling. So, I’m like, you know, I’m just going to start this separate page and just as a way to like work through what’s going on in my head when I’m running.
I had a friend who, I had run into her at Target. It was actually the day that I was buying an outfit for my husband’s celebration of life. Her husband had passed away a couple of years before. They were a little bit older than us. She was like, “Oh, I remember this day. You’re going to get through it. I want you to go home and I want you to journal. Listen, somebody told me to do it and I thought it was ridiculous, but I did it and it changed my life.” I had a couple people buy me journals over the past couple of weeks and I was like, you know what, I’m gonna try. What’s the worst? I’ve always enjoyed writing. Just journaling felt kind of weird to me.
So, I started journaling. I noticed very quickly that the journaling had turned into letters to my husband. It kind of felt very natural. He was the person who I would tell everything to that happened in a day. So, I found that I’m journaling and I’m constantly telling him what happened in the day and what I was feeling. If I was mad or if I was sad. To be honest, I have not gone back through and read any of that. I don’t know if I’m quite there yet to see what my mindset was at but that was a really good way to get me working through this grief that was so new to me. I’m not a big feelings person. I’m really logical. I like to be able to reason things out and I like to be able to make checklists and solve problems. My husband always used to tell me, “Kate, you worry me a little bit that you’re not feeling bad.” And it’s not that I don’t feel bad for people or feel sympathy. I just want to fix you.
Let’s just get to the outcome here. Let’s just get to the solution!
Yes! And that’s just the way I’m wired. I’m like, “I swear I’m not a sociopath! I have feelings! But, I just want to help you feel better so I’m just going to help you fix this.” Through therapy of my own, I know that’s not always the answer. But, that’s just the way my mind works. So, I’m just not a super emotional person. He reminded me every week of our marriage that I didn’t cry when I said our vows and he did. You know, I didn’t cry when I kids were born, and he did. It’s like me crying to sloppily work through these emotions or even to know that I’m feeling them.
So, I started journaling and it was awesome and I think it was great to see how that evolved. Then, I started running and I started writing about my running in the journal. It was kind of my accountability. I ran this far today, or I got new shoes today. It was just a way to kind of hold me accountable to kind of set those good habits up because I really wanted to do this long term. Again, I knew that the worst was going to happen was I was going to be a little bit more in shape.
So, I did. Then, I just thought, hmm, maybe somebody else cares about what I have to say and maybe somebody else doesn’t but I’m going to give them the choice.
So, all of that went into creating that separate account. and I’m like, well, if people want to follow my running, they can follow this other account. It’s public.
I was running one day when I was like, “What should I call this? Well, I’m a widow.” I hate that word, or I hated it. It just had this, eh, I just feel like this 85-year-old woman shuffling her feet around. Just sad. Carrying a picture of my husband everywhere I go. It’s just like this weird word. And, I’m like, I just have this belief that we give words power. When we take that power back by using those words the way we want to use them or turning those words into something positive instead of something negative, that can be a really great thing. I didn’t want to shy away from using that word, widow. Then, I was just kind of laughing because I feel like Forest Gump with no purpose. Just running for no reason. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I didn’t have any goals specific to running. So, @runwidowrun just kind of popped into my head. I checked Instagram and no one had that username yet so, I just kind of ran with it literally and figuratively.
Now, I just run, and I write about it and I’ve just gotten such great feedback about it. So, it works out pretty well.
What would say that running has brought you these past six months in journaling, in running, in kind of having this public place to post your updates?
Honestly, peace. It has brought me peace. It has brought me gratitude. It has brought me a huge appreciation for people who run really long distances! Somebody just asked me the other day, “How far do you run?” And I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know, I try to run 20 miles a week or so.” And they’re like, “Oh, wow!” And I’m like, “I don’t really think it’s that impressive, but thank you!” Some people do that in a day!
I don’t know that I’ll ever run a marathon. Maybe. Maybe on a whim one day I’ll just go run a 50k or something. Probably not, but you never know. Never say never. The other day I was feeling a little bit defeated. I started grad school this week. The kids went back to school. Work is picking up and everything is just a little bit chaotic. I was feeling really, I don’t think it was overwhelmed. A little bit defeated that I couldn’t be everywhere I needed to be and get everything done I needed to get done.
My 13-year-old just rolls her eyes at me all of the time because I’m like, “Uh, I might not be here for your whole game.” And she’s like, “Mom, I don’t care.” But, I’m like, “But, I do! I want to see you.” And she’s like, “I’d rather you not see me!”
Yes, I’m fine! I had realized that in the chaos of my grad program going from in-person to online that I was going to have to be logged in on Zoom during all of her middle school football games that she cheers for. So, I have like 12 girls at my house from this swim party that she had and I’m crying. And my friend is like, “I don’t know what to do with you when you cry. You don’t cry!” And I’m like, “I don’t know either!”
I was just like so frustrated. Then, I gave myself a minute and I went for a run. I get through the first mile, which is always the worst. The whole second mile of my run, I just listed off things that I was grateful for. I’m not a fast runner so it takes me like 10 whole minutes to run a mile. So, for 10 straight minutes, I did nothing and said nothing except for said, “I am grateful for this. I am grateful for that.” And I listed probably 200 things that I was grateful for. After that, the rest of my run was a breeze physically and mentally.
I came home and I’m like, you know what, I can get a hotspot on my phone. I can log in from the corner of the bleachers with noise cancelling headphones. Watch my girl cheer. Do my work. I will make this work. It is not life or death. That was one of the things in my list of things that I was grateful for that I said. None of these things are life and death. I am grateful that not a single decision that I have to make today is life or death. I am so grateful for that every day. That none of these things that are going on in our quote on quote chaos is life or death. These are not life or death things. If I wasn’t running, I wouldn’t have done that. If I didn’t have that 45 minutes to myself with just the road and my airpods and sunshine, I would not have been able or give myself the opportunity to make a gratitude list like that.
When I journaled, which is more rare these days than it was at the beginning, I would always put three things are that the beginning of my journal entry that I was grateful for. Because, if you can find three things, three things that you’re grateful for, it will greatly improve your life. Your outlook on life. If I have a safe house in a safe neighborhood and a pantry full of food, my basic needs are met. Everything else will come secondary to that. Or, I have healthy kids and a healthy family and a great school district that took my kids back.
Three things can really change your outlook on a day. So, to be able to be running and have that opportunity. Give myself that opportunity to have the time to clear my mind to consciously list hundreds of things in my life that I could be grateful for changes your life. It changes everything about your life. Because, when we live in this state of — I could walk around and go, poor me. I have four kids and I’m by myself and what am I going to do and I still have to, you know, I could not sign them up for sports and not try and give them this full life and tell them that they should feel bad that their dad is not here and that this is unfair.
Or, I can teach them that their dad loved them, and he was awesome and that they’re lucky that they had that at all. That we have so much life left to live and that their dad would want that for them. And that we are blessed to have a supportive family and supportive friends and that we have a great life. Life might not be what we planned. My 13-year-old said to me, I don’t know if it was the day that we told them that he had passed or the next day. All she said was, “Why did it have to happen so soon in my life?” And it broke my heart for her. But, we follow that up with, yes, this is not how we planned it. This is not how we saw our lives. I did not see myself as a 34-year-old single mom of four trying to figure out how to give them this life that they deserve by myself. Well, I’m not by myself and it might not be the life that I pictured, but this is the life I have.
I am going to make a purposeful effort every single day to get everything out of this life. Every joy. Every victory. Every smile. Every effort. When my kids get in the car and I take them to school every day, we pull up to the drop off and I’m telling them to unbuckle and I’m like, “Eyes up. No excuses.” And, what I mean by that is, let’s pay attention to what we’re doing. Let’s be purposeful about the actions we take and the words that we use. There are no excuses to not have a good day. Now, we are going to have bad moments. We’re going to have a bad hour. We’re going to have something bad happen. That’s life. It’s unpredictable and it’s messy. But, there are not excuses for having days, bad weeks, bad months, bad years because there is something in every day that you can grateful for. You choose whether to take that moment, that experience and let that be how you remember your day or let the negatives be how you remember your day.
So, I tell them that and I will tell them that every day for the rest of their lives. Eyes up. No excuses. We’re going to do the right thing. We’re going to have a good day. We can cry. We can be mad. We can think things are unfair but, once we get that out, we need to now shift our focus to what do we have to be grateful for. What do we have that we can share with others? What can we do to make our lives better and other people’s lives better? Those aren’t just words in our house. Those are actionable items.
I never, in my life, lived purposefully before this. Don’t get me wrong. I loved helping people and I work in human services and I consider us good people and do the right thing. But, I think we were really selfish. We saw what was right in front of us and we saw what we wanted and that’s kind of what our focus was. While I wish so many times over the past six months that my husband was still here with us, that’s not life. No matter how much I wish, that’s not gonna change our reality. So, instead of wishing for that, I want to grow from that. So, I take what life has handed us and I’m going to make a purposeful attempt to be better. To grow. To find the light. To find the laughter. To find the humor. Like, my husband could make anything funny and it was almost obnoxious sometimes because, like, I just want to be mad at him and he’d do something so stupid and I’m like, “I just want to be mad at you for like five minutes!” But that wasn’t how he wanted to live his life.
While his story may be done. Ours isn’t. And, I’m going to use what he poured into us for all of those years and I’m going to continue our story and make it purposeful. I don’t want to just live anymore. I don’t just want to be alive and I don’t just want to go through the motions. I don’t just want to live for the weekends and live for the vacations. I want to get something out of every day. No matter how exhausted I am. No matter how frustrating logistics can be with four kids in one vehicle. No matter how many times I think that there’s just too much. There’s just enough. We have just enough to get us to where we need to be for that day. And I may be dead tired at the end of the day, but that day will have been for something.
We are doing things on purpose now and, because of that, our days are better. There is less arguing and there is less chaos because we’re doing things for a reason and not just to go through the motions. I don’t know if that ever would have happened if my husband wouldn’t have passed away. We probably would have just continued on our lives and we would have had a good life. We would have been good people. But, I feel like now, I have a purpose. That purpose is to be mindful and to do things consciously.
You talked earlier and along the way about how lucky your kids are to have had such a great and caring dad and to have a great support system around them. But, I just want to say, they’re also very lucky to have such a strong role model for a mother. As you said, coming out of his passing and these past six months, things could have obviously gone a very different way and it would have been warranted. You have a mountain on your shoulders between his passing and COVID and everything else going on that you don’t have to be where you’ve gotten in the past six months. So, I just want to say how strong you are and how lucky your kids are to have you along this new journey.
Well, thank you. That is very, very sweet. I just think I just owe it to myself. I think, as moms, we get into this mindset where we want the best for our kids. We want them to have everything and to be able to do everything. The moment we turn that focus away, I think, many factors, society being one of them, we feel this instant guilt. If I do something for me and not because my kids need it, then do I look like a bad mom? Do I look selfish? What are people going to say? I think that I’m more concerned about myself now than I’ve ever been.
I don’t call it selfish because it’s not. I call it self-care. When I think selfish, I think doing things that are good for me but bad for somebody else, knowing that and almost in a way to do that. Right? Like, I’m going to be selfish and I’m going to take that cookie even though you haven’t eaten all day because I want it. Where, when we’re doing it from a self-care perspective, it’s, OK, I’m taking this hour for me today to go run so I can be a better human, a better mom, and I can sleep at night. Or, I am going to put the work in to grow and have this purposeful life.
Do my kids deserve it? Absolutely, my kids everything. They’ve been through a lot and they’re incredible kids and, hell, before my husband passed away, I thought they deserved everything. But, now, I know what I deserve now. I know what he saw in me and it took me a really long time to get there. I think that, when you are going back through these pictures or Facebook posts because you’re just trying to cling to anything that you have of somebody that’s passed, you start seeing that. He always knew I was amazing. He always was rooting for me. He always knew my potential. Even though I have been a fairly confident person, I didn’t realize that I realized what I deserve until he wasn’t there to be like quietly in the background pushing for it.
I want my kids to live that way. I want them to know that they deserve a happy life but that it’s up to them to make their life happy. They can’t rely on other people to fill them emotionally and spiritually. That’s not going to lead to happiness. That’s going to lead to resentment. So, me on this journey is finding my happiness.
I remember after he died and sorry if I’m getting lengthy on this, feel free to cut me off. I remember after he died, somebody asking me what I like, and I couldn’t even answer them. Because, I think when you’re married, and you have kids and 20 years of our life had been entangled in each other. You don’t even know what parts of you are you. What parts of you are your marriage and what parts of you are him. When all of the sudden that other person is gone, and you start like slowly undoing this knot and trying to figure out where the root of these things are from. Do I really like going to this place to eat or do I just like it because it’s some place he liked and so I found something on the menu that I enjoy? Do I really like going and doing this? Do I like reading this or listening to that? Or watching this? Or participating in that? Hell, do I like these people? That was a big one for me. Do I still like these people or did I just like these people because he did? And, I like most people, but it’s just kind of one of those weird things that you never think about.
I said to somebody one day, I feel like, at first, every decision I made and everything that was going on and coming my way, I was trying to think, well, what would he want me to do? Which goes back to me never being able to read his mind. If I said what would he want me to do when he was here, he would literally laugh at me. Because what I would think he would want me to do is usually the opposite of what he would want. Jake was great because he didn’t weigh in on a whole lot of things. Like, he could care less about a lot of decisions. He was like, if it makes you happy, do it. If you think it’s good for the kids, do it. But, when he had an opinion, I took him very seriously because he only expressed his opinions when he felt very strongly about something. So, me trying to guess at things those would be is insane. And, you know, but when you’re married you try and make compromises and do what’s best for you as a family. I’m like, I’m making life harder on myself trying to do all of the things the way he would want them done.
What he would want is for me to be happy. What he would want is for me to do what sets right in my soul. That’s all he ever cared about was making sure that we had what we needed, what we wanted. That we were happy and when I had that realization, it was so freeing for me because I’m like, you know what, I’m going to make this decision and I’m going to be confident in that decision. I know that if it makes me happy and I think it’s the right thing to do, he would support me without hesitation. That’s all I need to know. It was just this very liberating thing and I think that my kids see that. They’re making better decisions because I’m confident in the decisions that I’m making.
We don’t realize how much our kids are listening and watching and picking up on things. My kids are happy. They’re healthy. They have good relationships. They love people. They look nothing like they’re father. They’re all little minions of me but man do they love like him. I love watching it because some people are almost taken aback by how caring they can be. And, I’m like, that’s their dad! He couldn’t contain it and these kids can’t contain it. Now seeing that, it’s my job as their mom to be that model for them and say, ok, you want a happy life? Well, don’t wait on somebody else to make you happy or make you laugh. You make yourself happy. You do the things that fill you up. You fill other people up beause that, in turn, is going to fill you up. You pour into other people. You be vulnerable and be positive.
There is always a light and you can choose to be a light or you can choose to suck somebody else’s light. And I, in this life, am choosing to be the light because, even if I don’t need the light myself, somebody else may. And if they don’t, what’s the worse that happened? I was a light in a dark room with nobody in it? Ok. And I’m ok with that. And it’s not a way that I ever lived my life before. Instead of being mad that I wasted 33 years being less than enlightened I guess, I don’t care. I’m just going to keep going for the next how many ever years I get on this earth and do my best every day. We do the best with what we have at the time and I think I did. I was a good mom. I was a good wife. I was a decent friend. But, now, I’m just being more purposeful about it and I think that’s just better. I know better now.
So, is there one takeaway from your story that you’d like to leave with the Runner Moms community today?
Life is short. I know it’s so cliché. One time, somebody, actually it wasn’t somebody, I think it was my mom, said he’s an addict and he’s going to have to battle that forever. Are you prepared to live in that battle with him? And, without hesitation, I said yes. And the reason I said yes was because he could have walked out the door and got hit by a car. He worked in a super dangerous field. Anything could have happened any day. He could have fallen. There could be a fire. He could get in a car accident. There are any number of things that can happen to anybody on any given day. Life is short and unpredictable. So, don’t wait. Like don’t wait until tomorrow to make those plans. Be purposeful. Do things. Because, even if they’re small things, when you do things, it changes everything. And it may seem small and insignificant but to somebody else it could mean everything. To your kids. To a stranger. To yourself. Running for five minutes today may seem like a minimal thing. But five minutes today turns into 15 minutes next month and it turns into a half hour, 45 minutes, an hour, 3 hours. And, on those runs, we find ways to be grateful and be better people but because we made the choice to do and not to wait.
And that is it. That is where I’m at. I don’t know if this is where I’ll five years from now. I’m sure life has a whole bag full of things coming my way but today, right now, I’m going to do and I’m going to choose to do on purpose. And I’m not going to let life happen to me because that is where we find our power and I think that is where we find our peace. Is doing and accepting. I’m gonna go do and I’m gonna accept what is because, if you battle those things, that’s where you get all up in your head and funky. So, choosing to do and accepting what is and the rest of life, it just kind of happens.
I love that. That’s a great takeaway. Absolutely, well thank you Katie for your bravery in sharing your family’s story with the Runner Moms community. As I mentioned at the beginning of the episode, your story is one that’s going to stick in my mind and I know that will also be the case for the other moms who are listening.
So, if others would like to follow along on your running journey, where should they go?
They can find me on Instagram @runwidowrun. I post regular updates. I try to do it daily. Sometimes just a short jaunt about my run. You know, we have different events coming up and things like that so you can find me on Instagram there.
And I’ll be sure to link to your Instagram in the show notes as well. Well, thank you again Katie. I appreciate you being here today.
I hope you got as much out of this episode as I did. Katie offered so many great bits of advice and takeaways that I know I’ll be digesting for a while. As she put it, life is short, so live with purpose and make it count.
Thanks again for listening along on today’s episode of the Runner Moms podcast. If you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe to our show and also leave a review through your podcast player. I’d greatly appreciate your reviews as it will help other mom runners find our content.
Until next time, happy running and happy momming!