In 2007, I began training for an endurance race with the local Leukemia and Lymphoma Team in Training. This organization helps people train for a long distance race like a marathon (26.2 miles)  or a half marathon (13.1 miles), in exchange for fund raising for their organization. The fundraising is based on annual goals, and helps the runner or walker get to their race and reduce out of pocket expenses.

I had never run a race (as an adult) before. Not even a 5 k (3.1 miles). So, here’s me,   thinking a marathon is a good race to start.

                                               SIDE NOTE: how come no one talks me out of this stuff?

At the time, I had a 3 year old and a 1 year old. I worked full time, and the babies were in day care more than full time. My husband worked too. He is an electrician, often out of town, and on job sites far from home. I was always exhausted. Always wearing shirts that had spit up or coffee stains on them. Probably more of the latter. Plus, the baby weight didn’t fall off after the second baby, which added to my overall ineptitude as a human being.

When I began training, (and by training I mean running, and by running I mean really, really slow jogging, and by jogging, I mean it was almost walking), I met some incredible women and men. Many of them had a connection to someone diagnosed with Leukemia or were survivors of leukemia or another form of cancer. I was shocked at how many people around me were survivors. It felt like I was running for selfish reasons: lose the baby fat to look good in a swimsuit at least once as a mother.

But, the truth is, I was running to survive. And no, I wasn’t diagnosed with Leukemia.

I was running to plan my escape. I was living with a raging alcoholic.

I needed some non-drunk adult human contact. I needed to see and know how other people lived. I needed to know I wasn’t alone. I needed to know that there was more to my life than cleaning up after two toddlers and wondering if the giant 39 year old man-child in my home was sober enough to drive to pick up my babies from day care.

You see, living with someone who lies to you and hides their addiction makes you second guess everything in your own life. How did I miss he drank 4 beers to my one? When did he start drinking that much? When did he drink and drive? How did I not see the signs? Was he cheating on me? How come his coworkers never said they were worried about him when he didn’t show up to work on time or sometimes not show up at all? How did his family not see this? How did someone not pull the wool from my eyes?

I realized that if I didn’t change my life, then I would end up on the front page of the newspaper, or make the evening news as the top tragedy of the day. Plus, I had to be the role model for my babies. Watching your father come home drunk, raid the fridge for any food, and pass out on the couch is not any way to live nor show little boys how to grow up and become men and fathers.

Back to the marathon training.

I was slow. I was really, really slow. I was always last in my training group to finish any run. And this made the long runs feel longer because when I finished, the volunteers at the water table were packing up.

Luckily, with Team in Training you are matched to running or walking groups based on your pace and you are assigned a mentor. I was so grateful someone as slow as me would encourage me, motivate me and even force me to run a bit faster. And, my mentor never asked me why I was crying. I was running to solve my problems, and some days, I just didn’t see a solution.

On each Sunday we ran our longest training runs. When you are training for a marathon, you build up in miles and in minutes of running each week. It takes about 16 to 24 weeks of consistent, committed weekly training to get to the point of completing the 26.2 distance.

And with each mile, I found myself searching for what I did to cause his drinking. One particular long training run, one of my fellow “turtle runners”  said to me “I am more than my cancer diagnosis. It’s just one chapter of my life story.”

And that’s when I realized, my husband’s drinking wasn’t about me, nor was I the cause. After many difficult months of talking, counseling, family meetings, and fights and silent treatments, he discovered how to keep himself from drinking.

Since I’ve completed that 26.2 of life saving miles (which nearly killed me because, hello: that’s a long race when you are slow!), I’ve run other races, various distances. I’m always the turtle of the group, and my baby fat just hasn’t vanished (7 years later)!

And my husband? He’s not drinking any more.

And the best part? He and my boys finish the last half mile of every race with me.

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Deb Burke

I grew up in the picturesque town of Madison, Wisconsin. That's the only normal thing about me. I also grew up in a family shoe repair business and soon learned that child labor laws don't apply to family businesses. I left Madison to finish college in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Here I became a spelunker, a cyclist, a mountain trail runner, an avid hot air balloon watcher (much to the dismay of the drivers behind me) and quite the connoisseur of green chili cheese burgers. Eventually, I fell in love, had 2 children, bought a house, and then got married (in that order). Life is certainly crazy keeping up with my two boys!