Of half-marathons, lost love and crumbling walls

Udaya Pillalamarri
4 min readAug 23, 2020

My first run was a complete disaster. It was barely 1.5miles and I was cursing my girlfriends who dragged me out of bed at 5am that cool summer morning in 2014! Who in their right minds would want to leave a warm bed at an ungodly hour to run circles within a community?

It all started with one of my closest friends wanting to run a 5K and she wanted company. I reluctantly signed up; truthfully because of the medal at the end of our finish line and bragging rights as no one in my family ever went running. That summer, for the next two months, my friends and I would wake up at the crack of dawn to run 3.2miles twice a week. I completed my first 5K race in 36min, running non-stop all the way with a painful cramp in my right leg. I broke down at the end of it and figured my time could be well spent swimming instead.

The following year that same friend set our sights on a half-marathon (13.1 miles) to be held months later in November. By then, I’d run another 5K and was starting to feel more confident in my ability to survive. So I signed up and our gang of five started training late April with two 5K runs every week followed by long weekend morning runs. By end of September, I could run 10miles non-stop! Running to me was akin to meditating; focusing solely on my breath, heart-rate and keeping all other thoughts at bay. It was just me, the road and my will to keep moving. I was in love.

Love stories, however, seldom go the way we want them to. Push and pull, great expectations, romanticizing every minutiae when a sprinkle of common sense could help provide balance and lack of definition/respect for boundaries are some of the reasons relationships tend to fall apart. And so it was with this particular one. I pushed too hard, became badly injured four weeks before the race and was the only one in my group who couldn’t run that year. I was heartbroken, in pain both mentally and physically from the loss.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional” — Haruki Murakami

Pain is an amazing indicator of limits unknown and breached. I wish I had fortitude to understand the underlying issues at its onset and quit while ahead. I didn’t. My injury ultimately took four years to heal. I lived with pain radiating through my lower back, hips and legs from every step for three years constantly. Some days when I felt even the slightest bit stable, I would go for a two mile walk and perhaps even try to run if I could. Patience was never my strong suit and I faced many setbacks early on during my recovery.

Healing, takes time. Learning to listen to your inner voice and understand its signals, a lot longer.

Somewhere in my core, though, was a tiny hope that I would be able to run this half marathon. That tiny flame of hope kept me going, figuring out ways to help myself and never give up. It took me two and half years to find a good physical therapist and I’m immensely grateful to him for helping me on this long journey. I returned to swimming to help my body heal in a non-impactful way and slowly but surely, in my final year of recovery, I started training again. I remember that cold winter morning in December of 2018 when I re-introduced myself to the trail. As I ran my first two miles after three years, I made a promise to run my half a year from then. And I did. I finished my first half marathon on Nov 3rd 2019 — tears of gratitude streaming down my face as I crossed the finish line.

“Sometimes we get so focused on the difficulty of our climb that we lose sight of being grateful for simply having a mountain to climb. I know for sure that appreciating whatever shows up for you in life changes your whole world. ” — What I Know For Sure, by Oprah Winfrey

There are many lessons I’ve learnt over the years through painful, yet necessary experiences. As I grow older, I’ve come to realize the power of gratitude and in allowing yourself to receive such moments in time with open arms. It’s not easy going through them but they do teach you to breathe deeply, connect with your inner person and show you ways to pick yourself up when you fall. More importantly, they shone a light on stone walls I’d built within for my own protection. Walls of comfort, excuses and lost loves that shielded me from discovering myself and what I’d wanted out of this life.

And with every painful experience these walls come crumbling down, one stone at a time.