Running Through The Dark

How moving my body in nature saved my life again…

Written By: Sarah Schortz

Sarah Schortz | Life-long Nature Wanderer

December 2023.  In the dark depths of winter, my light almost went out.  It was on its very last flicker.  

I was in shock, depressed, overwhelmed, underwater.  I felt alone, helpless, hopeless.

We had a plan. Yes we were divorced, and that obviously required a good deal of acclimating and adjusting.  A lot of uncomfortable becoming.

But this, this wasn’t part of the plan. 

We were supposed to coparent.  We were supposed to do this together.  My son was supposed to have a father. 

We had a plan.

But plans, as my therapist likes to say, are bullshit. 

Life has a way of lifing despite our careful planning.

Abruptly, without warning, the plan changed, and I suddenly found myself a full time solo mother.  

I was devastated.  How in the world was I going to work, have a life, do all the things to make life go?  Every last shred of who the person I thought I knew for 15 years disappeared.  Poof.  Who was this stranger who could leave his son and leave me holding all the pieces of tending to another human’s life with no support?

The early days were rough in a way that I cannot begin to put words to.

I dropped all the balls, everyday. We were always late.  I always forgot something.  Some days it was the permission slip to go on the field trip, some days it was to pay the KUB bill, some days it was to get the chicken nuggets, the only thing my child will eat.  

I had no time for the work which deeply nourished me- supporting others in connecting with themselves, nature and the divine in ways that help them create the lives they want to be living while supporting them on their journeys of healing and reclamation of their true selves – the one that lives deep inside, buried beneath their trauma and conditioning. 

I had no time for the nourishing presence of friends.  

I was literally trying to survive, keep our household functioning, and keep myself together enough to create an emotionally healthy space for my child. 

I was so overwhelmed that I would spend hours, days frozen, not knowing where to start. There was too much to do.  It was all too much.

Things went undone, unopened, left out, forgotten. Life piled up.  

I cried every night.  

I called my mom every night.  

“Mom, I can’t do this, tell me I can do this…”  “You can do this honey, I believe in you.  You are strong.  You are smart. You will figure it out. This is just a really hard time.  It will get better.”

I couldn’t see how.  But I believed her. 

I lost myself in the loneliness, the anger, the overwhelm, the grief, the isolation. 

I forgot who I was.

My light flickered to the brink of extinction. 

For the first time ever, I didn’t think I could keep it lit.

Yet somehow, in my darkest moment, at the bottomest of bottoms, I realized I had a choice.

I could choose to not let it go out.

I realized in that moment that this choice was mine alone to make.  No one could keep my light lit but me.

And alone, in the dark, I made my choice.

In that moment, I promised myself that no matter what, I would not let my light go out.

I quickly learned that one thing a solo mother does not have a lot of is time.  I found myself overwhelmed with all the things I needed to do and all the responsibilities I had to carry alone.

If I was going to make it through this I needed a plan.  I needed a system.  I needed to know what mattered and stay laser focused on those things.

I created a guide book for myself.  I spent time meditating on my values and what I cared about.  What was really important to me and what I wanted our new life to look and feel like. I synthesized these things into a map of what matters and built myself a daily and weekly schedule based on these things.

As I did, three words started rolling around in my head.  Discipline.  Focus.  Strength.  They became the lighthouse that guided my journey out of the dark.

“In that moment, I promised myself that no matter what, I would not let my light go out.”

As someone with ADHD, focus and discipline are extremely challenging for me.  And strong was the furthest thing from how I felt.

I didn’t know how to stay focused.  I didn’t know how to be disciplined.  

I needed something to keep me on my path and keep me accountable. 

I needed a tangible, external representation of the internal work that was taking place. 

So I did what any sane, depressed, overwhelmed solo mother struggling to keep her head above water with very limited free time would do.  I decided I would run a marathon.  

My first marathon, ever.

With no idea what marathon I would run, I found a free beginner marathon training plan at the Knoxville based running coach www.themotherrunners.com and began my training the first week of January.

I had no idea how much I would learn about myself in the process.  How I could persist through and find solutions for challenges, how I could nurture, nourish, honor, tend to and listen to my body, how I could prioritize rest, how I could show up even when I didn’t feel like it.  

Training for a marathon taught me how to care for myself in ways I never had before. 

And soon, step by step, run by run, week by week,  I found myself running through and out of the darkness.

The flicker was starting to look like a flame.

There was still the minor detail of what race I was going to run.

Me being me, running a marathon was not enough.  It needed to be epic.  It needed to be the perfect one.  It needed to be some time between April and June so that I had enough time to train, but not so far out that I lost motivation.

It needed to be somewhere beautiful, when and where the weather was not too hot and not too cold.  It needed great views in a place that felt relaxed. 

I spent hours researching races all over the country but none would do. 

And then, one morning when I wasn’t looking, my race found me.  

Out on a run I tuned into an episode of Another Mother Runner podcast featuring a rare male guest sharing the origin story of his amazing organization Slow AF (which helps people start running in the bodies they have today).  I found him charming, delightful and extremely inspiring.  When asked what his favorite marathon was, he said hands down Big Sur.  As he described the race I could see myself there.  I knew instantly that was the one.

Off I marched, credit card in hand to the Big Sur International Marathon website to register, where I quickly discovered that this was one of the most popular (and difficult) races in the country with spots so limited there was a lottery….  which took place months before.  Whoops.  

Despite my disappointment, I poked around the site and learned more about the race.  Then I saw it.  Charity spots.  I could choose an organization to raise money for and get to run the race.  

There were about a dozen to choose from, but when my eyes landed on Every Mother Counts, my intuition immediately said – that one.

As a single mother, I often felt like I didn’t count.  What was this organization whose name proclaimed that I mattered and was connected to this epic race that seemed to be calling me to it?

I read their mission: “We envision a world where all women have the opportunity to enter motherhood and not only survive, but thrive.”

I felt seen.  I felt included.  I felt like I counted. 

I learned that approximately 287,000 women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. That’s 1 woman every two minutes.  Today in 2024.

I learned how Every Woman Counts works in communities around the world to raise awareness and supply funding to support organizations led by women from the communities where they work and which place mothers at the center.  Allowing them to help deliver high impact solutions to improve maternal health- especially in historically marginalized communities. 

And so, I found myself filling out the registration, committing to run one of the hardest marathons in the country and raising $3000 in less than 8 weeks time.  

I needed the pressure. I’d reached the point in my training where running was starting to take over my life.  Saturdays were my long run day. When they got over 12 miles this meant hours of running, plus time for stretching before and after.  Then there was tending to my body after the run.  Rest, epsom salt baths.  Good sleep.  

I went to bed by 9 PM on Fridays in order to be able to get up early enough to fit it all into my day.  

Marathon training had taken over my life. Which was ok by me, since it was saving my life by keeping me focused on something besides how hard everything else was.  

The excitement about getting to run this race, the pressure to be ready to do it in under 6 hours (this course has a strict cut off) and the weight of raising $3000 reinvigorated my waning enthusiasm for running 30 plus miles a week without a concrete destination in mind.  

And so on April 28, 2024 I found myself moving my body through one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life.  I found myself running in wild wonder on the ragged edge of the pacific coast.

I spent the first 13 miles crying, laughing, and smiling so big I thought my heart would explode.  I barely noticed I was running.  

I had done it.  I had taken the small steps each day for 16 weeks to teach my mind and body how to run 26.2 miles. 

Yes I am now a marathoner.  But the real story is who I became, or rather who I reclaimed in the process. 

I remembered how strong I am, how strong I already was.

I learned how to tend to and feed my light so that I never have to worry about it going out again- no matter what life may bring.

I learned how to love, tend to, and care for my body with proper rest, nourishment, hydration, stretching and recovery. 

I learned how to prioritize what mattered most to me and say no to everything else – without a hint of guilt. 

I learned how to face and find solutions for challenges where I had the power to do so, and to accept and flow with the ones I outside of my control. 

When winter rains made for unpleasant outdoor running conditions – I joined a gym.

When an unprecedented snow storm dumped 13 inches of snow that kept us snowed in for seven days – I ran up and down my quarter mile drive way in the snow.

When Highway 1 (the race course I was set to run) fell into the ocean – ok that one about knocked me off the path… I said oh well it will work out. 

And it did, better than I could have imagined…

About the author » Sarah Schortz

Sarah Schortz is a life long nature wanderer. In addition to holding a masters degree in recreation therapy, she is a RYT200 trauma sensitive yoga instructor, certified holistic wellbeing coach, divorce and transition doula + formally trained Forest Bathing Guide with over a decade of experience.

You can email her at zan@thepsaltywild.com or connect with her using the links below:

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