Running Towards Grief and Loss

Maria Fell is a trail runner and dabbler in outdoor activities, including mountain biking, surfing, and chasing children along the shore. She resides in Ventura, California with her husband, two children, and Mimi the golden retriever. Passionate about end of life care and trained in palliative care social work, she strives to live in the here and now while not shying away from grief and loss. After the birth of her daughter in 2021, Maria started Ventura Trail Mamas, a group for moms to receive support and opportunities to get out on the trails together.

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Grief can catch you off guard, knock you over. Have you ever been surfing and gotten destroyed by a wave? That’s how I picture grief hitting me. You wonder if you will or even can make it out alive. I have made it out every time. I credit getting outside, running, and community for keeping me afloat when I felt like I was drowning. 

My journey with running started long, long ago during high school volleyball off season. I ran cross country and slowly began to love the freedom I felt. I remember it being one of the first sports I felt actually good at and that was a good feeling. It has seen me through my awkward high school phase, college challenges and trying to look a certain way. It has been with me in the coldest winters in Michigan during grad school and during the hottest, flattest years in South Florida. It has become something my husband and I enjoy doing together – well, I am usually trailing behind. 

Running has seen me at my worst and has carried me through immense grief. The initial feelings when losing someone near and dear are unbearable. Then the waves of grief that come out of nowhere (weeks, months, years later) that seem to taunt me.  Running has seen me through these dark moments and has provided me a space to question, be present with silence, and confront fears. Finding trail running years ago brought on a new sense of power within myself. The strength we draw from mountains, trees, the immensity of nature is just unreal. I no longer am trying to escape the pain of loss, I am running toward it and finding fragments of healing along the way. 

I am a mother to two sweet babes and motherhood has been my greatest joy, as well as a subject of grief. I am working through not feeling bad about that. I am joyful that I get the privilege to be mom to these kids but there was a grief period, especially after the birth of my oldest. I quickly began to see how my life changed and, essentially, my identity. My love for running didn’t seem as clear cut and I was struggling to find time to get outside. I missed the solo runs, the ability to train for races, and the freedom. I had to go through a period of grieving the loss of my life pre-kids. I am starting to see all that is possible with running while being a mother. Having little cheerleaders that I birthed is just something else!

Running has also brought me community, which has been healing. We were made to engage with others on this earth and it is special when we meet a fellow woman, maybe mother, with whom we seem to have an oddly amazing connection. Then, we no longer feel completely alone in the struggles motherhood can bring. Running has been healing with its gift of methodical movement, as well as providing me with a strong and supportive group of women. The stability of movement and community has made the waves of grief less scary. 

If you are looking for a local running community or mom friends, I hope you find them. Don’t give up. It is worth it. 

If you are grieving the loss of someone, the inability to have a child, a change in identity, whatever it may be…You are not alone, even if it feels like you are.

About the Author

Maria Fell is a trail runner and dabbler in outdoor activities, including mountain biking, surfing, and chasing children along the shore. She resides in Ventura, California with her husband, two children, and Mimi the golden retriever. Passionate about end of life care and trained in palliative care social work, she strives to live in the here and now while not shying away from grief and loss. After the birth of her daughter in 2021, Maria started Ventura Trail Mamas, a group for moms to receive support and opportunities to get out on the trails together.

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  1. Hi Maria,

    I too am a runner, 20 marathons under my belt (very slow ones), and now grieving the loss of my husband just about a month ago from an unexpected widowmaker heart attack. Michael had just turned 53 and had watched me finish the Boston Marathon just months before with our two boys Grant (18) and Logan (16).
    I went on my first run just a few days ago and ran into a good friend (and much faster, accomplished runner than myself) who encouraged me to keep going, to keep running and to try and find support through others who run.
    I wondered if your group ever does destination trail/run/hiking trips or just races together?
    Although I live in FL, I am hoping to spend some time over the next year traveling and would love to find a way to connect with others through running.

    Thanks!
    Robyn Hawking

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