It’s hard not to feel lazy when you’re married to an endurance athlete. This is one of the humbling truths I’ve had to confront over the years of being partnered with someone whose fitness is unparalleled by most human beings. Granted, the fact that I’m writing tonight accompanied by a large spoon and a vat of homemade cookie dough is not helping my case, but the reality is that despite how many baby-holding squats or mile-long jaunts through the park I do, it’s easy to feel physically lazy in comparison to my husband.
There was a time when the question “Do you run, too?” haunted my dreams. I understood the source of the question- how could someone whose life’s epicenter was all things endurance athletics choose to be married to someone so… pedestrian? It seemed unfathomable to those acquainted with my husband’s impressive feats of physicality that his partner would not be inclined towards a similar passion.
I was asked the question on a nearly daily basis at the beginning of our relationship. My go-to answer was always “No, but I used to swim competitively in high school,” as though I needed to offer at least some glimpse of athleticism, feeling wholly inadequate and ashamed of my athletic inertia.
The truthful response would have been “No, but sometimes I have solo Lady Gaga dance parties in my living room, and that really gets me sweating!” Oh, and the other day I chased my defiant 5 year old through the park with a 25 pound baby weight in my arms, so yeah, I guess you could say I run- although it’s kinda more like Parkour with a weighted human vest that sporadically projectile vomits all over you.
I have always been fit, health-conscious and active. I love hiking and being outdoors. I love cycling, surfing, snowboarding and swimming. But once I married my husband, recreational fitness didn’t seem as though it was enough.
My husband never imposed these self-doubting feelings upon me- it was all self-inflicted. Attending IronMan competitions, AKA endurance fitness muscle car shows didn’t help, either. Being a normal person in a sea of shirtless Greek Gods and Goddesses can be a blow to your confidence. I mean, seriously. It’s physiologically impossible to be that fit and still have big, perky boobs. I know it sounds somewhat pathetic, but I’m human, and we all want to fit in with whatever world we are a part of. I just happened to have parachuted into a world of some of the fittest, toughest, most health-conscious people on earth with bodies that could be showcased in Shake Weight commercials.
I levied an insurmountable pressure on myself to do or be something demonstrably great, not necessarily because I wanted to- but because I thought that was what was required of a successful endurance athlete’s wife.
I found myself in a precarious Catch-22; I wanted to run in order to satiate other’s expectations, but if I ran I would never be as “Great” as my husband, which stopped me from running.
I struggled with feelings of inadequacy and falsely perceived expectations to the extent that I grew resentful of my husband’s athletic success. The greater he became, the smaller I let myself feel.
I’m sure these sentiments are not unique to endurance athletics. Anyone who is in a relationship with someone who has achieved some level of greatness has most likely felt similar inadequacies. Like, whoever marries Justin Bieber is going to have a MAJOR hair complex (“Oh, why can’t I have perfect, swoopy 15 year old man bangs like him?”)
I think the key to maintaining a healthy self-image when inevitably comparing yourself and being compared-to a “Great” counterpart is all about perspective. Just because someone ran 32 miles today shouldn’t undermine the fact that you got out there and walk-jogged 3 miles. Someone winning a marathon and having chiseled, glistening legs parading through Running magazines doesn’t negate your determination to complete a 5k race. Just because someone is a little bit crazy in the head and need to run for endless hours doesn’t make us lazy, or less great. It just makes us different. And that’s ok. (Gasp. OMG. I know you can’t even right now but it’s totally true.)
It took me years to realize that my passions, talents and interest were equally important, even if they weren’t as apparent or quantifiable. I realized that my identity and self-worth are not dependent or defined by the things I do, but rather who I am. I learned to let-go. I learned to say “Hey, if wearing booty shorts, having an inexorably sore undercarriage and eating gross caffeinated jelly beans is your thing, more power to you. It’s just not my thing, and that’s okay, because I have other things, like Lady Gaga dance parties and chocolate chip cookie dough.”
So to all you loco endurance athletes: be mindful to make your counterpart feel important and great whether they have just run a 100k, mall-walked for 45 minutes or knitted a sweater with baby bunnies on it. Understand that being athletically badass is a choice that not everyone wants to make. There is a fine line between motivation and pressure.
And to all of you “normies” out there: don’t resent your loved one for choosing extreme fitness as a lifestyle. Allow them the freedom to satiate their need for cathartic, physical anguish that can only be met through hours on the road or in the mountains. There is a fine line between admiration and self-deprecating envy.
Yes, there are others that will always be fitter than me. My husband will always be able to run and bike faster than me. ( Although I could still kick his butt in the pool- like that one time I was 8 months pregnant and schooled him in an impromptu 200 meter race after he had been training for 2 solid years.)
Some things are just easier to quantify as meritorious, awesome and deserving of a fist-bump. That doesn’t make the quieter accolades any less exemplary, or the not-so-hardcore lifestyles any less productive and praiseworthy.