Chronicles of an Endurance Athlete's Wife

Married to an Ultra Runner

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 2)

The Daily Commute, in Running and Relationships

On a normal weekday, my husband makes his daily commute to work on foot, running 12 miles from our quaint mountain home on the outskirts of Flagstaff into town, and then back home as the sun sets at the end of a long work day.

These long commutes are the majority of his training, making it so that he doesn’t have to do specific workouts on top of a busy work day.  This gives him some extra time for morning snuggles and evening dance parties with the babes.  And if I’m lucky, I get a solid 45 minutes of Netflix and Chill (emphasis on “chill” in its literal sense) before he falls asleep next to me, often while I’m making some deep commentary on a particularly intense scene of our show.

“You feel me, Rivs?”

Nope.  He’s out.

Every time.

Although this in itself sounds like an impressive feat (the running, not the exhaustion-induced narcolepsy, although some would argue that they are both quite remarkable), I have to admit that I’m so accustomed to his supernatural physical and mental fortitude that I’ve come to expect this type of behavior.

The other day, amidst the hustle of getting a reluctant 7 year old ready for school while simultaneously trying to dissuade a headstrong 2 year old from stuffing blackberries into her Baby Alive Doll’s butt (true story) and urging a feisty 10 month old to put food in her mouth instead of on the floor, I noticed that my husband wasn’t on his way out the door as he normally would be at 7:15.

I quickly glanced around the living room.

Running shoes still lined up with the other 15 or 30 other pairs by the door.

Hydration pack still lying in the corner.

Husband in sweats rather than his normal 7am stretchy pants.

Gloves still lying neatly on the entryway dresser, next to an assortment of sunglasses, hats and watches all absolutely essential to running and therefore need to be visible at all times.

The empirical evidence was gathered, denoting only one thing.

“Are you…driving to work?” I asked, unable to hide the horror in my voice.

“Yeah, my legs are pretty dead and I have some things to work on at the clinic before I start work,” he replied.

“Oh…” I mumbled, the word “lazy” floating through my head even though the only physical exertion I’d demonstrate that day would be a 28 minute circuit workout and some pragmatic squats to remove toys and/or dirty diapers off the floor with a baby in my arms.

“I can’t believe he’s NOT going to run 24 miles and work for 8 hours in a neurological rehabilitation clinic today while still finding time to work on his doctoral thesis” I thought before stopping myself to note how asinine that sentence sounded in my head.

I had to take a moment to humble myself.

I’m often so consumed with patting myself on the back for how hard I work at home with 3 kids that I don’t appreciate all that my husband does.

I think this is typical in relationships, and is often the reason they fall apart.  We become so entrenched in obsessing over our own hard work- how much we put into the relationship or comparing tit for tat tasks around the house- that we stop showing appreciation for all that our partner does.

In that momentary epiphany of my own self-absorption, I realized that my husband’s hard work doesn’t negate my own.  Things run smoother when we praise our partner’s efforts before taking an exhaustive inventory of all the things we’ve done that day.

I may spend the day keeping things out of plastic dolls butts while wiping real human ones.  I may feel like a taxi service carting kids here and there, finding time to squeeze in an essential salsa drop-off at my husband’s work (sometimes you just NEED salsa for your burrito after you’ve run 12 miles.  Straight up NEED it.)

Yes, I do a lot at home.  But that doesn’t mean that my husband isn’t working equally hard in a different capacity.

Even the extraordinary becomes unimpressive when you witness it day after day.  It’s up to us to search for the marvelous in the mundane.

Chaffed Nipples and the Universality of Pain

My husband crossed the BMO Phoenix Marathon finish line in uncharacteristic rage.

Rather than throwing out high-fives to the cheering crowds in the race’s final stretch, I watched as my husband’s impressive stride slowed to a pedestrian pace.  He wore a pained grimace on his face in lieu of his habitual wide-mouthed smile.  His legs were quivering with pangs of over exertion.

There was no doubt that he was hurting a little more than normal.  From my position across the metal fence, I couldn’t tell if it was because his legs had seized, if he was severely dehydrated, or if his less than jovial finish was due to the fact that he came through in 2nd place, just seconds behind the Ethiopian victor.

One thing was certain; he had raced hard.  He had thrown down with some fast east African dudes, and he had done it with every ounce of “baby daddy gots to win the bread for his 4 babes to pay for the fun weekend in Phoenix at a hotel out of our price range cuz YOLO” he had in him.

Now don’t get me wrong- he always races with more guts, determination and grit than most humans can muster in a lifetime.  But it seemed apparent to me that this race was fueled by even more constructive fury than normal.

The crowd was going wild- all three top finishers had made it through in under 2:19, all within a minute of each other.

We watched my husband haphazardly walk through the finish, then collapse in a heap on the pavement.

“Oh NOOOOO!” our oldest daughter exclaimed in panic.

“It’s okay, Harp. Daddy will be fine.  He just ran really hard and he’s very tired,” I replied, my heart warmed by her concern.

“No, I dropped my lollipop!” she responded, pointing to the gravel-encrusted Tootsie Pop laying on the asphalt.

“Should have known,” I whispered under my breath, once again reminded that despite being unconditionally full of love, children are are often selfish tiny human a-holes completely oblivious to the sacrifices parents make for their happiness and comfort.  But whatevs.

I quickly shook out of the existential tangent and turned my attention back to my husband who was being congratulated and slowly helped to his feet by a group of race volunteers.

Meanwhile, Harper had picked off all of the floor debris from her candy and decided that her 7 year old life was once again worth living.

I called to my husband now that is seemed like he was in a somewhat conscious state,.  He hobbled slowly over to kiss me and our 3 girls.

Iris, our feisty 2 year old, clambered over the guardrail to jump into his shaking arms.  Rather than deport her back over the barricade, a nice race volunteer helped my other 2 daughters over the rail to be with their father.  I guess I didn’t look light enough to be hoisted over, or limber enough to climb the fence, so I was left on the other side singing my husband’s praise from the other side of the wall.  It was a great wall.  It wasn’t too yuge, but it was great.  The best, actually.

“Are you okay?”  “How are your legs?  Do you need some food?” “Do you need more water?”  “How was the race?”  “You did SO good!”  “Are you happy with how you did?”

For some reason, I always Spanish inquisition my husband after a race.  It’s probably super annoying, but I’ll explain it away as deep love and concern manifesting as a conquest for empirical evidence in order to figure out how to best help him feel better.

“I’m good, just hurting,” he responded with characteristic kindness and stoicism.

“Is it your leg?” I inquired, wanting to understand his pain, both of us knowing that I could do pretty much nothing about it.

“No, it’s…. It’s my nipple.”

My husband slowly pulled his thin black singlet to the side to expose a cracked, inflamed and bloody right nipple.

I busted out in laughter.  I couldn’t help it.

Here was my Spartan husband, generally unfazed by physical duress.  He had just run 26.2 miles with some of the fastest runners in the world.  His big toenail was hanging on by a thread.  His hamstrings were seizing.  I later found out that during his 5:12/mile pace race he had jumped-on and run over the roof of a car that had been illegally driving on the race course.

All of these pain-inducing experiences, and here he was complaining about his freaking nipple.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I knew all-too-well the agony he was enduring.

“Now imagine a hungry baby sucking on that nipple,” I scoffed, smugly satisfied that he could experience one of the painful pastimes of early motherhood.

Despite exhaustion and glycogen depletion, my husband let out his familiar laugh and smiled in commiseration.  He held our 3 daughters tightly, and though he was too tired to say it, I knew his embrace was telling our children that it was all for them.

After a few bottles of water and a couple of vomiting session into a nearby cardboard trash bin, my husband finally felt well enough to hoist Iris onto his shoulders and make his way into the finish area.

As we walked around the various tents- Harper accumulating an unrespectable amount of mesh Frisbees and Chik-fil-A freebies- I couldn’t help but think about the universality of pain.

(Yes, my husband’s chaffed nipple got me thinking about the metaphysical nature of pain. If you haven’t already realized it, I’m pretty weird.)

I started thinking that despite the different walks in life we all take- whether we decide to be mothers, lawyers, athletes, mechanics, or doctors, whether we end up married, divorced, widowed, homeless, depressed, happy, successful or defeated, we all experience physical pain in the same way.

We all have metaphorically chaffed nipples from all different life experiences.  And in that very small way, we are all the same.

Even though I had never run a marathon, I knew exactly how my husband felt under completely different circumstances.  I knew in a very small way, how he was hurting.  And in that moment, both his pain and his humanity became more real to me.

Don’t let some of the rhetoric of today’s global climate fool you.

We are all human.  We all love.  We all feel pain.  And it hurts just as badly to you as it does to me.  To them.  To all of us.

 

You Do You

rivs-blog

When my husband and I first met, running was mostly a hobby for him.  Yes, running paid for his university degree and facilitated our ability to live in Hawaii for 8 years, but we were still poor, struggling students with nothing but a couple of surfboards and an old Ford Ranger to our name.

Our first daughter was born while I was doing a Masters degree at the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica (damn hippies, right?  Now you’re onto us…)  After her birth, shit got real, so to speak.  The pressure was on for us to become somewhat responsible adults if we were to be entrusted with the life of another human.  

For a lot of people, this means getting a stable job, buying an income-appropriate home, trading in Walker Texas Ford Ranger for a minivan, relinquishing lofty dreams to the good old days and maybe getting an overpriced purebred dog.

I have to admit that I was tempted by the image of normalcy- the American Dream if you will.  There is a particular allure to consistency, stability and conformity, especially when rearing a child.  My interests rapidly switched from travel, conflict journalism and the ever-plaguing White (Wo)Man’s Save The World complex to budgeting and white picket fences.

My husband, on the other hand, unadulterated by postpartum minivan hormones, maintained that having a child didn’t negate his desire or ability to become what he had always wanted- a professional endurance athlete.

Not that there is anything wrong with living a predictable, responsible life.  I mean, if everyone was like “F-it, let’s reject the American workforce and all become professional athletes!” we’d really need to make America great again.  

But it takes all sorts to create a dynamic society, and so we moved to Flagstaff so that my husband could train at altitude and keep chipping away at his goals.

I did my best to maintain a good attitude about remaining relatively impoverished despite our potential to make a decent, stable income. Between the 2 of us, we had 4 college degrees, and yet we were working as servers at a local restaurant to pay the bills so that my husband could train sufficiently and I could stay home with our daughter during the day.

We were happy, and yet extraneous pressures were telling us that this was not enough-that we needed to grow up, become responsible adults and get those 9-5s.

I can remember one winter evening when my husband told me “It will all be worth it one day.”

We were huddled around the one heat source in our house- a 3ft by 4ft Mordor-esque heat vent in the middle of our living room floor that I’m sure is all sorts of outdated and illegal.  Our bookshelf was made out of 2 cinder blocks and a plank of wood.  Our bed was a mattress on the floor.  If we wanted mindless entertainment, we sat in front of our small laptop to watch 99 cent Redbox movies.

And even though we had so little, I can remember feeling so happy, and so fulfilled with our simple life.  My husband’s almost apologetic words were appreciated, but I recall thinking, in that moment hunched over Mordor, that I was completely content with what we had.

We have since moved away from the Mount of Doom and into a comfortable home with a modern heating system (#goals).  My husband is a successful athlete.  I am a mother that is fortunate enough to stay home with my babies.  But looking back, we were no less happy then, even with so much less to call our own, materially speaking.  

Lately I’ve been reflecting on how, as long as our basic human needs are met (food, shelter, health), income has little effect on our happiness if we are doing things we love with people we love.

A friend recently sent my husband a quote by David Blaikie about ultrarunning and it got me thinking about this whole shebang.

“Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of spaceships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort.

In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being – a call that asks who they are …”

Now I’m no ultrarunner (This past Thanksgiving I dropped out of a 10K Turkey Trot a week after my husband ran a 50K under the Middle Eastern sun.)  But I think this quote applies to anyone who is in tune with what they really want to achieve in life.  

“There is more to life than logic and common sense.”  This is the line that hit me hardest. What makes sense to some as a respectable, responsible life might not resonate with the deepest realms of our own being.  And that’s ok.

Just do what you love, with the people you love and to hell with those that tell you it’s not enough.  

All in Good Time

blog-time

When your husband has just come home from a 5 day photo shoot in the Australian outback and leaves 3 weeks later for a transatlantic flight to the Middle East, it’s hard not to feel like Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing.  My husband is Patrick Swayze (with, surprisingly, slightly less spandex), and here I am like a subpar backup dancer, trying my best to keep 3 small children alive, eating dinosaur nugget tails for dinner and using wet wipes as a pseudo shower (who has time for standing under actual hot running water anyways?)

“Nobody puts baby in the corner,” I say to no one in particular as I sit slumped in a leather chair after all the kids are finally in bed- an inordinately large chunk of 85% dark chocolate in one hand and TIME magazine in the other.  But who am I kidding?  I’m likely going to stay awake just long enough to stuff my exhausted face with chocolate and fall asleep upright before even feigning interest in grown-up reading material.  Yes, all I will learn today from literature is what Baby Bear saw and maybe, if I’m lucky, who Doc McStuffins fixed in her toy hospital.

When you’re partnered with someone who is so fully living their dream, it’s difficult to not feel left behind.  I know I’ve written about this before, but it seems to be a reoccurring theme in my life as my propensity to pop out offspring increases parallel to my husband’s success as a professional athlete.  Right now, my husband is in Qatar to race on Team USA at the 50K World Championships.  He is greeted by a man holding a golden pot offering freshly brewed tea each time he walks into his hotel’s lobby, and I’m over here like I brushed my teeth today, can I get a hell yeah?!

Not that being a mother isn’t the most fulfilling and important job I’ve ever had.  It is.  But, it is an inarguable fact that there is nothing sexy or glamorous about motherhood, and that truth is even more starkly apparent when compared to a jet-setting partner.

But what I’ve come to realize is that there is nothing to resent.  My husband’s success is not dumb luck or serendipity but rather the result of years of calculated determination and hard work.  And anyways, what would I get from being aggrieved by my husband’s accomplishments?  Being jealous (because let’s admit it, that’s what resentment is most of the time) wouldn’t motivate me to pursue my own goals and dreams.  It would only serve self-pity.

I often scroll through Instagram and see self-made entrepreneur mothers standing in pristine kitchens laughing in reckless abandon as if their toddler has never pooped his pants or eaten a preservative in his short life.  I see them living their dream of being a famous blogger, or fitness guru, or foodie, or fashionista while being in the midst of motherhood and I think “how the hell do they do it?” and “why not me?”

It’s so easy to allow others’ success to make us feel inadequate, or to feel as though the time has come and gone for chasing dreams.  But just because now isn’t your time doesn’t mean that your time will never come.

And so I’ve decided (over and over) that instead of interpreting others’ success as a fountainhead of jealousy, I will use it as a source of inspiration for me to go after my own dreams.  Okay, maybe not right now (unless I categorize “dreams” as taking a pee without a toddler sitting on my lap or sleeping for more than 3 hours at a time.)  But just because I’m not currently traveling the world as a famous journalist or a prize winning author doesn’t mean my time has passed. As a very wise friend once told me, there is a time to live our story, and a time to tell it.

So don’t be discouraged if you haven’t achieved your time-oriented goals.  Sometimes life throws us hurdles and detours  to getting to where we thought we might be.  Don’t see those detours as obstacles- instead, learn to see them as contributors to your own story, and fuel for your future success.

For now, I’ll be Baby in the Corner- but this Baby isn’t sulking in despair waiting for a young Swayze to lift her from despair.  No, this Baby is enjoying the quirks, triumphs and joys of motherhood while carefully dreaming about all things that are still to come.

Because right now, when all’s said and done, there is no backup dance I’d rather be doing than sitting on my living room floor blowing raspberries and gluing feathers onto a paper turkey with my 3 kids.

I Had a Baby

Rivs Blog Baby

I had a baby. Yup, another one.  It’s safe to say that the past 3 years of my life I’ve felt like a hormonal milk-spewing baby factory.  That being said, it’s also undeniable that I’ve loved (almost) every moment.  Well, other than the first and last 3 months of pregnancy, going through labor, the 4 weeks of newborn sleeplessness, having my conversation and thinking skills reduced to toddler nursery rhymes, the erratic and uncontrollable hormonal rollercoaster ride, the inevitable hyperactive mom anxiety that accompanies a fresh baby, and trying to tame a wild 2 year old and sassy 6 year old while caring for the newbie.

I’m not one of those “glowing” pregnant women that revels in the miracle of life growing in her womb.  No, I see pregnancy as a grueling means to a beautiful end: I grind through the first 12 weeks feeling as though I drank way too many wine coolers the night before, try shamelessly for the next 6 weeks to squeeze into pre-pregnancy pants in stark denial of my growing girth (shoutout to my girl Vanessa who looked at me one day and said “Uh-uh Steph.  You can’t wear that anymore.”), then submitting for the last 12 weeks saying “eff it, homegirl’s gonna get huuuuge” and rounding out the 9 month odyssey eating cake for breakfast and bacon nachos for dinner erry’day. (I’m pretty sure my husband said “Wow, you’re really going for it!” on more than one occasion.  My response was always a blank stare, likely accompanied by some bacon grease dripping down my face.)

Okay, that was a long clause- but I promise I love being a mom.

As the newborn-rearing fog slowly fades and I gradually feel myself emerge from The Walking Dead level of consciousness, I have started to have thoughts.  Yes, I have been able to string a few coherent ideas together enough to be inspired to write.

I had a really hard time in the first few weeks after bringing our little Poppy girl home.  I was overwhelmed by the thought of making dinner even before lunchtime hit.  I would set aside everyone’s pyjamas (even my husband’s. Ok maybe not…) hours before bedtime in panicked anticipation for the chaos of bedtime.  I lay in bed at 8pm unable to fall asleep because I knew I would have to wake up every 2 hours throughout the night.

I became so consumed with the difficulties and frustrations of life that I was unable to see joy in the little things that make motherhood all worth it.  I guess doctors call this the “Baby Blues,” but I call it being freaking human.

Ironically (and I say that because I used to have harsh feelings towards the sport), it was running that helped me change my perspective on the seemingly overwhelming feat of raising 3 children.

As I ran ever so slowly through the Ponderosa Pines one morning, the 50 pounds of baby weight making each step feel like my feet were stuck in mud, I realized how pushing through the frustrations of being physically unfit is a lot like fighting through the sometimes overwhelming nature of early motherhood.

I am still very new to running, but I can remember being so distressed with a bad day of running that I questioned why I even tried.  I would spend the rest of the day ruminating over how much running sucked.  Sometimes this trend would last for days, until I found myself running spritely through the trees, feeling the liberation that the practice offers.

And then I would remember why I did it.

After all, if running was easy, we wouldn’t do it, would we?  A large part of what makes running so satisfying is that it is often hard.  Like motherhood (or life in general), it is overcoming the hurdles of hardship that makes running so worthwhile.

It is easy to slip comfortably into discomfort, wallowing in self-pity and submitting to failure.  It isn’t until we emerge from the hard times that we begin to see their worth.  That’s where I’m at right now- appreciating the rough patches because they make the good times that much sweeter.

Having a particularly frustrating day of training makes the days when you feel like you’re weightlessly flying so very exciting.  Working through injury makes you appreciate your health in ways you never imagined.  Finishing a race that you think you’re going to drop-out of every single mile is so much more satisfying than ending one effortlessly.

Likewise, the shrill cries of a newborn make a soft coo or wide-mouthed smile all the more magical.  Sibling bickering (or all out war) makes the moments of tenderness between your children even more beautiful.  Waking every 2 hours to soothe your baby makes those 8 eight hour stretches so appreciated.

As I ran through the woods that day- painstakingly slow as I urged my body back to fitness- I was reminded of the beauty in adversity.  I realized that it is in the space between failure and success that we find our greatest strength.

That One Time I Ran A Half Marathon

Half Marathon

If you have been following my recent Chronicles (come on, there has to be at least 3 of you out there, right?), then you may remember that I started running.  Despite my best efforts to separate myself from my husband’s runner identity, I couldn’t resist the undeniable satisfaction that comes from running through the trees, haphazardly clambering over rocks and smiling at chirping squirrels like a Disney Princess before face-planting on the dusty trail.  I ran consistently for 4 months before getting knocked up for the third time.  The gravity of morning sickness soon made walking to the bathroom to pee seem like an overwhelming feat, and the thought of running made me want to sink even deeper into the couch I barely moved from.  Needless to say, I stopped running for a couple of months.  Now in my second Trimester, I’ve started to shuffle slowly around the trails, but I wouldn’t quite call it running.  Until May 2016, future running goals.

My short-lived runner life culminated in the Flagstaff trail half marathon, before the onslaught of pregnancy hormones commandeered my body and turned my demeanor akin to a perpetually hypoglycemic endurance athlete.  Up until that point, the farthest distance I had ever completed was about 7 miles (one time) but my husband assured me that I would be just fine to cover the 13.1 mile distance.  Being the obeisant, trusting wife that I am, I laced up my trail shoes and headed to the race.  What we both didn’t know, however, was that the Flagstaff marathon is notorious for being one of the “most challenging” marathon courses in the country.  Or, maybe my husband knew and consciously failed to mention it.  Smart man.

I asked my husband for advice as he stood on the start line for the full marathon, which began thirty minutes before the half. Having never competed in any form of endurance sport in my life, I truly had no idea what to expect- physically or mentally.  He said to drink when I was thirsty, eat if I felt hungry, and enjoy the ride.  “Golden information,” I thought, but that is my husband’s race philosophy- don’t over think things, and don’t over complicate them either.  Let’s use his recent experience at the North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco, for example, where he schooled 90% of the competition.  While everyone was divvying up their specifically flavored Gu’s in Ziploc bags and instructing their crew on which type of electrolytic beverage was needed at each particular aid station, my husband was stashing Uncrustable sandwiches into the pockets of his hydration pack and eating Tootsie rolls for breakfast.  Unfortunately, I would soon discover that while this carefree strategy works for my husband- who has spent his life becoming in tune with his body- it does not work for someone like me, who often confuses thirst with the need to eat 4 chocolate chip cookies.

My husband had also advised me to go out easy, and to treat the race like a leisurely long run.  That had been the plan, but as I took my own place on the starting line, a peculiar thing happened.  My usual laid-back and amiable disposition quickly transformed into that of Donald Trump aggressively racing to be first in line at a toupe convention.  I looked around at my competition and thought “you are all going down.  I will buy all of the ginger guinea pig fur hair pieces and will be the fairest of all the land.  You have NO CHANCE.”  You see, the last time I had been in any sort of athletically competitive position was during my years as an elite swimmer, where every time I lined up behind the starting block, I aimed to annihilate anyone standing in my way of a gold medal.  Subconsciously, this mindset obscured the obvious lack of training and experience I held for my current event as an extremely novice runner.  When the race started, I took off faster than I had ever run before.  Ever.

I tried my best to hang with the lead women as the course quickly began one of its infamous ascents.  My lungs were burning as much as my quads and calfs, and for a brief moment, I was enjoying the thrill of adrenaline being fueled by my spirit of competition.  Unfortunately, that moment was indeed very, very brief.  After about 3 miles, my ambitious efforts gave way to reality as the race continued ever upward. The giant marshmallow my husband had offered me on our drive to the race- his own breakfast of choice that day- had apparently not provided enough sustenance for my body. At mile 4, I heard my husband’s familiar gait approaching from behind as the marathon course looped around, but turning my head required too much effort.  I waited for him to run up to me and heard him yell  “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”  Apparently he had expected to see me a long time ago, crowded alongside the other runners of my amateur ability.

“I’m muther effing running,” I thought, but didn’t have enough breath the allow those words to materialize.

“Are you having fun?”  he asked optimistically.

That seemingly taunting question fueled me with enough energy to yell a resounding “NO!”, and I was even shocked by the Golam-esque nature of my voice.

“SLOW DOWN!!” he advised ardently as he cruised past me to stay in the lead with Jason Wolf, another local ultra runner.

This time, I heeded his advice and slowed to a reasonable pace.  People began passing me- first one by one, then in pairs, and then in droves.  It was difficult not to feel discouraged and for the rest of the race, I was sure I would drop out.  But at each mile marker, I told myself “just do one more mile, then you can drop out.”  I guess I did that 13 times.  

My legs felt stiff and were cramping like I had never before experienced.  I felt overwhelmingly hot but had goosebumps all over my body (which I later learned is a sign of dehydration.)  I approached the 8 mile marker, and it became blatantly apparent that 7 miles does NOT equal 13.1 miles.  I grabbed 3 gummy bears and some Gatorade as I ran by the aid station with the convoluted determination not to stop.  Or, perhaps more accurately, I knew that if I stopped moving my legs there was a large likelihood that I wouldn’t be able to get them going again.

Miles 9 through 11 were absolute torture leading nonstop uphill, and I inaudibly cursed the race planners as the sadistic Roman emperors they appeared to be. When I came to a fallen tree on the trail, it took nearly all of my dwindling energy to lift my aching legs to an unnaturally high level to summit it.  As I mounted the log, I looked towards the sky with my hands outstretched and yelled “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!” like Russel Crowe in Gladiator.  It seemed like a fitting thing to do at the time.

Luckily, the last 2 miles of the race were relatively flat, and I somehow willed my body to keep going.  “The faster I run, the quicker I finish” was my mantra throughout the race, which is quite apposite to my husband’s “enjoy the ride” philosophy, but it got me to the end.  I ran through the finish line and fell promptly into my husband’s sweaty arms, who had finished the race 5 minutes earlier.  He had done well, although he and Jason had taken a wrong turn towards the end and in order to compensate for the half mile discrepancy, he was directed on a loop which turned his marathon into a 30 miler.  Still holding my tired body in his arms, he looked at me and said with such sincerity “I’m so proud of you.  That was the hardest course I’ve ever run.”  I didn’t know whether I wanted to kiss him or punch him, but both options seemed to require too much effort and so we slowly hobbled over the the finishers tent.

Throughout the race, my husband’s previous assurance that pain is cyclical was the only thing that kept me going.  During moments of terrible discomfort, I told myself that the agony would ebb and flow rather than intensify over the course of the race.  Well, the pain was always there, but sometimes it lurked in the background like Ben Carson in the Republican debate- there but ignored with minor effort. Other times the pain was raging and indignant, but just when I thought I couldn’t handle any more, it would gradually subside and allow me to continue with tolerable discomfort.

I had a lot (a lot) of time to think during that race, and I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between my physical experience with the cyclical nature of pain, and how it relates to our everyday lives.  There are often things we encounter that seem insurmountable- as though we are not emotionally equipped to deal with the burdens we face.  Sometimes these periods are brief and fleeting, while other times the trials drag on inexorably.  But no matter how short or long our trials last, the pain and struggle eventually subsides.  It may lurk in the background, but it will become tolerable and even, at times, comfortable.  Often, the thing that discourages us the most is the notion that the pain may stay in the forefront of our lives forever- whether it be grief, depression, anxiety or any other hardship.  Luckily, although it may seem implausible in the thick of sorrow, the pain does indeed ebb and flow, come and go.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that achieving the seemingly impossible feat of completing my half marathon- where I was tempted and even determined stop every few minutes- made me realize that life needs to be taken one “mile” at a time.  The pain of a particular life’s mile may feel unbearable, but the next mile may bring relief and even a sense of accomplishment.  

So don’t drop out when your legs get tired.  Just pop a few gummy bears and keep on keepin’ on.  There just may be a hot, sweaty bearded man waiting for you at the finish line.

 

Ok I Guess I Run Now

Ok I Guess I Run Now

Ok, I know I made a pretty adamant assertion a while back about how I don’t run.  I went on and on about how I was too self-conscious to even do a little jog (a word that is forbidden in our household) around the neighborhood because I felt inevitably compared to my supersonic husband.  I admitted that living room dance parties were my main source of cardio, other than carting around a rather hefty toddler and chasing after our rambunctious 5 year old.  I talked about how important it is to discover and pursue your own dreams, taking into account that your personal aspirations do not have to mirror your partner’s goals.  

While all of those things still ring true in many ways, I’m going to tell you a little secret…

I started running.

Now I’m not signing up for a 50K anytime soon (despite the asinine urgings of some friends and family. Baby steps, guys…Baby steps), but four days a week for the past three months, I’ve been lacing up my previously-neglected running shoes to spend some time in the trails.  

And can I let you in on another secret?  

I LOVE IT.

Of course it wasn’t all frolicking in nature’s beauty and reveling in the pines at first.  For the initial few weeks, I felt heavy and sluggish on my feet, where habitual thoughts hovered around fear (“oh my gosh I’m pretty sure I’m going to collapse in the woods and become a veritable feast for forest creatures”) and self-deprecation (“you pansy, your husband runs 12 miles to school in a snowstorm and you can’t even handle a lovely 2 mile springtime jo- I mean- run?!”)

But after those introductory days of trepidation and pain, something peculiar started to happen.  I began to feel lighter on my feet, as though I was being- in some way- carried by the wind.  I felt confident enough to allow my eyes to stray from scouring the ground for nature’s ruthless obstacles (I guess little tiny rocks turn into land mines and roots turn into tripwire when I’m travelling faster than my previous toddler-who-walks-like-a-drunken-sailor speed.)  With my gaze no longer glued to the ground, I began absorbing the breathtaking beauty around me.  I felt alive. I felt strong.  I felt powerful.  I have to admit that I’ve let out a cavewoman-esque roar while running wild through the forest on more than one occasion.

For the first time in my life, I had a glimpse into my husband’s seemingly crazed obsession.  I finally understood what it meant to have “tired legs” (before I just thought it was a lame excuse for my husband to lay in bed watching Netflix and shamelessly shovel ice cream into his face).  I realized the importance of planning your day around a workout- a phenomenon I previously thought to be conceived in order for my husband to avoid housework.  I recognized the utter heartbreak that comes from having absolutely no freaking almond butter in the freaking house.  Seriously, does someone want to die?  Most importantly, I began to develop that all-consuming need to run- to feel the wind on my body, the rocky, uneven ground under my feet, and the rush of endorphins coursing through my veins with every heavy breath.

I can’t exactly pinpoint what motivated me to start running after years and years of resentment and resistance.  Perhaps my husband’s persistent warning finally sank-in; that if I didn’t build bone density in young adulthood, I would be destined for osteoporosis and hunchback-ness later in life.  (Seriously, you guys.  This is the kind of information I receive on a daily basis living with an endurance athlete/physical therapist.)  Maybe I grew curious about my own potential- whether I had the grit within me to overcome insecurity and weakness.  Hell, maybe I was just tired of actin’ a fool in my living room with my lonely dance moves.  Whatever the reason, I started running.  And I started to love it.

This new life anomaly has made me question how many other things I have denied myself due to feelings of insecurity or resentment.  How many opportunities have I passed-up in my life because of self-doubt?  In retrospect, after only a few short months, it seems absolutely silly that I avoided the pleasures (and pains, let’s be honest) of running for something as trite as an insecurity.  It’s actually quite frustrating that I let myself get in the way of…well…myself.

And so, virtual world: let it be known that I am making a resolution to no longer allow feelings of self-belittlement get in the way of my life.  I will try new things and allow myself opportunities to fail and opportunities to succeed. I will no longer care that I don’t “look” like a runner when out on the trails (I probably more resemble an octopus trying to walk on sand.  Did you get the visual?  Good.)  Most importantly, I won’t give a damn about what anyone else thinks, if I’m enjoying what I’m doing.

So, for those of you who have been itching to try something new but have been too self-conscious or afraid of failure, please don’t wait years to pursue your interests like I did.  Don’t let your self-doubt get in the way of doing things you love.  Don’t let insecurity cloud your desire to try new things.  Just get out there and do it- whether it’s running, learning to play the bongos or taking a hip-hop dance class at age 54.  It is truly tragic when we allow our own selves to be the sole roadblock to success or happiness.  You will never know what satisfaction you are withholding if you don’t allow yourself the vulnerability of failure, or the opportunity to succeed. After all, we are not truly living if we remain in our monotonous bubble of comfort (like my running-hating narrative.)   

While I am a long way from being an avid runner, I am enjoying the journey- metaphorically and literally. I’m even starting to gear-up like a runner:  I started wearing trucker hats and carried a hydration pack on my last run.  Oh, and get this: I signed up for my first trail half marathon next week.  Before registering, I told my husband that I was worried what others would think of my less-than-stellar performance compared to his.  Then I quickly slapped myself across my hypocritical face and remembered my own advice: don’t let yourself get in the way of your own happiness.

So laugh at yourself, be proud of yourself, and know that everyone is clumsily finagling their way through some part of life. You’re not the only one who looks like a metaphorical sand-walking octopus.

 

No I Don’t Run, But Thanks For Asking (Not)

grand canyon

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.

Pseudo-Crewing at the Black Canyon 100K

black canyon

Last weekend I had the privilege of pseudo-crewing for my brother-in-law at the Black Canyon 100k.  I say “pseudo” because I only showed up at the halfway point (mile 36).  I hadn’t been there since sunrise like most other crew members, loyally perched on foldout chairs beside coolers filled with ice, soda, and other assorted particularities for their runne.  I was a self-dubbed “moral support” crew member, unsure of what an actual crew’s responsibilities entailed.  I cheered, drove some cars, observed and packed up gear at the various aid stations (failing to remember an expensive-looking foldy chair with cupholders and the singlet my brother-in-law was supposed to wear at the finish.  Sorry, Jake.)

We arrived at the the halfway point at 11 am, perfectly timed with our baby’s morning nap.  We were flanked by barren mountains and giant cacti growing impressively between jagged rocks for as far as the eye could see.  This was one of the most rugged terrains I had ever seen.  It seemed inhuman that there were people actually running through it.  On purpose.

My mouth was instantaneously dry as I stepped out of the car, parched from the arid dirt permeating the air. The 50 degree Flagstaff weather hadn’t set the proper precedent for a smooth transition into the Phoenix summer heat.  Sweat began to congregate on my upper lip.  My cheeks and palms were flushed and sticky. I felt like I was standing in the corner at a middle school dance waiting for the ever-popular Kale Malwin to talk to me.

“Water!  I need water!” I thought frantically as I pushed our jogging stroller to the trailhead.  

I had been out of the car for about 10 minutes, where my raspberry sparkling water remained sheltered from the desert heat.

The 100k runners had been on the trail for four hours. The leaders had already run a marathon and a half.

The crews had been sitting in the unforgiving desert sun for just as long.

Now I’m not a crew virgin.  I’ve rung my fair share of cowbell, handed out a healthy amount of goos, and lined up extra socks and shoes at transitions for triathlon.  I’ve kissed my husband good luck at the beginning of a marathon and spent two hours accumulating athletic swag from various tents, grabbing a pre-made Jamba Juice before meeting him at  the finish dozens of times.  Easy peasy.  

Crewing for an ultra, I came to find out last week, is a whole other story.

First of all, there are no accommodations for the crew- no food trucks or vendors with icy-cold beverages eager to quench your thirst at every glance.  There are no bleachers or grassy knolls to rest your tired bum (I learned the hard way (literally) that a foldout chair is an ultra crewing necessity.)    

You are expected to drive (often off-road) to various ambiguously marked trailheads to meet your loved-one at his or her next stop.   If you’re lucky, there’s a port-o-potty just waiting to hotbox you with ultrarunning fumes after its contents have been sitting in the relentless heat for hours. Otherwise, you are more than welcome to relieve yourself behind a boulder or giant cactus.  

I guess ultra crews are expected to be just as rugged and hardcore as their ultrarunner counterparts- willing to withstand hours of discomfort for the promise of a cheeseburger at the end.

But of course, it’s about much more than the cool Finisher cup and greasy, hot meal (or 4 foot Diamondback Rattlesnake-true story)  waiting at the finish line.

As I watched the runners come through each stop, there was no end to each crew’s enthusiasm and eagerness to help.  Their pride was inconcealable- smiling and even crying when their runner appeared like a mirage in the distance.  It was heartwarming to watch friends, fathers, husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, sons and daughters spring out of their chairs upon spotting their runner, grappling to reach the coolers to get him or her what they needed.

“Do you want the sorbet?  Do you need me to stuff ice down your shorts?  Can I splash water in your bra? How is the chaffing?  Any between your butt cheeks?  Here’s the Vaseline.  Do you need me to do it for you?  Can I cut off any toenails?  Do you want me to fill your Camelback with Coke?  Oh crap, did you already pee in it? How long have you been subsisting off your pee? How many hand fulls of GummyWorms do you need?  Here- let me stuff this baked potato in your mouth while you change your shoes!  Keep going, keep going, stay positive!  Think about that belt buckle! I know all of your pants are made of Lycra and you don’t actually own a belt, but think of how cool it will look on the mantel next to the pint glass you got at Bootlegger last year!”

It was like watching a Nascar Pit Crew re-assemble a car and reinvigorate the driver to continue the race as quickly as possible.  

I know that runners are the stars of the show.  It takes a truly special person to put themselves through the kind of agony that I witnessed at the Black Canyon Ultra.  Likewise- and I think this is something that should be emphasized- it takes a very special person to sit in the desert heat (or Northern cold) for 10 hours, steadfastly waiting for the 5 crucial minutes they will be of assistance.

From my figurative bird’s eye view, I saw crews as the back-up singers of the race… barely noticed, happy to blend into the background, but utterly integral to the success and harmony of the race.

Without a crew, there would be no one to butter your butt with Vaseline.  There would be no one to force-feed you crushed up chips.  There would be no one to put ice on your netherlands to cool you quickly and efficiently.  Most importantly, there would be no one to give you a familiar smile and lather you with sincere words of encouragement to keep you going when you feel like giving-up is the only option.

So here’s to the unsung heros of Ultrarunning; the men and women, boys and girls who sacrifice countless weekends to help their loved-one through the grueling hours of cathartic, masochistic running.  To those who wake up before the buttcrack of dawn to ensure that your own buttcrack is healthy and unchaffed.  To the ones who- in the moment- would do pretty much anything to help you succeed.  

Here’s to the Ultrarunning crews who- in so many ways- are just as tough as you.  Just in a different way.  

 

On Love and Chasing Dreams

chasing dreams

I’m writing this evening covered in mushed peas and regurgitated milk. My day consisted of packing a healthy-yet-exciting snack in a pink princess lunchbox, cleaning, feeding a baby, smelling a pile of assorted athletic gear to determine whether it belonged in the closet or washing machine, feeding a baby (again, and again, and again), playing Jenga with dirty diapers in the trashcan, boxing up a dead hamster in an empty Wheat Thins box to return his remains to PetSmart for a refund, cooking, and then cleaning some more.

If you think I’m using this alliteration of events as an excuse for why I haven’t written in nearly a year, you are correct.  We welcomed our second daughter, Iris, into the world nine months ago. It’s taken me as long to get my crap together and will myself back to the computer to write.

On the same day as the birth of our daughter, my husband was diagnosed with a broken leg- a circumducting fracture of his left tibia, to be exact. He had been unknowingly running on a stress fracture for a couple of months.  Against his better judgement, he raced again despite the pain.  This time, it was too much and his leg actually broke.

Sometimes, as a parent, you neglect discomfort (physical or emotional) and common sense because of the need to provide for your family. My husband had raced successfully enough over the previous several months that we were able to buy our first house and move out of the ghetto (the nights are so quiet without the constant whir of police sirens and drunken renditions of “Don’t Stop Believing” on our front lawn).  The consequence: he hasn’t raced in 9 months.  

While I felt sorry for my husband, I have to admit that there was a part of me that was relieved and, to an extent, selfishly happy about his injury.

I recognize that this admission makes me look like a wretchedly parsimonious human, and I accept that judgement.  But to be honest, I felt I had devoted a good portion of my life to being his race crew, sacrificing my weekends, and putting my dreams on hold to help him accomplish his own.  I viewed my husband’s injury as a serendipitous event, perfectly timed to the season in which I needed him most.

My husband treated the injury like he did every other challenge he has faced since I met him.  He focused on what he could control, internalizing his disappointment with the stoicism and non-reactivity attained through years spent in mountainous solitude.

He loved the time he had to spend with our new baby. He fed me when I was too tired to cook. He did the 4am bottle feeding duty day, after day, after day. He took our 4 year old daughter on long bike rides (rather than long runs) so I could nap.  He worked 6 nights a week as waiter, hobbling around in a boot.  He did it all happily, but still I could see in his eyes that a part of him was dying, juxtaposed on top of the joy he derived from our growing family.

I missed the ‘old’ him. I missed the determination that seemed to possess him.  I missed being motivated by his drive. I missed the unabashed smile (and occasionally, unexplainable tears) he was unable to hide after coming home from a long run in the mountains.  I missed waking up to “Gone running- be back in 3-6 hours.  Love you”, written on our bathroom mirror.  And I’ll concede to the fact that I even missed the spandex.

I once thought I wanted a husband with a “normal” pastime, like Halo 2 or watching “The Game” on Sundays. I quickly came to realize that so much of what I love about him is attributed to being an endurance athlete.

His perseverance.

His drive.

His independence.

His guts.

His ability to push himself into realms of discomfort for the chance to make our own lives a little bit more comfortable.

His toned, sexy hot bod (which he managed to maintain, thank Heaven Above.)

Of course I appreciated him being around more,  but the consequence of his injury reaffirmed something I had always known but never understood so starkly; relationships thrive and endure when both people are free to realize their individual dreams,whatever they may be.

Sure, there must be give and take- the typical compromise and appreciation that is required in any given relationship.  One can’t expect to continue living life exactly as they were before deciding to share it with another human.  But being committed to someone doesn’t necessitate relinquishing the dreams and aspirations that make you, you. It only means that you may need to reprioritize, like running 20 miles instead of 23 once in a while and using the extra time and energy to take your special human out to lunch, or to a movie (I know, I know….Sitting still for 2 hours in a rigid chair with insufficient padding for your bony butt.  That’s probably the definition of compromise right there.)

The truth is, it is difficult to be true to someone else if you are not first and foremost true to who you are.  And if being true to who you are means wearing onesie leotard with a padded bum and shirts with pockets in the back, then more power to you.  Don’t ever let anyone take that away from you.

It is a constant balancing act- one that requires selflessly looking at how you can help each other accomplish your respective dreams.  Without proper introspection, the balance can easily be tipped to selfishness.  Without proper motivation, the dreams become grandiose aspirations of “the good old days”, and lives slip into comfortable mediocrity. The trick is to continually motivate each other toward greatness, without becoming overly consumed in your own endeavors to the point of neglecting your loved one.  

My husband’s road to recovery has been rough, with several unforeseen setbacks along the way.  But in retrospect, he wouldn’t have changed a thing, and neither would I.  It seems trite to say that we grow more from tragedy than triumph, but there is such truth to that cliched saying.

It is in our most humble moments that we truly confront ourselves.  It is when we are most broken that we decide what type of person we will become when we rebuild, and who we want to have by our side as we do it.

 

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