Chronicles of an Endurance Athlete's Wife

Married to an Ultra Runner

Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 2)

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.

 

On Fear and Climbing Mountains

pushing itLast weekend, my husband convinced me to pull our 5 year old daughter on a Trail-a-Bike while he pushed our 1 year old in the running stroller.  Considering he had already been on a two hour run earlier that morning, I figured the ride would be leisurely, giving us ample time to talk (about all the foods we were going to consume when we got home.)

WRONG.

I should know by now that any amount of physical exertion alongside an endurance athlete will never, ever be leisurely.  I should also know to inquire as to the duration and terrain of said exertion, because despite all bright-eyed aspiration, it will never be a couple of loops around the neighborhood. I must have forgotten about those “fun” 32 mile bike rides in cut-off jean shorts on my single gear beach cruiser up and down the Hawaiian Kamehameha highway while my husband tried to make conversation (he was running) and got nothing but ape-like grunts from me in return.  My butt still hurts just thinking about it, which is probably why I had the memory locked away in some post-traumatic self-preservation area of my brain.

Luckily, I always seem to learn something about myself throughout the hours of physical and mental duress.  Enduring pain can really teach you things.  I’m starting to think you endurance athletes are on to something.

I started last weekend’s bike ride with hopeful anxiety, examining my padded bum in the mirror and wishing my (bedonkadonk) was really that round and voluptuous without the aid of squishy gel (or whatever substance is used for protecting your netherlands from the unforgiving bike seats.  I mean, come on.  We can grow human ears on rats but can’t figure out a more comfortable receptacle for our undercarriage?  It’s like those things are forged by Orks in the fires of Mordor  just to make cyclists feel hardcore.)

My husband lowered the death saddle of his mountain bike to its shortest setting, and I mounted it with the same trepidation with which one climbs onto a towering Arabian Stallion.  After a few husband-mandated practice runs up and down the street (he had to be sure I was stable enough to tow our child around OR CRASH HIS BIKE), we were off.

The ride started out nice and easy, and I got a whim of confidence as I cruised past my husband on a downhill.  “This is going to be a cake ride AS HARPER WOULD SAY ‘EASY PEASY”,” I thought as we sailed down the smooth road.

And then my husband motioned for us to turn off the paved street and on to a trail we often hike.  I was all too aware of its perilous terrain, strewn with rocks and mud and branches.

I glanced back to give my husband the “Oh-you-saucy-minx, I-should-have-known” look (used often in our household), and concentrated on maintaining the possibility of producing a third child despite the Mordor seat as we jumped and bumped along the rocky path.

After 15 minutes of precarious peddling and what looked like an effortless jog for my husband, we emerged in one piece onto another paved road.  

“Salvation!” I thought.

WRONG AGAIN.

I knew I was in for it when my husband told me to put the bike into its lowest gear because it could mean only one thing: a hill.  Oh, and it wasn’t just any hill.  It was like that one time last year I biked up the highest, steepest mountain in Arizona 5 weeks after giving birth per my husband’s recommendation.  “You could totally do it,” he said.  “You’ll be glad you did,” he said.  

Will I ever learn?

I gave myself a moment of oxygenated solace, staring up the seemingly unending hill with a look of fear and determination, before starting to pedal slowly.  Really, really slowly.  Like, slower than the electronic Wal-Mart carts slow. I think I spent more time trying not to go backwards than actually going forwards.

About a third of the way up the hill, I didn’t think I could make it anymore.  My lungs were heaving and I got that hypoxic metallic taste in my mouth.  I entertained the notion that I might actually die.  And all the while, my five year old daughter was happily asking trivia questions behind me,  like “do you know how many eggs a salamander lays at one time?” or “how many bones does a snake have?”

“I DON’T FREAKING KNOW THE FREAKING LIFESPAN OF A FREAKING CICADA!” I wanted to shout with uncharacteristic impatience, but all I could muster was a wheezy “I think I need to stop.”

(And that’s when my husband told me something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.)  

He said “Don’t be afraid of the pain. It’s not gonna kill you, even though your body is telling you that it might.  jUST BE CALM. LOOK AT IT AND FEEL IT.(Welcome the pain and make it your ally. Just tell you body you can do this.) ITS FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN, NOT THE PAIN YOU ARE FEELING RIGHT NOW THAT IS HOLDING YOU BACK. It’s fear, not your body,  that is holding you back.”

My legs burned.  My lungs burned.  I was grunting like the Geico caveman.   But I told my body to embrace the pain, the lack of oxygen and overall agony. I dispelled the notion of fear.  I put my head down and peddled my little heart out, all the way to the top.

When things finally leveled out, I was overcome with such a sense of achievement that I couldn’t contain a smile. I could have easily given up, turned around and gone home to stuff my face with Nutella crepes.  Instead, I told my body to keep going.  And it did, just like that.

There are so many times that we get frustrated with our bodies, our minds or our lives.  We grow impatient and snappy with ourselves, or others, because we perceive situations to be too difficult to overcome.  We encounter mammoth hills that we feel we can’t summit.

All too often, we allow fear to obscure our determination.  We give up, or give-in because we are afraid of failure, or even success.  The fear of pain- physical or emotional- overwhelms our senses and tells us to quit.  And so often, we do.

I have given up on a lot of things because I thought I just couldn’t do them, or I because I was intimidated by fear.  I’ve thrown in the towel when things got tough, afraid of the pain ahead.

I learned so much about myself submitting that relatively small hill- a feat most of you could have done unphased.  I came to understand that most of what holds me back from accomplishing my goals can be overcome by the dismissal of fear, and the mental acceptance of pain.  I recognized just how resilient our bodies can be backed by a stout heart and strong mind.

If we can learn to accept pain and dismiss fear, the scope of what we deem accomplishable expands beyond our self-imposed limitations.  We can not only reach our goals but push ourselves beyond what we imagine to be possible.  We become empowered knowing that we are in charge, no longer ruled by fear.

But let’s still look into changing those Mordor bike seats, K?

Redefining Normal

redefining normal

My husband has been gone for the past ten days traveling for two different races. This makes 7 races in the last 5 weeks, 3 of which were marathons. (Not recommended, but sometimes necessary to bring home the gluten free bacon-vegan, of course.)  His absence has  allowed me to keep the house a little cleaner, but it’s also reminded me how much I love and appreciate his sport-related eccentricities.  With him gone, the kitchen seems bare without his stash of four water bottles huddled near the kitchen sink.  The doorway looks lonely without his two-to-three pairs of muddy running shoes drying against the wall.  The house is too quiet without the click of biking shoes or constant hum emanating from the trainer in his Man Cave, (at time known as “The Kona Pain Cave”).  The washing machine looks hungry for clothes saturated with beautiful man sweat.  The bedside table is too clean without the remnants of midnight snacks.      

When he’s gone, I realize that the things I roll my eyes at are the things I miss the most.  My standards of normalcy have been so redefined that a reprieve from this life of athletic oddities seems bleak and bland.  I miss the weirdness that has become the new normal.

And with that, I bring you the latest “redefinitions of normal” in the life of an endurance athlete’s spouse that have become apparent in the wake of my husband’s absence. LINK TO 1, 2, 3

  1. Be Prepared to Have Your Home Commandeered by Athletic Gear

I think one of the first protracted conflicts my husband and I ever engaged in was pitted around the storage of his road bike.  At the beginning of our marriage, I was ignorant enough to believe that bikes could be outdoor creatures.  I quickly learned that such a precious specimen could not be subjected to the harsh elements of wind and rain, even if covered by a concrete awning.   Instead it deserved a place next to the bed- on my side, actually.  She was a sleek and beautiful Bianchi aptly named Biance.  I stumbled over her when I woke up in the morning.  She was always there, always in the way, leering at us incessantly through the night like a jealous mistress.  I hated that B-word.

Endurance athletes may have you fooled into thinking that they are “minimalists”, but live with one for an extended period of time, and you will quickly learn the truth: they have a lot of crap. Really expensive crap.  Apparently it takes an extensive amount of gear to live minimally.

As such, be prepared to devote at least one room to the amalgamation and proper storage of your athlete’s “minimal” sporting accessories.  He may deny that it is an actual room, deceiving himself by calling it a Man Cave so as to minimize its superfluousness.   You may expect to have this room filled with a vast array of athletic necessities, such as 15-20 water bottles (some of which will be filled with months-old electrolyte drink that have morphed to resemble the mother Kombucha), 10-15 pair of shoes (half of which have not been worn in nearly a year,  but heaven forbid you suggest disposing of them), a shelf or two devoted to a stunning display of goos, bars and electrolyte supplements, and at least one shelf to store your athlete’s medals, trophies and other assorted strange-yet-novel “finisher” prizes (bowls, bricks, cowbells, etc.)

Items that may seem trite or useless should never be thrown away or relocated.  As I mentioned earlier, endurance athletes have a lot of crap, and it’s all very important to them.  If you feel the need to “de-clutter” by tossing an old, moldy water bottle, be prepared to have your athlete morph into Golam protecting The Precious from  the fires of Mordor.  

You may also expect to habitually see various athletic garments hanging from doorways, ledges, and shower rods.  It will not be uncommon to have your face unknowingly engage in an intimate encounter with a pair of running shorts that have not been sweated in quite enough to warrant a trip to the washing machine.  Your athlete may think it has a similar appeal to finding your own sexy minimalist clothing hanging around the house.  I assure you, it does not.    Sweaty stretchy pants are not the equivalent to Victoria and her elusive secret.   

Lastly, be warned: your athlete will be sneaky in his or her pursuit to pirate portions of your home.  It may start with an unassuming bottle of supplements in the cupboard, but soon your entire collection of plates and bowls will be cowering in a stuffy corner to make way for your athlete’s “minimal yet necessary” collection of valuable dietary supplements.  

If you’re pregnant, he may also consume all of your prenatal vitamins, then wonder why his fingernails are growing so fast.  “But babe, I need the folic acid and the Iron.  I’m growing a body just like you.”

      1. Be Okay With Being Alone

Endurance athletes tend to be lone wolves.  It takes a certain mentality to be able to endure, let alone enjoy endless hours of solitude in the mountains, on the road, or in the pool.  If your athlete leaves you for hours at a time (which he will), you must remember that it is a true case of “it’s not you it’s me”.   Endurance athletes are wired differently than most ‘normal’ folk, requiring extended amounts of “me” time, usually in the form of physical exertion.  You might be tempted to think that his or her lengthy absences are the result of a desire to be away from you.  This is not the case.  Endurance athletes are a lot like Border Collies; highly intuitive, extensively energetic, task-driven and prone to melancholy and/or running around the house in circles if not given adequate exercise.  

It may take a few years to detach yourself from the notion that your athlete’s extensive workout   schedule is not a reflection of your relationship. Allowing them the freedom to commune with the elements make them happier people, better in tune with their own cosmology, and less likely to be found gnawing on furniture or chewing your shoes.  

Your athlete may also need to travel a handful of times per year in order to race (and in our case, to supplement the income that my pregnant waitress body can no longer make.)   If you do not like being alone at night, it might be a good idea to get a dog (preferably one that isn’t prone to chewing on precious shoes and water bottles.  You already have one of those).  We adopted a friendly pit-bull with a ferocious bark to quell my lonely nighttime fears.  

Yes, if you pursue a relationship with an endurance athlete, you will be alone a lot.  But fret not- there will be perks to your athlete’s leaves of absence!  This week I acquired a wonderful assortment of hotel soaps and body lotions from my husband’s recent trip. I also got caught up on my girly TV shows and put eggs and butter in the muffins I made.

As you can see, being in a committed relationship with an endurance athlete requires a substantial reassessment of normalcy- and life in general.  There will be difficult transition periods (like when I learned that going through a 6 pound bag of almonds in ten days is “normal”, or when I discovered that 18 miles is not considered a “long run”.)  But if the two of you reassess and redefine ‘normal’ together, you will both be better for it.

Raised by Lone Wolves

Last week, my husband and I went out to dinner with an accomplished ultra-runner* and his pregnant wife.  Over our meal of Carne Asada tacos (for me) and relleno vegetales (for my hubby), we joked about the ever-present topic of idiosyncratic endurance athletes.  It was a therapeutic and comical venting session for us pregnant spouses to laugh and commiserate over our similar lives.  Amidst our conversation about the unfortunately cumbersome nature of body hair, the unfathomable lateness of 10pm and the necessity for specifically-timed bowel movements, our ultra-runner friend confessed that he had recently handed his two year old daughter a caffeinated gel to quell her snack demands while driving home from the park.

“Hey, it was the only thing I could find!” he justified in his calm, soft-spoken manner as his wife and I exchanged eye-rolling glances of disapproval and amusement.

My husband nodded his head in empathy and agreement with our ultra-runner friend.  (It has not been uncommon for our daughter to ask for “Daddy’s Blue Drink”., AKA a post-workout, somewhat caffeinated electrolyte beverage.)

We all decided that this comedic-but-potentially-catastrophic event could have only happened to the child of an endurance athlete.  We then began discussing how strange it must be to grow up with an endurance athlete parent, joking about the scaring nature of walking in on your father carefully applying nipple guards in the mirror, or having the warped view that running a marathon is no big deal because hey, it’s only 26 miles.

Our conversation made me realize that I’ve spent so much of the past six years reflecting-on and wrestling-with what it means to be an endurance athlete’s wife, but I haven’t given much contemplation over what it means to be the child of an endurance athlete.

This week, I’ve thought a lot about how Harper’s life will be inevitably shaped and influenced by being her father’s daughter, and in what ways.   Sure, she may be embarrassed as a teen when her dad walks through the house in front of her friends wearing padded bibs and a beard looking more like a Mexican luchador than a cyclist, but my conclusion is that her life will benefit exponentially from being the child of someone as passionate, dedicated, active and peculiar as her father.  (I’ll have to remind myself of this realization when his 5am alarm wakes me habitually, or when I squeeze my pregnant belly into our economy sized car to make room for Shadow Fax, his carbon fiber time trial steed.)

In reflecting over her life, I’ve realized that from the moment of Harper’s birth, she has been exposed to nature and feats of physical exertion in a manner unparalleled by most children her age – or of any age, for that matter.   

As a newborn, she spent her days strapped to her daddy’s back as they hiked through the Costa Rican rainforest, while I sat in graduate school classes at a small Central American university.  She saw toucans and monkeys long before blue jays and squirrels.

By eight months old, she had been portaged a good portion of the way up the highest peak in Costa Rica in a Kelty backpack while her dad did ethnographic research on the life of coffee farmer who supplemented their minimal income through porting.

By age one, being placed in her bike seat made her giddy, elated to be at the helm in accompanying her dad on miles-long runs along Hawaiian bike paths or beside Alaskan streams swarming with Salmon.

At two years old, when she was old enough to go with daddy on his weekly long run, the sight of her blue running stroller made her jump with excitement, as she knew that a 2-3 hour adventure was likely to ensue.

As a three year old, she took 5 miles bike rides alongside her dad on her pink Huffy bike with training wheels while he rolled alongside her on a giant 29er.

By the age of 4, she had hiked two miles and 2000 vertical feet up Mount Elden on more than one occasion.  After tagging along on one of their daddy-daughter hikes (or more like mountain-goat runs), I was kindly told my by preschooler that I wasn’t allowed to come next time because it “slows down me and daddy.”  Point taken.

At such a young age, our daughter has already been a part of so many incredible experiences that could have only been presented to her by someone as dedicated and active as her father.  She may one day tire of the hours-long runs, or bemoan the fact that her dad will ask her to accompany him on a 50 mile bike ride.  She might even develop a fleeting rebellion against all things athletic, but I am certain that she will be instilled with an irrevocable passion for following her dreams, whatever they may be.

It is one thing to write fanciful memes about pursuing dreams on your walls, but if the words aren’t backed by actions, they will remain lifeless script.  The best way to teach a child to chase their dreams is to let them be a part of chasing your own.

There is something intrinsically motivating about watching a parent defy physical limitations, push through grueling hard work and accomplish unfathomable feats of human fitness.  Giving a child the opportunity to see the people they admire the most do difficult things in the name of passion, dedication and determination is the greatest gift.  Not only will they be privy to participate in amazing outdoor adventures and develop an intrinsic closeness to nature, they will (more importantly) learn firsthand what it truly means to do what you love, no matter how taxing, tiring or difficult.

Being the child of an endurance athlete is arguably stranger than being the wife of one.  Our children will probably eat the occasional caffeinated Powergel, or be teased that their dad is seen habitually shirtless wearing booty shorts around town.  They may develop a somewhat distorted view on fitness (i.e. “Oh cool, your dad just jogged 5 miles?  Well my dad swam 2.4, biked 112 and ran a full marathon. So yeah…”)  But what I am almost certain of, is that they will never lack a motivator for self-determination.  And in all honesty, I would trade Saturday morning family pancakes every week for the rest of my children’s life for them to have a role model such as their endurance athlete father.  Plus, the pancakes taste way better after a 24 miles push in the stroller.

Love is an Ultra Marathon

love is an ultra

Perhaps the picture I painted with my last blog was a bit idealistic.  I may have led you to believe that we live in an ever-harmonious world of rainbows and unicorns and air-dried stretchy shorts.  This is not the case.  While I have always loved my husband tremendously, my affection for endurance athletics hasn’t had the same unconditional history.

There was a time-not too long ago-that I resented anything related to endurance athletics.  The mention of a two hour run made me cringe.  The sight of stretchy leotard and sound of clicking shoes on linoleum- both foreshadowing an extensive period of husband absenteeism-made my blood boil.  Finding goggles and a towel placed neatly on the kitchen table in anticipation for a long, tempo swim brought tears to my eyes.

Yes, there was a time that I felt my companionship was secondary to my husband’s passion for endurance athletics.  And it made me really, really mad.

I was just out of graduate school while my husband was completing his Bachelor’s degree.  I was finishing my thesis and working as a college professor while moonlighting as a waitress to make ends meet.  My husband was taking rigorously demanding pre-med science classes,  working as a Chemistry tutor and training for races in order to supplement our income (for fun things like diapers and food).  These factors, enmeshed with caring for a fearlessly adventurous two year old, created the “perfect storm” for resentment and animosity.  But instead of seeing the situation objectively, I blamed all of our problems on the sport.

“If you would just spend less time on the bike, you would have more time for us,” I brooded on repeat, my thoughts a broken record playing incessantly through my mind.  My awe for his dedication and perseverance was eroded by the resentment of feeling overshadowed by running, swimming and biking.  I no longer saw a self-motivated, passionate man but instead viewed my husband as an obsessive, selfish extremist.  

“But I’m doing this for us.  This is the only way I know to make a living right now,” he would respond whenever I confronted him on the subject.  Our conversations were circular parades that never led anywhere.

I fantasized about burning his running shoes.  I created elaborate scenarios where his Speedo and goggles would mysteriously fall into the Hawaiian ocean, never to be found again.  I dreamed that his bike was stolen from its sacred perch in our already-cramped living room (because we all know that bikes don’t live outside.)  I thought about all the ways the sport was sabotaging our relationship, but I never reflected on how my deteriorating attitude towards it-and my husband-was doing the same.  

Likewise, my husband resented me for failing to understand that his training was an investment for our family’s future and a contribution to our income.  He didn’t understand how I could view his hours away as leisure time to himself rather than gritty, hard work or an actual job.  He didn’t want to be home because when he was, I was angry and spiteful. He buried himself in his studies and training, and I found further justification in my feelings of rage.

This is where I believe many relationships end between endurance athletes and “normal” people.  We were both so stuck in justifying why the other was wrong that it obscured our ability to recognize our own contribution to the problem. Instead of communicating our frustrations, we continued to blame each other for all the reasons our relationship was faltering.  We both felt under-appreciated and neglected, but neither of us could recognize our part in the problem.

We sat down one night and laid it all on the table, telling one another as calmly as possible about our concerns, frustrations and needs. (Okay, maybe it wasn’t completely calm.  There may have been sobbing and fists banging on wooden tables with undertones of ultimatums.)  Eventually we decided that in order for our relationship to work, there needed to be collaboration and compromise on both sides without either of us feeling as though we were giving up something intrinsically important.  We needed to show appreciation for one another more overtly.  We needed to make an effort to see our situation with empathy and understanding rather than hostility and blame.  We needed to make time for ‘us’, even if that meant a twenty minute evening walk, a Food Network rerun or a quick family beach trip between classes.  

We knew we loved each other- and Harper- too much to throw it all away.

I made a concerted effort to become more involved in his athletic pursuits.  We made training a family event.  I began riding a beach cruiser beside him on shorter-volume runs with our daughter happily perched in her bike seat.  I read Running with the Buffaloes and watched marathon videos, my heart softening as I watched my stoic husband cry like a child as Ryan Hall finished Boston in 2:04.  I accompanied him to the pool, putting my competitive swimming years to use by constructively critiquing his stroke and form. (It needed help. Desperately.)

Likewise, my husband made an effort to be more flexible with his training schedule, offering to let me sleep in and encouraging me to go on Girls’ Nights (or weekends) when I needed a break.  He made time for me to pursue my dream of being a famous columnist (still working on that) by carving out time each day for me to write.  He sought balance between his school, his family and his training.

Most importantly, we both began expressing sincere appreciation for each others’ sacrifices, even if it was a simple “thanks for waking up with Harper so I could run” or “I’m so proud of how you were able to train so hard and still get an A on your exam.”

Overall, we began to see each others’ fears, needs, passions and pursuits as equally valid and important.  We started to communicate more openly when things were going right (and wrong) without placing blame on each other. We learned that relationships (especially those that involve endurance athletics) require just as much consistent work, planning, care and progression as training does.

The truth is that endurance athletics can be a very self-absorbed, selfish hobby or career, but it can also invite another person in the relationship to be equally selfish and self-pitying. On the other hand, it has the potential to provide relationships with feelings of unity, triumph and satisfaction (and in some cases a pay check).  As I mentioned in my previous blog, some of my favorite family memories are found in the pride and excitement of watching my husband race, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for a bigger house or more free time (although I wouldn’t mind some carpet or a dishwasher.)

It is such a delicate task to balance dedication and moderation, passion and restraint.  We are definitely still learning as we go, but having come from the place we did, I’m so excited about where we’re headed.

How it All Began

how it all began

We met in the wake of a hip injury.  I was in my last semester of undergrad at a small university in Hawaii, and in an attempt to promote recovery,  he was cutting his collegiate running mileage down from 115 miles a week to 6…as in “six”.  We spent our days lying on the beach, surfing and lazing around town on our beach cruisers.  Our nights were spent marathon-watching 24 and Iron Chef, eating Big New Yorker Pizza Hut pizzas, completely oblivious to time.

Then his hip healed, and the truth came out: underneath the injury-induced guise of carefree nonchalance was a hardcore endurance athlete.  And not just a endurance athlete hobbyist- he had plans of making a career of his athletic talent and passion.

By the time he came out of the closet about his athletic orientation, it was too late.  I had already fallen in love.

Our days quickly transformed from lackadaisical freedom to rigidly scheduled time frames.  “I’ll wake up and run to Waimea bay (13 miles).  Can you meet me there with my bike at 9 am? We can hang out for two hours, then I’ll bike around the island (100 miles) and meet you at home for dinner,” he would say, but not before reminding me to bring him two bananas, a handful of almonds and a red Powerade.  Oh, and maybe a whole, baked sweet potato or two.  

Similar to the sudden metamorphosis of our days, nights went from pizza-and-TV-show-marathon-relaxation to eating fish and vegetables and him falling asleep on my shoulder at 9pm.  Of course my waistline thanked this conversion, but I desperately missed Jack Bauer and the elusive mystery ingredients as my exhausted man snored away on my arm.

I can’t say it was an easy transition, but I was so in-awe of his dedication, his determination, his steel-cut abs and bulging quads that I went along for the ride.  

Six years later, and I’m still on board. We got married, had a daughter (and another on the way) and moved from tropical Hawaii, to the high altitude mountains of Flagstaff so that he could pursue the life of a professional endurance athlete.  I quit my job as a college professor to become a waitress.  We have four college degrees between the two of us, and we live paycheck to paycheck in a rundown two bedroom home on “the wrong side of the tracks.”  People think I’m crazy, but I do it because I may be the only person who believes in him as much as he believes in himself.

And I remain his biggest fan.

Just as it takes a special person to habitually wake up at 5am in a snow storm to swim 3 Kilometers, or run 22 miles in the rain, or bike 75 miles on an exceptionally windy day, I believe it takes a special person to be married to one of these crazies.

Sure, I roll my eyes when he reminds me not to put his stretchy shorts with the padded bum in the dryer.  I smirk when he laments the fact that I’ve baked chocolate chip cookies during a gluten-free phase, or asks why I don’t bake more often in the weeks following a big race.  I laugh when he’s standing on our front lawn wearing nothing but compression socks and short shorts, oblivious to the fact that this is a strange outfit to the general population of planet earth.  I shake my head when he writes his daily mileage or desired splits with dry-erase marker on our entryway mirror.  I shrug my shoulders when he’s snoring with his mouth agape at 8:30 on date night.

But for all of his idiosyncrasies and particularities, rigid scheduling and hours away on the road or in the mountains, I wouldn’t trade him for a “normal” husband (most days).  

Six years have gone by, and I’m still awestruck by his perseverance, his self-motivation and borderline-crazy passion for endurance athletics.  I love taking road trips with our four-year-old daughter to watch him race, or following his splits online when he’s racing far away.  I love that I never have to complain about my husband being lazy, or video-game obsessed or unhealthy.  I love that he finds solace in solitude, that his spiritual communion is found in the trees and wind and mountains.

I’m not going to say that being married to an endurance athlete is an easy road, but at the end of the day, it’s the only road I want to travel.

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