Chronicles of an Endurance Athlete's Wife

Married to an Ultra Runner

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.

 

41 Comments

  1. Steph, that was well written, not a swear word in it and very interesting. Your husband sounds a real hero and your children will one day realize what it takes to run a marathon in their lives. It’s ability plus a little more and your husband seems to have a lot of the little more. Best wishes Roger

  2. Great writing Steph, thanks for sharing your perspective. Love this!

  3. Meinir Tuckey

    March 8, 2017 at 8:41 am

    This made me smile this morning. I too am married to an ultra runner.

  4. Love this picture and the thoughtful post. It’s easy to forget that way deep down we’re all human, all the same✨

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