As I winced coming down the stairs the morning after last fall’s Queen Bee Half Marathon, my husband Keith said, “I’m jealous. I want to be sore from a race.” He paused for a moment and then said, “I wanna do another marathon.”
We talked over some options, and he decided he wanted to stick with the most challenging — and most familiar — course, The Flying Pig Marathon.
Neither of us had taken on The Pig in years, when we last ran it shortly after our eldest daughter, Nora, was born. We didn’t have any business running that far that Sunday morning, and we both swore to never attempt a full or half marathon unprepared again.
So there we were, signed up for The Pig, once again. Me, the half. Keith, the full mary.
We started our respective Pig training plans on New Year’s Eve. This winter, we did our first real speedwork and our first hill repeats, and we worked harder for a race than either of us could remember in a long time.
Keith went from a weekend-only runner to a man possessed. One afternoon, he ran 16 miles doing laps around the small airport near our house while the rest of the neighborhood was buried under two feet of snow. Another time, he came home with sleet in his eyelashes and a smile on his face after a weeknight run in the dark, bitter cold. One afternoon, when everything was covered in ice, he ran 14 miles on the treadmill in our basement. He was sticking to his training plan, logging the miles and hitting all of his splits.
But it was more than that. Sure, Keith has run and trained for marathons before. But not like this. His job is more demanding than ever (he took marathon training along with him on week-long work trips to England, Florida and Mexico), his role as a father is more exhausting than ever, and despite all of it, he figured out how to fit running into his life again.
As Keith’s waistline shrunk, his confidence grew. He carried his head a bit higher and managed his stress a bit better. My happy, healthy husband had returned.
He was poised to run a PR on Sunday, and I was so excited for him.
Saturday night before the race, he was icing his knee, as he did most every night during training season. His knee had been bothering him on and off for a month or two, but the last thing he wanted was for a doctor to tell him not to run when he had worked so hard for so long. All he had to do was get through Sunday’s race, and he could give the ol’ knee a rest.
We started the race together. After the first mile, I shouted “Godspeed!” as Keith gave me a wave and marched up the first bridge on his way to what I hoped was a wonderful race for him.
I had one of the happiest half marathons I can remember (recap coming soon), and after a grueling final mile, I found my friend Sara waiting for me at the finish line. We had planned to meet up with a group of friends who had also run the half to go cheer on Keith at mile 25 of the marathon.
But the first words out of Sara’s mouth were, “Keith just called. He wants you to call him back.”
My heart sunk.
Keith does not run with his phone, so I knew the only way he could have called Sara from his phone was if he was at our house.
With shaky, salty fingers, I could barely dial Keith’s number. “What happened? Are you OK?”
He answered with a flat voice, devoid of emotion. “It’s my knee. The downhills. I just couldn’t do it.”
“Oh, bud. I’m sorry.”
“It just isn’t my day.”
In a matter of seconds, I went from the elated emotions of finishing a race to a profound sadness for my husband. I couldn’t imagine what he was feeling at home, and I didn’t know the right words to comfort him.
I came home sheepishly, with my medal hanging around my neck. Keith limped to the door, freshly showered with a forced smile on his face. As the day wore on, he kept second-guessing his decision, his training, his commitment. But I know my husband. He is a man that does not take half measures.
I can’t imagine the level of pain he must have been in to take the walk of shame off the race course in the 12th mile, filled with familiar faces and friends, to skulk back to the house in what surely felt like complete and utter defeat.
All I know is that I’m still proud of him. No, he didn’t complete his fifth marathon or grab that PR, but running is about more than that. It’s not medals or races or mile splits. It’s running in a foot of fresh powder on unplowed streets, seeing beautiful sunrises that no one else wakes up for and discovering what it feels like to push yourself to the brink of your limits and come out on the other side.
Even if the other side isn’t on the other side of the finish line.
We always talk about the race as the reward for the work, but what happens when it’s not? How do we move on, pick ourselves back up and keep going?
Not everyone has the courage to sign up for a marathon. Even fewer have the bravery to put their goals, hopes and ambitions out there for the world in such a public way. That’s what makes us runners a special (albeit slightly crazy) group of people.
And whether you cross that finish line or not, the point is, dear husband, that you had the courage to start. — Aidz