By Angela Noel
September 4, 2018
I’m not especially good at running. In fact, I’ve mostly hated it for the vast majority of my life. As a teen, I joined the cross-country team and hated it. In my twenties I ran mostly to impress a boy–still pretty much hating it. In my thirties I had my son and developed a back problem–virtually no running at all then. But, something changed in my thirty-ninth year. That something’s name was Paul.
Never Say Never
Paul and I had been dating for a little over a year then. I had already declared to him that despite his history in marathons and triathlons and persistence in believing that running was “fun” I would NEVER be interested in running. “I just want you to know,” I’d said, “because I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea.” Paul had shrugged. As long as we still had an intersection of interests, the running thing wasn’t a big deal.
Not long after my declaration, a colleague at work mentioned the only thing that helped her back pain was running. Hmmm, I thought, could that be true? One weekend when Paul was out of town, I went for a run around the lake near my house. I jogged the three miles at a steady ten or eleven-minute pace. I didn’t hate it. It also hadn’t hurt my back. In fact, the motion seemed to loosen it up a bit. I texted the news to Paul. I wanted him to be proud of me. He was.
Over the next few months I bought new running shoes with help from The Running Room, a specialized running store. Paul came along to provide moral support and helpful tips. I began to run once or twice a week. Still slowly, but enjoyably.
Then I hurt myself.
Making Friends with my Butt
As I gradually ramped up my distance, I started to notice pain in my left hip. A battery of tests later revealed a hairline fracture and torn ligaments, a fact that seemed to explain, at least in part, why I struggled so much with a hike up Mt. Democrat, one of Colorado’s “Fourteeners.”
I rested, did physical therapy, and took advantage of instruction in how to run with better body mechanics. My therapist recorded me running on a treadmill and showed me where things looked off. Essentially, my gluteus medias was (and is) my enemy. Along with building strength, I also needed to increase my stride cadence.
I focused on flexing the right muscles in the right sequence, and striking the ground more frequently. Under my breath as I ran I’d repeat, “my butt is my engine.” Yes, I did get some weird looks.
Learning my Lesson
The following summer I signed up to run a trail Ragnar. While training, and because I’m mean to my body sometimes, I pushed too hard. After six miles in the heat one day, I quit early. Angry at myself for giving in, I decided to do some high-knees for a hundred yards on my way home. My body rebelled. A few weeks before the Ragnar I knew I’d hurt something in my groin. My back was also bothering me more than normal. I ran the race, but I did it in pain.
Soon, I was back to physical therapy. If they had frequent flyer rewards at the clinic, I’d surely be a platinum member.
Now, a year later, I’m still running. My husband and friends Dan and Jayme (compatriots in both the Colorado adventure and the Ragnar) signed up for a marathon. I did not. It’s too many miles for my body. This fact made me sad.
As Paul trains for the race, I worry he’s leaving me behind.
Over the last two years we’ve run together regularly. After developing better form, I actually run faster. Not fast, but faster. He slows down enough and I speed up enough such that we comfortably chug along for three, four, even six or seven miles together. Our running life is a good metaphor for our relationship–each of us adjusting one way or the other to strike a balance that works for us both. But as he trains for the marathon I cannot compete.
A recent event brought more than a chance to run. As part of his training program, Paul needed to run thirteen miles. Because it’s difficult to plan long routes for running these types of distances, Paul tries to take advantage of planned events. He happened upon a half marathon that also featured a 5K. “We could do it together,” he said, hopefully.
With reluctance, conscious of my inferiority in only being capable of running a 5K in comparison to his half marathon, I agreed. Though it would mean an early morning, I still craved the togetherness and teamwork of taking on a challenge together–albeit in different degrees of relative difficulty.
On race day we boarded separate busses to arrive at our respective starting points.
When my race started at a few seconds past seven-forty in the morning, I found myself, as always happens, passing some people and watching others pass me. Many young girls my son’s age and younger ran with their families or with a buddy. Two girls in tutus ran side by side. I began to both relax and breathe hard.
Running is a funny mix of pressure coupled with release. As my body works hard, my brain runs free. Many plot points in stories I’ve written or complex work dilemmas find resolution as my brain loosens and my muscles tighten.
I crossed the finish line tired but smiling. One of the young girls had whipped past me at the last second. Her small body seemed to fly, feet connecting with the ground in the same way a butterfly’s wings pound air. I knew I’d run a good race. Maybe a personal best. I grabbed an orange and some water and stood along the trail, cheering other runners as they passed.
Paul was likely on mile six or seven by the time I went to the car to change clothes and grab his backpack, thinking he’d want his towel and provisions when he finished the race.I pulled on my new, goofy-looking free socks, and made my way back to the course, finding a comfortable spot near the end to watch and wait.
Two hours in from the starting gun, I knew Paul would be along soon. A sprightly woman, clearly a runner of many years, stood near me. She’d finished the half marathon in under an hour and forty-five minutes. Waiting for her grown daughter to arrive at the finish line she told me the course had been difficult–really hilly.
“Are you a runner?” she asked me.
“Um. I ran the 5K today,” I replied.
“So, you’re a runner then,” she affirmed.
Just then, I spotted Paul making his way towards me. I clapped my hands and cheered for him, and this lovely woman did the same, though she had been a stranger just the moment before.
He looked tired. I don’t think he even recognized me. But after I found him in the small crowd near the finish line, he smiled, clearly happy to see me.
It had been a tough one. We chatted and I helped him stretch his calves. The heat and high humidity took a toll on everyone. A gentleman nearby us needed a medic, passing out gently as he leaned against a tree.
“I had a great race,” I told Paul. Bashfully, I said, “I might even have been in the top five in my age category.” I wasn’t sure if I believed it, but I thought it was JUST possible. On our way out, I checked in at the awards table.
“Not surprisingly,” I told Paul with a smile, “I am not in the top five.”
He smiled back. We both knew it didn’t really matter.
On the way home, I checked the website for the race stats–just to see.
No, I hadn’t made the top five. But I had done pretty well. My time was better than any I’d had before. My split pace was blazing fast by any of my previous standards.
What Running Means to Me
Later, Paul and I went to a party hosted by his boss. As I talked with the wife of one of his colleagues, I heard Paul mention the race to one of his co-workers. “It was tough,” he said. “But Angie did great. She finished seventh in her age group of over a hundred people.”
I stopped talking mid-sentence, distracted by the pride in my husband’s voice as he spoke of me.
And it was then that I got it. This running thing isn’t about competing or about who’s capable of more miles or a faster time. It’s about community and connection. It’s about affinity with others as part of a shared experience. Just as the sprightly woman affirmed my membership in the running community, so too had my husband affirmed my membership in OUR community. He can run farther and faster than me. But, that doesn’t mean he’ll run AWAY from me.
I realized my insecurity had nothing at all to do with what he can do and what I can’t. It was a fear about feeling left behind. But he’s not going anywhere. He’s staying right by my side.
Your turn: What is a good metaphor for your relationship? Have you ever felt insecure about your spouse’s interest in something you aren’t as good at?
Are you a runner? How does running impact your life?