On Sunday, November 3rd, my wife completed her third marathon—this one in New York City. It was particularly resonant for her, and for me, because it is the city where we met and fell in love. 8 years, ago it was also where I first got the idea to “give” her a marathon as a Christmas present.
Running a marathon in and of itself is a challenge. Training for it is a challenge in its own right. At the time, even without knowing this first-hand, I guessed this was the case. In high school my wife had been an accomplished runner. Now in the city, she ran casually but never could crowd out the rest of the little adventures Gotham tempted her with to train for the marathon. On the other hand, each marathon Sunday in New York, she would always get this look which conveyed admiration mixed with yearning when we saw the exhausted, proud runners, hobbling around the city after the race with their metals un-embarrassedly around their necks as they went out to dinner after the race . So for x-mas, I promised her that we would train for and run a marathon together that following spring—this despite the fact, that to that point I loathed running for the sake of running. But now I suppose, my training was not running for the sake of running—it would be running for the love of my life.
It was not to be, yet, anyway. Part way through training, Heather developed a stress fracture and had to stop training and let it heal. Having already invested too much “sweat equity”, I didn’t stop. After a month she had healed and though she had abandoned hopes of running the full marathon, she came out to do the first half of my weekly long run on a sunny Saturday—12 miles—2 times around Central Park. Next to the birth of our children, what followed was the most amazing display of will I have ever witnessed.
Marathon training is a wonderful lesson in how relatively quickly the body can adapt. In 4 months’ time, I went from barely being able to run 3 miles without stopping to catch my breath for fear of collapsing, to running 26.2 and finishing with a smile on my face. On that Saturday though, Heather’s body had had no time to adapt. Laid up for a month, for all intents and purposes she should have been back at square one. 6 miles alone would be a stretch for her. But on that Saturday, as we completed the first loop around the park and I prepared to run the next lap alone, she declared that she was going to run the second one with me. The unwelcomed voice of prudence that I can be, I questioned whether this was a wise choice. I don’t recall her specific response now but it certainly convinced me that, particularly on that day, I had underestimated her and that I should change my tone to encouragement or shut my mouth altogether.
Marathoning wisdom has it that when you feel you are completely out of gas, just spent, exhausted—this actually is not the case. Evolutionarily, our species has evolved this sensation so that we stop jogging and instead save half our energy reserves for simply surviving…or something like that. And though we have gas in the tank, that’s not to say that we wouldn’t endure a great amount of pain to access it. Having “hit the wall”—as it’s called when you get to such a point, I can attest to that fact that though you might keep going for hours more, the body never stops yelling “What are you, crazy?! Stop! Stop right now! You’re being ridiculous! Just stop it!” It is will then, sheer will that every marathoner must call upon for the last leg of the race. But it was early in my training, for my first marathon, and I didn’t appreciate this yet. I didn’t know what this kind of will was—until Heather showed it to me.
Running calls for intense personal focus—an alignment of the physical and the mental parts of yourself. Particularly for a beginning runner, like I was, I had to constantly pay attention to my form, my breathing, and my thinking. But for that second lap around the park, I forgot about myself. Instead I bore witness as the love of my life found new stores of fortitude, willing one foot in front of the other, though every cell below her eyeballs certainly screamed at her to stop.
That visceral example of pure will has inspired me at countless times in my life, including to finish my one and only marathon. And though, because of her stress fracture, she only ran the last half of my marathon with me, as I stated above, Heather is now a far more accomplished marathoner than I. She runs them for many reasons. That marathons are peak life experiences is certainly one of them. And they are peak experiences particularly because you discover, or in her case “re-discover” each race, a measure of strength—of will—that our daily machinations do not do a good job of reminding us that we have. I count myself lucky to go grocery shopping with a partner as enduringly powerful as my bride and mother of my children. I count myself doubly lucky that I again got a brief glimpse of her wonderful will last Sunday.
[typography font=”Satisfy” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]Written By: Karl [/typography]
After 10 years in the bright lights of the big cities, Karl moved back to VT with his wife Heather and son, Henry. His daughter Ruby came into the mix a short time later. Karl works in Corporate Development at Dealer.com. He is alumnus of Dartmouth College and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Karl is married to our contributing writer, Heather.