This past weekend, Nick and I ran the 2011 National Marathon in Washington, DC. My Dad completed the half marathon (his first), Nick’s parents and cousin competed in the team relay, and my Mom, Nick’s uncle, great-aunt, and various college friends came out to cheer us on. Besides the family reunion, delicious meals, and reunions with family and friends, this was a big weekend for Nick and I that taught us a lot about endurance, ourselves, and our marriage.
For me, running has always been a solitary thing. I run when I’m stressed – it helps me relax. I run when I’m happy – it compounds the positive energy. I run when I’m frustrated – it helps me think. I set my own pace based on what I need at that moment, and although the athlete in me likes to push my limits, running for me has always been more about taking care of myself than competing.
My whole approach to running was thrown off when my husband of less than a year suggested we run a marathon together.
I ran the NYC Marathon in November 2009, after a couple of years of discouraging health problems. I trained and raced alone, and learned a lot about myself in the process. The long training runs were lonely, but not in a bad way – I was able to dig deep and overcome my fears (and the pain!) on my own, which made me feel strong and empowered as an individual. The race itself is one of the best experiences of my life – I was healthy and injury-free on race day and finished much stronger than I expected, negative splitting (meaning the last 13 miles were faster than the first) with my fastest mile at mile 24. I finished the last 3 miles through Central Park with a goofy grin on my face and am not ashamed to say that I shed a few tears crossing the finish line.
Given my solitary approach to running, I was a bit apprehensive when Nick and I began training for National Marathon. There were days when I felt great and wanted push the pace on a long run, but I had to hold back as he built his confidence in long distance running. Worse than that were the days when I was tired, worn out, or weak, and I felt him holding back on my behalf – to struggle through a difficult run alone is one thing, but for another person to see my weakness and be affected by it was really tough for me. More often than not, we bickered through our runs, and at those painful, crucial points at the end of 16, 18, and 20 mile runs, instead of gritting our teeth and pushing through, we took out our frustrations on each other with biting and sometimes childish remarks.
But last Saturday, we ran and completed the marathon. The gun went off at 7am and we ran in 30-degree temperatures as we watched the sun rise over the US Capitol building. We received extra boosts throughout the race as we passed family along the race route. He had to stop so that I could use the porta-potty at mile 6 (and mile 10…and mile 15…and mile 22. I obviously had no problem with hydration!) I had to stop so that he could stretch out a nasty cramp that set in on the final hill at mile 23.
But I realized at mile 26.2 that none of that mattered. When I woke up with a sore throat and feeling sick, I had someone to tell me it would be okay (and it was.) I didn’t get to set my own pace, but I had someone to talk to through boring parts of the course. When he hit the wall and started cramping at the end, I talked him through the last few miles, which distracted me from my own aching muscles. Our families and friends were cheering at mile 26, relieved to see us still on our feet and together. We crossed the finish line hand in hand, and while I didn’t get the same feeling of elation and self-pride that I did in my first marathon, I experienced something even better…I was unbelievably proud of him for pushing through a lot of pain and finishing strong, and proud of us for doing it together.
We ran the marathon on our 9-month anniversary of marriage. We have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but in that 4+ hours, I figured something out that is a hard lesson for someone as independent as I am. There was something more powerful about US being strong than ME being strong. Shared strength is more powerful, and more rewarding, than solitary strength. We made each other better on Saturday…and I guess that was the point of getting married in the first place. Hopefully we’ll live out our marriage that way for years to come.