I logged a lot of miles last year, training for my first marathon.
I started training months and months before the day of the race. Short runs turned to long runs turned to longer runs. Mild temperatures turned to freezing temperatures turned to warmer temperatures. Long-sleeved shirts and headbands turned to long pants and gloves and jackets turned to shorts and tank tops.
But one thing remained constant: I ran alone. With the exception of maybe two training runs over the course of those months, it was just me, by myself, with my thoughts.
I had a lot to think about during that time, so in a way, it was my therapy… to just go out the door with nothing else to do but run and think and figure things out – or at least try. In many ways, it was a time of redefining myself. Who I was, after 4 years of marriage, on my own again.
I doubt that many people get married with the belief that they’ll be divorced in just a few years. I certainly didn’t. I was young when I got married (I had just turned 24) and when we separated I had just turned 28. That weighed on my mind a lot… how I had gone from my early 20s to my late 20s, and with what to show for it? As much as I knew it was the best thing for both of us to go our separate ways, in many ways I felt like a big failure. A failure as a mom to our dogs, a failure as a wife, a failure as a daughter, a failure as a sister, a failure as an aunt. No one but me made me feel this way, of course, but these were the things I had to work through, to figure out… and I was able to as I ran and ran and ran.
I didn’t want to fail myself as a runner. My marriage vows – “in sickness and health” – those I may have failed, but I didn’t want it to be the same for my training. I pushed through or treated or contended with colds and minor setbacks with determination.
But always alone, just the way I wanted it, the way I needed it.
After running that first marathon, I was on such a high from the feeling of accomplishment that I wanted to keep training. I signed up for my first triathlon, a Half Ironman, and continued to run – and swim and bike – on my own.
Then over the summer, when I was on almost-daily Auntie duty at Audrey’s pool club, I became friendly with another woman who did a lot of running. She was always telling me about this 5-mile race that she ran every Thursday night… it was low-key, fun, and a great group of people showed up for it every week.
And every week I resisted going because, well, I didn’t run with people. I ran by myself, that’s how I liked it, how I needed it.
But one Thursday in early August, I finally relented. I saw her at the pool club again, she told me I really should come that night… and only because I had to run 5 miles that day as part of my training for my next marathon, I went.
And I’m glad I did because that’s the day I met Brian.
We were introduced by my friend before the race. I remember Brian asked me where I was from and I told him, but added that I was moving to New York shortly (to which – so he says – he said to himself, “Do you think that’s going to stop me?”).
Around the first mile, I remember seeing Brian, like, randomly directing traffic, which probably made me pause for a quick second in confusion, but he later told me that since there’s no police presence at these weekly races, and there were a lot of people running that night, he was just wanted to help the traffic flow.
In any case, at some point around mile 3, I heard someone come up next to me and say, “Howdy.” I turned to my right and it was Brian.
It had been a long time since I’d run a shorter distance race, so I had been concentrating on keeping track of my breathing and my pace. I thought he was just saying hello as he ran by me, but he slowed down a bit and started asking me about myself. What did I do for a living? Why was I moving to New York? Where did I usually run? Unaccustomed to talking and running at the same time, and going at a pretty decent speed, I started to feel fatigued. “You can go ahead of me. I know I’m holding you back,” I said. But he stayed and talked, keeping me at a good pace, telling me when the 4-mile mark was coming up, and that after that it was a straight, flat road to the finish.
I remember thinking that it had been a long time since I had felt that kind of encouragement… probably not since I had run cross country in high school. He pushed me that night, and I appreciated it.
Over the next few weeks we saw each other in group settings. Between planning my move and other commitments, I made it to a few other group runs and workouts (running with people! willingly!)… until one Saturday when Brian and I had our first run together, just the two of us.
I was training for the Marine Corps Marathon in October and had planned on doing 17 miles alone (naturally) but Brian offered to come to my side of the state for an early morning run. And he offered cook for me afterward. Sold!
And because a.) Gmail does a stellar job at archiving chats, b.) I don’t regularly go on deleting frenzies, and c.) I’m sentimental, I still have the formal written offer, courtesy of Gchat:
Brian: i was thinking, you’re being so kind to let me run your 17 miler, the least i can do is make some breakfast for you
Before the run, I wondered if I would have enough to talk about for over 2 hours with someone I had just recently met. During the run, I was quite certain Brian regretted ever asking to join me. Because I bascially took the contents of my brain and emptied them onto him over the course of those 17 miles. Everything I had been working through on my own throughtout the months and months of my solo runs landed right in his lap. To Brian’s credit, if he was thinking, “What the hell did I get myself into with this girl?” he didn’t let on. In fact, he just listened to me – really listened – and gave his input and insight at just the right moments.
After the run, he went to his truck and instead of driving away (which I totally wouldn’t have blamed him for), he came back with English muffins, eggs, fresh veggies, granola and yogurt. He told me to go sit outside on my parents’ back deck and he basically took over their kitchen, whipping up a veritable feast for the two of us (which, after burning all those calories, we earned, dammit).
Then he asked me if I wanted to go running again the next Saturday.
And that is how Brian won my closed up, slightly wounded, very apprehensive heart… just by being his honorable, caring, sensitive, kind, loving, sweet, honest and wonderful self.
It is also how I realized that I didn’t, actually, just want to run by myself.
Because I guess, in the end, it wasn’t so much that I needed to run alone…. it was that I needed the right person to run with.