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Last year, I ran the Mardi Gras Half Marathon, my second half-marathon. A few weeks later, BWB and I were visiting his mother and discussing this event. I had been trying to convince him to come run with me, and his mother got involved. The short version of this story is that BWB agreed — nay, promised — to run the Mardi Gras Half Marathon 2011 alongside me. In front of his mother. Oh yes, he was definitely doomed at that point.

Fast forward to last December. We had been gradually increasing our running, but the time had come to commit to the marathon training program. To say BWB was uncertain would be putting it mildly. In retrospect, he says that his “I could do it if I want, I just don’t know if I want to” attitude was probably a cover for something more along the lines of, “I don’t think I can do this.” Early on, we had a couple of training runs which ended, quite frankly, in tears and yelling. After the second or third of these calamitous endings, we sat down and talked. Well, mostly, I talked. I told him that I didn’t want him to do anything I wanted to do, or to feel forced into something, but that the idea of crossing the finish line together was incredible to me. Nobody I love runs, so nobody understands exactly why I do these things. I wanted to share that feeling of accomplishment and joy with him. For his part, he told me he was scared that he wouldn’t be fast enough, that he’d slow me down, that he would disappoint me in some way. I said that wasn’t possible, and I promised to be patient.

A few days later, I registered both of us, and it was a done deal.

Training began in earnest, and except for a few missed runs while we were in very cold places, we stuck to the schedule. In evaluating our pace, we figured out that we were probably going to shoot for a 15 minute mile, with our goal to finish at around 3:15:00. BWB asked me what time I finished at the last time I ran it, and I mumbled something faster than that. He looked crestfallen, “I’m slowing you down.” No, no, honey, it’s not about that. This is exactly what I want to be doing.

Race Day. Out the door by 6am, parking at the finish line, and a shuttle to the start line. It was cold, but we had planned for this, and the next thing I knew we were standing with our start wave, bouncing up and down to keep warm (and from the excitement), then crossing the start line, then running down Tchoupitoulas. Together, every step of the way.

In the middle of the race, we were doing really well, sticking with the plan and pounding through. At some point about mile 8, I realized that if we managed to maintain that pace, we would finish at under three hours. I started to push us towards that goal, run a little harder, move a little faster. BWB figured this out in the middle of a scheduled walk break and gave me a hurt look, “Why are you pushing so hard? I thought this was about finishing with me.”

I paused. The drive to finish faster was mine, not his. When I had been pushing him, I thought it was because he would be even more proud of himself if we managed to finish so much faster than expected. I thought he would be delighted by that finish time, that the race would be even better for him. All of that was me, though — I was pushing my feelings, my goals, my interpretation of success and achievement, projecting them onto my husband. His goal was to finish, to finish around 3:15:00, and to finish together. Those were the goals I shared at the start of the race, and it wasn’t fair to decide on his behalf that he would be happier if I changed them for him mid-stream.

So I said, “You’re right, honey, I’m sorry.”

He looked at me suspiciously and asked me what the catch was.

I explained, apologized again, he forgave me, and we went on to finish the race.

Together.

Crossing the finish line with him was even more amazing than I expected it to be. If I hadn’t been slightly dehydrated at that point, I think I would have cried. We finished in 3:03:00, twelve minutes faster than expected may I point out. It was amazing and wonderful and beyond worth all of the effort and struggle.

BWB says he wants to do another half, and then start looking at a full marathon. I’ve never done a full, although I’ve wanted to. It seems big and scary and long, and I’m a little intimidated by the distance. That’s not going to stop us, though. We’re going to do our first marathon, and cross the finish line holding hands.

Together.

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I have a confession to make.

I don’t actually like to run.

Oh sure, there are days when the runner’s high catches me and I feel like I could go for days, bopping out to pop music I would never admit to enjoying and freaking people on the streetcars out (“why is that girl grinning like a crazy person?”), but those days are rarities. More often, I have to drag myself over to my shoes, my inner toddler throwing fits while the rational adult informs her that no, not being able to find the pink socks is not an excuse to skip the run today.  (She has a point.  I mean c’mon, can you really expect me to run WITHOUT THE PINK SOCKS?  The horror.)  I dread leaving the house.  I mentally calculate how much longer I have, eagerly anticipating walk breaks and water stops.  The first block or so, I always consider turning around and just going home.  Do this run tomorrow, I rationalize, when you’re not so tired.  Except tomorrow, I’m still tired, and now I feel guilty as well.

No, for the most part, I don’t really like the act of running.  Especially the first quarter of any run, that’s the worst part.  The entirety of the thing looming out there in front of me, long and dark and arduous.  It’s much better once I’ve come to the halfway point, or when the chipper voice of my Nike+ starts counting down the last 400 meters.  With the end in sight, I have renewed energy and motivation to get to my goal.

In case there was any doubt, the goal in this case is to get out of these sweaty clothes and into a nice clean shower.

I am sure after the preceding paragraphs, one might seriously question why on earth I would ever willingly choose to inflict this kind of suffering on myself.  The answer is, I like goals. Not the shower at the end of the run goals, the big goals, the kinds of goals that make you feel like the queen of the universe when you accomplish them.  In other words, I am the kind of person that would climb a mountain just because there was one there that needed climbing.  For better or for worse, I like a good challenge.

I started running because I wanted to do a triathlon, and in order to finish one, I would have to run.  So, I got some shoes and started running.  I did one little sprint triathlon, and then later I went on to an Olympic distance.  Eventually, I did a half-marathon, too.  All of these events were spread out over the course of years, and I noticed a funny thing.  If I was actively training for a specific race, I would run (or bike, or swim).  Not only that, but I loved my schedule.  I love watching my mileage increase and my times get faster.  I enjoy the process of training — making a plan, following the plan, and reaping the benefits in the form of a medal and the rush at the end of the race.  It feels really good to cross that finish line and know that I’ve done something that I never would have thought I could do.

Of course, the converse of this is that when I don’t have a race in mind, I don’t run.  Are you crazy?  Why would I put myself through all that for nothing?

At the moment, I am training for the Mardi Gras Half-Marathon, which will be run on 28 February 2010.  I’ve had a few lapses in training, mostly related to the wedding and being in Chicago where it was too cold to even think about going outside — seriously, I think I got frostbite from considering the idea — but I’m back on track now, and looking forward to that race.  My husband hasn’t seen me run any races, as my last one was before we started dating, and I’m especially excited that this time he’ll be at the finish line waiting for me.  I can just imagine coming across that gateway, and getting my medal, and giving him a big, sweaty kiss while he tells me how proud he is of me — yeah, that’s a pretty great feeling right there.

I don’t actually like to run, but I do actually like the way it feels to finish a run, any run.  Finishing races is amazing, but even at the end of a short 30-minute easy run I get a great sense of accomplishment.  I did it.  I beat it.  I win at today.  Go me.

Some days, finishing a 30-minute easy run is the only thing I feel that way about.  On those days, I still don’t like running, but the runs are what keep me sane.

Someday, I want to do a full marathon.  Someday I also want to do a full Ironman triathlon, but I think that someday is farther off.  Someday, maybe the days that I enjoy my run, the actual running part, will outnumber the days that I don’t.  Someday, maybe I will be one of the runners I admire at the gym, all muscle-y and fit looking.  Okay, maybe not that last one.  But the other three, those are still on the table.

In the meantime, I’ll be slogging along the neutral ground, getting extra protein in my teeth from the swarms of gnats that seem to have decided that January is a great time of year to go sightseeing, mentally dragging my inner three-year-old as she has the mother of all tantrums about having been forced out of the house in BLUE SOCKS for pity’s sake, and trying to keep in mind why I’m doing this.  Keeping my eyes on the prize.

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