“If your having girl problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but a bitch aint one.” –Jay Z
Running, my practice, acts as my primary spiritual outlet. As such, I find it easy to use the sport and my experiences as a metaphor for pretty much anything that comes up. I gather insights from the practice, and apply these lessons to other areas of my life. It’s as though running is my tutor on the subject of daily living. I’m certainly not alone in this. I think that everyone in the running tribe does this to some degree. Perhaps that last PR (personal record) is more than simply a recorded time to you. Or maybe the aching comfort at the end of an intense training week feels a bit more satisfying because you logged more than just a shit-ton of miles. Lately my tutor has been offering up some solid counsel on the beast of life matters: relationships.
I recently participated in the Zane Grey 50 Mile Endurance Run. It fell on the same weekend as my 1-year wedding anniversary married to my wife Ronika. (Yes, I dragged her to a race for our anniversary.) (…Ok, ok, so maybe it wasn’t the most Don Juan of newlywed moves on my part, but I did my best to accommodate the occasion with a cozy, comfortable cabin in the pines for the weekend!) (Stop yelling at me, it had a fireplace and a hot tub too!)
Lets get to it:
Mile 10- I am off to a decent start. I go out with the top 10 pack, finding myself somewhere in the middle after 10 miles. This course is labeled as “The toughest 50 miler in the country.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is by far the most difficult race I’ve competed in yet and the field is stacked with regional talent. There are great runners from Colorado, Arizona, California and even France out in the front pack. I am probably the least experienced of the bunch – a classic new kid on the block who thinks he might come home with a W if he plays his cards right. I hold off on the climbs and try to utilize an energy-saving power walk. My goal is to run this race smart and save my fuel. To put it in terms that suit me best…I don’t want to blow my load to early.
We were engaged one year after our first date, married 7 months later. We are new to this. We are off to a great start. Among the building of a fresh marriage, we are also breaking in our new lives as homeowners, full-time jobs, shared expenses, and basically all the shit that makes you feel like an “adult.” We are rookies. Ronika, the hometown gal who was still living with her folks when we met, and me, the guy whose been drifting around since he left home. Neither of us had dabbled in this adult-like “domesticated” living. No better way to learn than to plunge in headfirst!
Mile 20 – Feeling great. Focusing on keeping my pace down as to conserve my energy for the second half. The race is technical with lots of climbs and lots of descents. I conserve on the climbs, crush the descents. This seems to be keeping me in a competitive position, although I am thinking that winning this race is no longer an option. I’m probably about 6th place right now. Rather than spending all race trying to catch up, it would suit me well to run my race and finish a strong 50 miler.
We are having fun! We may fumble a bit over minor technicalities of living together (dishes, decorating, cleanliness, etc) but heck, nothing like some of the housemates I’ve had in the past! Our communication is solid and we decide that this is undoubtedly a crucial factor in a sustainable marriage. We are learning things about one another and accommodating to each other’s needs. It may be as simple as my version of clean being that things are put away and no clutter, yet her version of clean is that the floors, counters, dishes, etc. are actually clean. We are keeping the lines open for the deeper stuff too, and I enlist the help of a counselor. Just like getting a coach for training, we got our coach for marriage. We want to build a strong foundation early on – get all that Mars vs. Venus shit on the table so we are solid down the road.
Mile 30 – Still running my race. I’m completely in control and looking at finishing the back 9 strong. I felt a couple early warning signs of legs cramps, but immediately eased up and loosened the legs out to dispel the flinching. I take time to appreciate the beauty of this course. It’s all on single-track trail in Arizona’s high desert along the Mogollon Rim. The day is overcast and foggy. It rained last night and being in Ponderosa pine forest, the moisture triggers a lush aroma of pine-flavored mountain air. This refreshing colder air (60 degree-ish), the canopy of trees, and the cascading views of red rock formations popping out of green forest are an exhilarating change from the low-desert trails I am used to. Damn it feels good to be a runna’.
We have found our groove. We are getting used to, and enjoying, what resembles a “routine.” We each bring our dishes to the table and are serving up a well-balanced companionship. Ronika’s steadiness, patience, and equanimity are paired up with a healthy dose of restlessness, spontaneity, and exuberance. While sometimes these traits clash, we find that we each needed a little bit of the other in us. We are helping each other grow and enjoying the ride.
Mile 40 – Uhgt oh. Something is going on and it kind of sucks. It’s not cramping. I slammed a 10oz bottle of pickle juice at mile 31 on what seemed like a Farmer’s Almanac suggestion from a friend, and it worked! Cramping problem solved. But this is different. I lost steam. Around mile 35 through 39 my breathing became heavy, and I’m lightheaded. My pace slows. Runners pass me. One of them is Nate Polaski, a familiar and friendly sight. I’m entering a dark place as my body slips into survival mode. It happened so quickly. “Why am I even doing this?” I question myself. I question this whole stupid fuckin’ sport altogether.
Ok we entered some dark periods too. Communication breakdown. Is she questioning having to spend the rest of her life with this guy? Am I questioning this woman? Maybe I’m unsuited for marriage and “settling down” in general, papa is a rolling stone! Did we rush into this? How can it be so great one day and right now we feel like this. We both tend to shut down in this place, and anxiously await to crawl out of this hole.
Mile 50 – I’m stuck in this survival mode for several more miles. Here’s the catch though, I won’t drop out. I find enough to know I am going to push through and finish this race. Yeah, I am going to finish this goddamn race! I am still light headed, and my body is weak as hell, but I know for a fact I will get through it and make it to the finish line. After all, it’s my anniversary weekend and I need to be in good spirits tonight! Sion Lupowitz, my other Tucson compadre, passes me around mile 45. I haven’t seen him all race. When he asks me how I am doing I muster out the only words I am focusing on, “I’m guna finish.” Nate and Sion again school me on the difference between a veteran and a greenhorn in the sport. Well done fellas. At mile 47 I start to show signs of life again. I pick up the pace. I regain my focus and my breath. Hey, I’m cruising again. I start to grin as I know I am actually going to finish and in a somewhat strong state.
The dark times only last so long. We push through them. We repair our communication and figure out what is going on and what went wrong. As quick as the doubt came in, it went away. Ronika and I chose to learn from what was up to make our relationship stronger in the future. We have been riding a wave of love and joy for sometime since then, and we know we have the skills and tools to take on another “wall” if we hit it. In the meantime this marriage thing, it’s fuckin’ great, and am looking forward to every year to come.
Ronika was waiting for me 5 feet past the finish line with a hug that her man desperately needed. I finished in 10th place in 9:30. I was happy. Sure it wasn’t exactly the race I wanted to have, but I learned a lot from the race and had a great experience. Along with the pickle juice remedy, I learned that I didn’t take in nearly enough calories as required. I was doing about 100cals/hr when I should have been doing 250-350. Why it took so long for me to actually research nutrition plans is beyond me. I think it took going to a dark place and “bonking” to look into it.
I was assured once again that running is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I was recovered and ready to run again the next day! I am grateful that I was brought to my limits only to refresh myself on why I am committed to this sport – in part because it brings me to my limits.
I wanted to run the course in 8:30, but ended up in 9:30. Ya gotta conserve your energy, so I sacrificed an hour of the race for an hour that night with my wife “celebrating” our 1-year…if ya know what I mean.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
(Below: Ronika waiting with me at the start line at 4AM)
Nate, myself, and Sion – showing me how it’s done.