“I blame you for this,” I told my husband as I pulled my running clothes on this morning and prepared to squeeze in a 45-minute run before work. I say this most mornings when I am awake before dawn and preparing to ride my bike or go for a run. Or sometimes I say, “This is your fault, you know,” or “Damn you, your secret plan to turn me into you is working.”
As much as I would like to pretend as though I sprang into the world fully formed as the badass athlete I (wish I) am, the truth is that when my husband and I first started dating several years ago, I was the kind of person who stayed up until 3 a.m. most nights, spending most of that time commenting obsessively on Jezebel. I also drank a whole bunch, and I smoked cigarettes and more pot than I feel comfortable admitting to on the internet. (A lot, I’ll just put it like that.) I wasn’t a total mess, as I did go to the gym a few times a week and I had stopped eating fast food and I no longer did any other illicit drugs, but I was not anywhere near as health-conscious as I am now.
Brian, on the other hand, went to sleep early and woke up before dawn. He didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, ate salads because he liked them and he liked the way they made him feel. Our first road trip was a journey to Cincinnati, where I cheered him on as he ran the Flying Pig Marathon. I’d never thought about running before, beyond to think about how much I had hated it for sports conditioning when I was in high school, but seeing him at the finish line with this almost-delirious look of transcendent joy on his face…well, it made me think that maybe, just maybe, I might like to know what that feels like.
It took about three years, but I finally found out. It was as beautiful and life-changing as I had hoped. More so, even.
The process of getting there was difficult, though, and I feel certain that I would have quit had Brian not been there to guide me. The first time I ever ran, I made it about a block before I felt like belly-flopping on the asphalt and dying. A few months later, he stayed with me through my first 5K and encouraged me to run the entire distance, even though I felt like I was going to puke the whole time. He helped me pick out my first pair of real running shoes.
Brian told me that he loved his healthy lifestyle – all the salads and the running and the early nights and the meditation in the early morning hours while everyone was still asleep – because it made him feel good and because it never felt like deprivation to him. He liked caring for his body and his mind. It was a great source of pleasure for him. Even though part of me resisted going along with it at first, I trusted him because I knew he meant it.
See, he had quit drinking several years before we met. His drinking was the kind of drinking that destroys lives, both of the drinker and those around them, and to this day it is still something I struggle to wrap my head around, that the fit, peaceful man I love existed for so long in such a state of turbulence and self-destruction. I knew he had existed in dark places and he had emerged as “one evolved dude,” as my mother calls him, and I believed him when he told me how changing his life had saved it. So I followed him, and here I am, six years later, getting up early to run, eating vegetables, lifting weights, all that stuff. I can’t remember the last time I smoked anything.
But you know, it’s not as if Brian picked up my sedentary husk, hefted me over his shoulder like a stoned bag of potatoes and dragged me through all those miles and sessions at the gym. After a certain point I understood the pleasures he took in caring for his body, and I became deeply invested in my own health and wellness, with my locus of motivation located squarely inside my own heart. That only intensified when I began to see myself as an athlete. And soon I found that I was strong enough to be able to turn to Brian and offer him the kind of support and motivation he had given me for so long.
A few years ago, Brian was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in his knee, the result of an injury he’d incurred in his 30s when he slipped down a wet grassy hill. At about the same time, he said he found himself losing his competitive edge, where he’d show up to races and just not feel like he had it in him to really kick some ass. Instead of taking this as a sign that he needed to hang up the running shoes and join the rest of the middle-aged men on the golf course, we found some treatment options for his knee (which, by the way, have worked splendidly). He had been talking about trying a triathlon for a while, so I encouraged him to sign up. He was reluctant, mainly because of the cost, but I was adamant that I didn’t care about the money and that I just wanted him to be happy. Finally I wore him down, so he got a used road bike and entered his first multi-sport race.
It was love at first tri. He loved it so much that I had no problem with the expenses that did eventually follow – the race fees, the travel costs, the bike and all its attendant equipment. We can afford it, and I want him to be happy. (Besides, he would live like a monk if he could. The guy deserves to indulge in something.) In fact, it is my fault that he is currently in training for Ironman Florida. I told him one day that I knew he was going to want to do an Ironman at some point, and that I was okay with it. He says I planted the seed in his head by saying that, but I think I was just identifying something that was always there. Either way, the blame for what he calls “the folly” rests right on my shoulders, and I am happy to take responsibility for that, because he loves everything about the training process. In turn, he inspires me to train harder for my own races and to reach for higher goals. We talk about the day we will run Boston together, about our plans to do the Keys 50-miler together, about how we will travel to New Zealand where we will do my first Ironman together. No dream is too big for us, not when we are together.
We celebrated our fifth anniversary last weekend, and since then I have been thinking about how our two individual lives have twined together in that time to create a space through which we are capable of accomplishing more together than we are on our own. I mean, we are both pretty great on our own, but together we are pretty amazing. He teaches me to pace myself. I push him to go faster. He helps me have faith in my abilities. I keep him patient. We bounce ideas off each other. He reads my writing and loves that I do this blog. I give him another perspective on his work and admire what he does fiercely. We trade reading materials and have intense conversations over coffee on Sunday mornings. We offer gentle criticism when needed and unqualified support the rest of the time.
In my relationship with him I have found the space to become the kind of woman I always wanted to be, but whenever I try to give him credit for that, he always says that he didn’t do anything, that he just “gave me a little sunlight and water” and that I did all the blossoming on my own.
What makes it even more poignant for me is that I know how badly relationships can go, how a relationship with the wrong person can feel like a waking nightmare or a living death, choose whichever cliche you prefer. I have learned that there is no such thing as standards that are too high for a relationship, and that I would rather be alone than in a bad relationship ever again. Fortunately, because of Brian, I don’t have to make that choice.
So this is my love letter to my husband, my training partner in the endurance race of life. Every day of my life I thank the multiverse for bringing us together, and I look forward to marking many more years with him by my side.