Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Partner in life, partner on the trails

This month's Trail Runner Blog Symposium question asks if is it better for your significant other to be a runner too. I have been trying not to respond because it is complex and personal. But as Cory and I near our 3-year wedding anniversary, I have been realizing how much my answer is unequivocally, "YES!" Like anything that has to do with running, being with a fellow running enthusiast is hard but ultimately way better than the alternative.

Looking back on the experience of dating non-runners in college, I remember asking boyfriends to run with me, but always getting fed excuses because they didn't want to be slower than a girl. At the beginning of the relationship they always pretended to be runners or cited some distant past where they were apparently on their high school cross-country team. So I would go for runs alone. At that point, I would run the Ice Age Trail as much as I could or if I was going home to visit my parents, sometimes I would run the 10 miles from UW-Madison to my hometown of Verona. At that time, most people thought I was crazy and would tell me I was going to hurt myself or that running was not a legitimate form of transportation to get to another town.

During the summers I worked at a camp in Colorado and during my second summer, I met Cory. There was this awesome trail that went right through camp called the Rainbow Trail. It stretches for 100 miles traversing the east side of the Sangre de Cristos. I often saw him burst out of his cabin in short shorts and take off down the trail. I guess he saw me doing the same (but in longer shorts) and he started asking me to run with him. I wanted to run with him so bad, but I knew that if I ran with him, I was just going to like him more and he was going to like me more. The problem was that I had a boyfriend back home and even though things weren't going well, I wasn't going to be that girl that breaks up with someone over the phone.

But Cory was relentless. We ran together once and I kept thinking, "Damnit this guy is awesome. Stop being friends with him." If you know Cory, he is not the kind of person who is easily put off. Towards the end of the summer, we planned a group run from camp into the nearest town. Cory and I woke up early to go drop off a car in town for shuttling people back. When we got back to camp, no one was awake. I tried to think of reasons for us to not do the run alone, but we ran anyway. It was a hard run for me; 8 miles was still a long way for me back then. I didn't even know what gels were. When I wanted a walk break he offered me some of his Gu packet and told me a story about how he had a rat-tail when he was a kid because he thought it was stylish, but his parents felt bad about telling him how ugly it was.

I think that from the day I met him, I knew he was the one and when you look at a person and see the reality of your future staring back at you, it's a little bit scary. There are a variety of traits that us runners, trail-runners especially, share and if the most important person in your life doesn't understand those parts of you, then you are going to be faced with hardship for the rest of your relationship. When you meet a person who just gets that aspect of your nature without having to really talk about it, it's hard to resist wanting to be with them.

Now that Cory and I have been married for three years, I have to admit that we don't run together that often. Those traits we have in common make it difficult for us to stay at the same pace. For example, if we are running and there is some guy running ahead of us, I know that all Cory can think about is wanting to pass him and all I can think about is how much I want Cory to pass him too. Every time I see a couple running together, I think about how cute they look but I get a sweet satisfaction out of passing them and knowing that the guy is kicking himself for being passed by a girl. Sad, I know.

Being married to a runner can also be surprisingly hard at races. I want him to be proud of me and he wants me to be proud of him. When I pace him and show him some tough love, he barks back that he's already run such-and-such number of miles and he's tired and he can take however-the-hell long he wants at an aid station. What he's really saying is that he just wants me to tell him that I recognize how hard he is working. If we are both doing a race, that can also be problematic. I daydream in the last few miles about how, when I cross the finish line, he'll give me a big hug and tell me how he's so proud to have such a tough wife. But when I get there he's hungry and grumpy because he's already been done for two hours.

When we argue, I get loud and Cory gets thoughtful. He sometimes reminds me that even though it seems that we are just too different, we are incredibly similar. Think about how many types of runners there are out there. Somehow we are both trail-runners who prefer mountainous terrain and long distances, we prefer the same kind of gear, we have similar thoughts on what kind of shoes work best, we eat similarly (as in we both eat a lot and aren't picky about it), we like to do the same kind of races, and we both understand that if we are going to take a vacation it's going to be a running vacation. When he wants to budget more for running shoes and races, I agree. When I want to go spend four to five hours on the trails by myself, he understands. We are looking at buying a house, and we both agree that small and affordable is better because we will be spending most of our free time outside anyway.

I am pretty happy with this life. We live on the side of a mountain with the world's laziest cattle dog. We have a great friends who are willing to meet us for crazy adventures in the mountains. We both get the same thrill out of packing up the car for a road trip to a race. We understand how to encourage each other through injury. We know how to boost the other up after a terrible race. And when hard training pays off with good results, we can have enormous pride for each other because we know how much work it took to get there.


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