"I'm not happy," my husband said.
He was standing in the doorway of our recently renovated master bathroom in our grand hilltop house. Our 6-year-old was downstairs parked in front of a rare unsupervised Sponge Bob-fest. It was January 23, a date I remember because it was the day before I was to begin a 16-week training plan for the Big Sur Marathon. Never mind our child, our marriage, our mortgage -- what about my marathon?
Pull a thread on a 20-year relationship and it's amazing how quickly it unravels. Over the next 16 weeks, we met mediators, attorneys, real-estate agents. We staged our dream house to go on the market, divvied up belongings, chose what to divest in an estate sale, found new places to live. We broke the news to our daughter (heartbreaking).
You might think that the dissolution of a marriage is the worst time to train for a marathon, and indeed, we often say in these pages: "Don't train for a marathon during stressful life changes." But marathons had been a part of my life for 20 years. They provide rhythm, routine, control, the illusion of sanity. With my life in chaos, training kept me (somewhat) grounded: three-hour runs with any friend who'd go, tempo efforts with coworkers who didn't know, existential predawn speed sessions on the treadmill in the garage. On one 20-miler, a friend said, "I wish there was something I could do to help." To which I replied: "You're doing it right now."
But if running is part of your identity as a couple, what happens to it when you divide your lives? We had met training for our first marathon, had planned our wedding between an Ironman (his) and a marathon (mine). We traveled to races. All our closest friends were runners and triathletes. In the split, I got the kitchen table; he got the couch. As I sorted through photos of us together at races in Hoboken, Santa Fe, Hawaii, I wondered, who would get to "keep" running? What would it mean outside the context of marriage? With no one to cheer for me? Would it still matter?
In early April a mere two weeks before Big Sur, my kind and wise boss, Editor-in-Chief David Willey, offered me the opportunity to run Boston (through a sponsorship program; yes, I had qualified, and yes, I had to pay the entry fee). "But I'm running Big Sur!" I wailed. "I know, I know," he said. That's the kind and wise part -- he knew I could handle two marathons in two weeks, and also that I probably needed to. In a bar you might say to someone obviously in distress, "Have another drink." At Runner's World, we say, "Have another marathon." Ordinarily, neither is all that advisable. "You mean do both?" I asked. "Yes," he said.
Point your feet and move forward. That was my mission three years ago, and once again, I find myself training for the Boston -- to -- Big Sur double. My reason this time around? My daughter and I have settled into our new (small) house with our new (small) dog and celebrate our (new, small) victories like installing shower-faucet handles by ourselves. I'm training for and traveling to both events with my fast teacher friend Susan and her husband, who've been instrumental in helping us rebuild our lives.
This year, because of the bombings, Boston will be a race of remembrance and healing on a much larger scale, of course, than my mini personal drama. But over the coming miles, I will be mindful and grateful that I kept moving forward -- and got to keep running.