Every now and then an event occurs that changes our lives forever. Some of these are obvious: the birth of a child, the death of a loved one. Some are less dramatic, but just as memorable: the first or last day on a job, the first or last day of an important relationship. We can prepare for some of these events, while others catch us completely off guard.
Of all the times and places I would have thought that one of these moments might occur, mile 12 of a marathon would have been my last guess. But one did occur for me at mile 12 of the Fox Cities Marathon. Right there, in the middle of nowhere, without warning. And it caught me unprepared and rocked me to my core.
It's amazing, really. Amazing how months of planning, miles and miles of training can all come down to one step. More amazing in this case, is how the years of being in a relationship can be crystallized into a single moment, a single step.
The day began innocently enough. Karen was trying to qualify for Boston. Oh sure, she's only been running for about three years, and, yeah, her only previous marathon was a walk/run/shuffle/drag affair that lasted over five hours, but Boston was her dream.
More importantly, in the fifteen years that we'd been married, it was really her first dream. It was, at the very least, the first dream that was truly hers. It was the first time that we had orangized our lives around who she wanted to be, not who I wanted to be. It was the first time that she had asked as much from me as I asked of her.
We had run hundreds of miles together in preparation for the marathon: long slow runs, tempo runs, speed work. All of it side by side and stride for stride--until we felt that we had begun to run as a unit. Everyone thought that I was pacing her. Down deep, early on, I knew the truth. The truth was, I was hanging on for dear life.
As the mileage increased, so did the reality of my ability. As the weeks wore on and the training grew more intense, the differences between us became more obvious. My body, a body which had endured too much booze and too many cigarettes and too many late nights was reaching its limits. But not Karen's.
Her body welcomed the challenge, welcomed the miles. Slowly, her legs became the legs of a runner. A real runner. A runner with strength and stamina and style. I watched in stunned disbelief as her shape became that of a trim and youthful athlete.
The plan was simple enough. Run the marathon together. Run the marathon as we had trained, side by side. Run as one. But life had an altogether different plan.
The early miles went perfectly. Stride for stride, we covered the ground as the shadow of one another. We chatted, we laughed, we ran. Little by little though, the demons in my left knee began to make their presence known. Little by little, the knee began to tighten. Little by little, I knew that it was just a matter of time.
And then, at mile 12, it happened. One step, a gut wrenching snap, and it was over. The marathon plan, and the relationship as it had been, ended in that instant. With that one single step, everything changed, and I knew that my life, our life, could not, would not, ever be the same.
I pulled up; I had no choice. But Karen did. She had a choice, or so it seemed. She had to choose between her dream and my reality. She had to choose between what she knew was best for her, and what she thought was best for me. She had to confront her own strength in the face of my weakness.
And as I watched her continue to run, as I watched her slowly but surely move away, as I watched her move gracefully towards her dream, I knew that this was a moment of truth. We were letting go. Letting go of each other. Letting go of ourselves. We were each facing the truth about ourselves. We were each facing the truth about the other.
The seemingly innocent dishonesty that creeps into a relationship became suddenly and vividly obvious. I was not always to be strong. She was not always to be caring. She could accomplish something that would elude me. She could be better than me. We were letting go of the illusion of equality and grasping for the first time the truth of being separate and alone and in love.
Running brought us both to ourselves, and to each other. Running allowed us both to be who we are and taught us to find joy in each other. Running, more than anything else, has shown us how to be. How to be together, how to be apart, how to be a couple, and how to be individuals.
And so, once again, running has proven to be about more than miles and splits and PR's. Running can be a metaphor. Running can be a teacher. Running can be a mirror. It can reveal more than we might ever want to see.
For me, I will waddle on. Slowly but surely I am finding out who I am, and...who I am not. And that is reason enough to keep me going.
Waddle on, friends