This past Sunday my husband, Eric, and I ran our first race, a charity 7k to help Costa Rican police officers buy school supplies for their children. Neither one of us ever saw ourselves as runners but, for a variety of reasons, we’ve both been running for a while now. I’m in pretty decent shape, I do distance running three times a week, usually putting in about 14 miles a week, and I do hill running and strength training twice weekly. Eric does hill running at least five times a week, sometimes six, and when we run together he can leave me in the dust–but he never does. The first time we went running together we ran about 2 1/2 miles, I’d just started seriously running after too much time away from it so I was a bit spent, he’d been hill running for a while and had more stamina. We got back to our house, Eric turned to me, smiled, and said “I’m going to do some hill running, just to get my cardio up.” I shot him a look of absolute disgust as I bent over to gasp for air before squeaking out “I hate you,” he smiled more broadly and took off running up the hill, I dragged myself through our front door. We have a good natured competitive thread in our marriage …
Obviously, for a lot of reasons, men and women run differently, just by virtue of the fact that he’s nearly 6’5 he’s going to run faster than I am, monster legs and lungs count for a lot and the man has mad cardio strength. Eric is the kind of runner who does not need to take walking breaks, I haven’t gotten there yet. On my runs I’ll run for a mile, walk for two minutes, run to the second mile, and repeat that pattern until I’m done my run. So I told him going in to the race that he didn’t have to stay with me, we could each run at our own pace and I’d see him at the finish line, he said no, he wanted us to run together, that was part of the point!
The day of the race came, he calmed down my jitters, as he always does. I said to him “why the hell did I sign up for this?” he laughed and said “sweetie, you got this, you do this distance all the time!” We stood together, watching the clock, bouncing a bit to keep our muscles warm. We both had our music in our ears at that point, getting into the zone before the run. With a few seconds left on the countdown clock I touched his hand, we looked at each other and smiled, then we were off! After running for a bit I stopped to walk and motioned to Eric that he should keep going, he shook his head and stayed with me. For reasons I couldn’t figure out I was feeling a bit more worn than usual (I found out later it was because I was running at a faster pace than I normally do), I questioned the wisdom of running the 7K, asked myself why I hadn’t started with a shorter race my first time out, my brain was starting to beat my body down and I felt like I was dragging. I did a good stretch of walking, wondering if I should just walk the rest, reminding Eric with gestures that he should not wait for me and, each time I gestured to him to do that, he shook his head no. He never stopped running, he just slowed his pace to stay with me.
At about the halfway point we crossed a set of railroad tracks, a man who was racing in a wheelchair tipped going over the tracks, Eric and I, as well as the runner the man was with, stopped to help him. The men got him righted, I handed him his water bottle, he smiled at me, then we all continued on. I don’t know if it was his perseverance or just the fact that I hit my stride but I stopped feeling so sluggish and just ran, time and a couple of miles sped by, I walked a bit but just enough to get what I needed before running again. As we were rounding a corner Eric said something to me that I couldn’t hear, the look on his face let me know it was important so I took out an earbud and asked him to repeat, he smiled at said “it’s the last two hundred meters!” Sure enough, I looked ahead and saw the finish line. I nodded to him, put my earbud back in and we both started sprinting, he could have gone much faster but he stayed with me. About a hundred meters out I felt a bit winded but my brain, that had been so evil to me the first part of the race, had seen the light and said “you are not walking across that fucking finish line, run!” And I did, Eric and I crossed the finish line together.
A friend of ours who’d also run, and had already finished, snapped the above photo and when he posted it to my FB page it struck me as a metaphor for our marriage– Eric and I were together, running together, reaching a common goal together, just as we always do. I will freely admit that it takes a fair amount of patience to be married to me, I don’t know if I could do it. I’m not being overly hard on myself, just honest. I can be driven to a fault (common sense sometimes goes out the window) and very stubborn. And is there a term for “strong willed” that is stronger than strong willed? If there is, that’s me. I come by it honestly, it’s in my blood. Shortly after my great-grandparents, who were both from Ireland but met in the US, were married my great-grandfather handed his new bride a pair of his pants and asked if she would iron them. Soon after, she handed him back the ironed pants, only instead of ironing them so they were creased down the front she’d ironed them so they were flat as a pancake with the creases on the sides, clearly sending him the message “I’m your wife, not your mother, iron your own pants,” which he did from that day forward. So, yea, we Cawley women can be a bit strong willed and we’ve got tempers to match. Oddly, Eric loves those things about me. On the day of our wedding my Da (my maternal grandfather) pulled him aside and said “you’ve married a woman with Irish blood, the two most important words you need to know are ‘yes, dear.’” My Da says those words to my grandmother tongue in cheek for the most part, it either makes her laugh or roll her eyes, depending on the circumstances, and Eric and I are the same.
I can take a lot of patience, I have a selfish streak, I sometimes miss the forest for the trees and Eric has spent countless hours talking me down off ledges created by my tendency to fly off the handle. We’ve not always walked in lockstep but we’ve always managed to find our balance when we’ve misplaced it, hitting our stride and moving forward. We just had the eighteenth anniversary of our first date, in August we will have our sixteenth wedding anniversary and I can honestly say, with my whole heart, that I know we will spend the rest of our lives together. The fact that Eric stayed with me throughout the race, even though he could have gone much faster, is so quintessentially Eric and so quintessentially us–no matter what, we are together. He’s always been one hundred percent dedicated to staying by my side, and I am so much stronger for that. Whether it’s in running or any other thing we do, we’re together. I hope he does run a race where he really lets himself fly, even if that means I’ll sit it out and cheer him on at the finish line. But, for yesterday and for every day before that and every day after, I want to thank my amazing husband for always being my biggest cheerleader, for always believing in me, for always believing in us, and for never leaving my side.