Friday, April 1, 2011

Run, Forrest, Run

(or Why Being Married to My Ultra Runner is Kind of Like Being Married to Forrest Gump)

I've been thinking about doing a post on the crazy world of ultra running for a while now.  After all, John's running is a big part of our lives, whether I like it or not.  But yesterday, when we received a newspaper clipping about an ultra race in California from my GRANDMA, I knew things had finally gotten out of control.

First off, I'd like to state for the record that I did not marry an ultra runner.  In fact, John barely ran at all when I met him, and by the time we were married three and a half years later, John hadn't even run a marathon.  Obviously I knew he was an athlete (he had been on the U.S. Cycling Team a year before we started dating), but he had given that up to go to college and become a fighter pilot.  I had no way of knowing what I was getting myself into...

Over the years, one thing has become painfully clear: John may have married me, but Running is his mistress.  Oh, it started out innocently enough, with the occasional late evening, dinner slowly going cold while I repeatedly checked the clock with growing anticipation.  But soon a pattern developed: John creeping into the house sheepishly, home late from work and reeking of her.  Before I knew it I was playing second fiddle to Running.  How could I compete with the allure of the open road, the wind in John's face, his feet gliding effortlessly over the asphalt?  Running offered an escape, a chance for John to clear his mind.  Running never nagged or made demands.  Running was, in a word, freedom.

I'm still not sure how the whole ultra running thing got started.  John ran his first marathon (a trail race; maybe that was the beginning of the end?) in the mountains east of San Diego.  I slept in the car on the side of the highway for a few hours until a cop scared the bejesus out of me by knocking on the window, only to tell me I wasn't allowed to be there.  When I joined the other spectators (all twenty of them) for the finish, I started to get nervous.  John had predicted a time under four hours.  But as of four hours, no one had finished the race.  Slowly, people started to trickle in, most with bloodied hands and knees, covered in dirt and scratches.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief when John finally came trotting towards the finish line.  Just as I stepped forward to cheer, an evil wasp decided to alight on my perfectly innocent elbow and sting me without cause or provocation.  So, while John came striding proudly across the finish line of his first marathon, I was jumping around and swearing like a sailor.  Surely that was a bad omen.

Over the years things only got worse.  Soon John was running several marathons a year.  Then he started throwing in the odd 50k, just to mix things up.  There was talk of a 50-miler or two.  And then, before I knew what had hit me, I was seventeen weeks pregnant and we were headed to Vermont for John's first 100 miler.  There, nestled in between the green mountains and pine trees, John found his people, a group of wiry men and women from all over the country who shared the same ambition: to run 100 miles.  Many seemed perfectly normal; looking at them, you'd never know they were capable of extreme feats of human endurance.
But amidst the bankers and home-makers, the real estate agents and retirees, there is a small sub-group of running maniacs.  These hippies, these mountain men and women who look like they've stepped straight out of the Seventies, have a penchant for bandannas and eschew technical running gear; they wear their long gray hair loose, free of the shackles of rubber bands or hats, their skin nut-brown from years in the sun.  These are the people who have been to the brink of insanity and are barely clinging to the ledge. This is what John could look like in twenty years.

Before John embarked on his crazy journey, I'd never heard of 100 mile races.  I didn't even know it was humanly possible to run that far!  But the sport is becoming more and more mainstream (hence the newspaper clipping from Grandma).  In fact, there are so many of these loonies out there that the biggest races employ a lottery system for entry.  That's right, there are TOO MANY people who want to run 100 miles.  And they pay up to $500 to do it!

Despite the madness, I had to admit that the race was inspiring.  Sure, I ended up staying awake for 24 hours, lugging my pregnant ass and John's food and gear from the car to the aid stations, driving through the mountains of Vermont with a hand-drawn map and John's brother as my navigational aids.  But I was part of a group of devoted friends and family members supporting "their runner" in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  It's not like I'd be doing this every year.
Oh, wait, silly me.  Apparently running 100 miles was not a lifetime goal for John, more like something to do before he turned 30.  Now that he'd done it once, why not do it again?  And hey, twice was great, but why stop there?  That's right.  My dear, crazy husband is currently in training for his third 100 miler in a row. 
So, you ask, how exactly is being married to John like being married to Forrest Gump?  For starters, they sport eerily similar haircuts, and both are married to incredibly attractive blonds.  But the connection doesn't end there.  John and Forrest are both ultra runners; yes, Forrest runs back and forth across the United States for fun (He just felt like running!) and John keeps his affliction - er, hobby - confined to races, but they both possess the same extreme focus and ability to mentally block out pain (does it bear mentioning that Forrest Gump has an IQ hovering somewhere in the seventies?).  No, John can't play expert-level ping-pong for hours on end, or captain a shrimp boat, but I have no doubt John could take a bullet in the ass for a friend. 

You see, it takes a special kind of person to be an ultra runner.  And I'm proud to be married to mine.
And that's all I have to say about that.

1 comment:

shauna said...

Running is his mistress! Love it! and the description of his people at the ultra marathon races, haha! I had no idea this was in the past 10 years thing, I assumed he came out running from the womb. Loved this post :)