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Last night in a rare moment of kitchen creativity, I wished that this was a food blog so that I could tell you all about the amazing seared pear and roasted vegetable salad that I made for dinner. However, I’m not a food blogger, nor do I have any idea how to talk about food intelligently (movies, I can do… food, not so much.)
So instead, some ramblings on racing and relationships…
A few people have remarked recently how lucky Brent and I are that we have so many of the same interests, particularly when it comes to racing and training.
I have to say, it didn’t quite start out that way…
In December of 2005, I was a disgruntled law student looking for an escape from my days filled with torts and nights of civil procedure. In another lifetime I had been a pretty serious competitive swimmer, and I’d always had too much energy for my own good, so I began to think about conquering a longstanding fear of mine: running.
Don’t ask me how this fear came about. I suspect it can be traced to high school “run days,” where dozens of us took to the phys ed-wing hallways during our assigned gym class to run echoing loops for 10 or 15 or 20 minutes at a time. Now, it seems like nothing, but back then? Give me 5,000-yard sets of fly any day.
Sidelined by two torn rotator cuffs that I tried to heal with a year of physical therapy and prescription anti-inflammatories before finally giving into surgery, I stopped swimming my freshman year of college, and treaded water (pun intended) for the next handful of years as I gave up my identity as an athlete.
At the same time that I was downing pain pills (not to worry – totally healthfully!) and clinging to kickboards, my best friend fell out of a window at her small New York college. After being airlifted back to Philadelphia, the doctors discovered that she had fractured several vertebrae. She had surgery, spent some time in the hospital, and then, fitted for a brace, came home for the semester to recover. My friend had been a high school cross-country runner, but after her injury, the doctors told her that she may not run again.**
Luckily, because she was young and healthy and fit when she got hurt, my friend recovered completely, returned to school in New York, and continued on with her life. And in the summer of 2004, she decided to sign up for Team in Training and run a marathon. Her younger brother had contracted leukemia and passed away many years earlier, and in addition to proving to herself that she could complete the race, she wanted dedicate her fundraising and training to him, both to honor him and to find closure in her grief.
My friend moved back to Philly the following fall, the same time that I was starting law school, and we decided to get an apartment together. For several weeks, I looked on as she trained diligently, completing several long runs on her own because her TNT teammates were still in New York where she’d first signed up. In October 2004, she ran the inaugural Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco, nearly four years after her fall.
Fast-forward to December 2005. I had donated money to my friend’s fundraising efforts and thus had been put on Team in Training’s mailing list. As I was stewing over what I wanted to do to take my mind off of law school, I saw a notice for an informational meeting about training for the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon – in Anchorage, Alaska.
Getting over my fear of running? Check.
Becoming a part of a ready-made training community? Check.
Going to ALASKA??? Count me in!
I reasoned that if my friend could come back from a broken back to run a marathon, I could certainly put my own anxieties aside and give it a shot. I started training at the beginning of January, and very quickly fell in love. I loved the physical challenge of upping my miles. I loved the mental challenge of learning how to pace myself. I loved the friendships that formed over Saturday long runs and diner dates. And while it wasn’t a cause with which I personally identified, I loved that I was running in support of something greater than just me. It seemed like the perfect fit.
A few weeks after I started training for Anchorage, Brent and I started dating. And just as naturally as I fell in love with running, I fell in love with him. He was quiet but confident, gentle but strong. He regaled me with stories of world travels, and put aside his embarrassment to sing with me in the car. He loved movies and folk music and sledding. He taught SCUBA and high school history and practiced yoga. He got along with my friends – from my uber-macho frat boy-esque roommates (my best friend and I weren’t living together anymore) to my crunchy public interest law buddies – and my family loved him.
And the overly-analytical-and-rational me fell hard and fast.
The night after our second date, I sent a text message to a friend: “Sar, I’m going to marry this kid.”
Three days later, Brent asked me how long he should wait to propose.
As we settled into our relationship, I settled into my running routine, and within a couple months, Brent began teasing me about my commitment to waking up early on weekend mornings to train.
It was good-natured teasing, and I didn’t think much of it, but it soon became clear that what was underlining his playful ribbing was his own desire to get involved in something.
Brent had moved to Philadelphia four months before we met to take a job. He was getting a feel of the area and beginning to get his bearings, but didn’t feel like he had much of a community here beyond work, our relationship, and my friends and family.
One day, he was playing around online, and decided to look up local adventure racing opportunities. He had known about the sport from his days as a kid watching Eco-Challenge, but never thought it was something that he could actually do.
Through that search he discovered that Philadelphia, in fact, had a thriving AR community, including a local series with events ranging from 6 to 24 hours. He set his sights on the GOALS ARA Savage, a sprint race taking place that April, and he emailed the organizers to see if they knew anyone looking for a teammate.
Brent trained for the Savage as best he could (even borrowing my old, too-small-for-him, rigid mountain bike with the manufacturer sticker declaring it “bomb-proof”), linked up with his assigned teammate, and finished mid-pack, loving every second of it.
From that moment on, he was hooked.
He spent the next several months racing with a variety teammates, always finishing in the middle of the pack and feeling like he had more in him. At the same time, I was becoming more and more enamored with running, finishing Alaska and immediately signing up for a summer half and a winter full.
We supported each other and encouraged each other, but we never trained together, and never even considered racing together. I liked my new running community, and felt protective of it (to the point where, when Brent asked me if I wanted him to come to Anchorage to cheer me on, I told him that no, that I wanted to experience it with my friends, and not have to worry about balancing my time between them and him… He accepted it completely, but told me later that summer that he’d thought about proposing there.)
So how did we go from a burgeoning marathoner and a fledgling adventure racer to preparing to team up for a six-day race this coming summer?
Stay tuned for Part II!
**I spoke with my friend before writing this post, making sure it was okay to share her experiences.