Training for a marathon has been the greatest metaphor for marriage I have come across since getting hitched a year and a half ago. My husband agrees: Long-distance training has all the elements of a marriage, and some days we can’t help but smile (or sigh, depending) at the parallels.
Marathon training, like marriage, requires intense preparation and a great willingness to give of yourself until there’s nothing left. You have to know yourself, know the course, be mentally prepared and embrace with all your heart everything that comes with the challenge — the glorious, the excruciating and the just plain muddy.
And even if you know the course, you can never predict the myriad surprises that may pop up along the way — a thunderstorm, a tree root lying in wait, a broken shoelace, an injury. It’s how a runner — or a couple — responds to these unexpected events that makes the difference. Runners quit and couples split, some after their first taste of road rash or after their first serious marital clash.
It’s definitely easier to stay indoors when it’s raining, but in the words of Ella Wheeler Wilcox: "’Tis the set of the sail that decides the goal, and not the storm of life." And so, we stay the course.
Both training and marriage involve sacrifices, self-discovery and a concerted effort to exchange old habits for new ones. How one corrects heel striking is actually similar to how one corrects the tendency to speak before thinking (both my weaknesses). Recognizing the problem comes first; taking often laborious steps to rework my stride and my frame of mind follows. Marriage and marathons, the ultimate long hauls, teach us that for injuries to the body as well as insults to the heart, there are no quick fixes.
For the past month or so, I’ve struggled with a knee injury that has made it difficult to maintain my weekly mileage, much less advance. There is no fury like finding yourself unable to run past the 9-mile point of a 12-mile weekend workout when a weak knee is the only part of you protesting. And there is no combination of frustration and guilt like watching your partner slow down to walk with you, while everyone else darts past.
On those difficult Sundays, knowing that I’m hindering his progress makes the nagging injury even harder to bear. This is "our" marathon, not "my" marathon, but my injury is impeding his growth as a runner. I watch the training group disappear over a hill or around a corner, and tell my husband, "I’m just holding you back. You should catch up with them." It’s a passive-aggressive dare on my part, which he never takes.
I sought the opinions of our married friends. Should I separate the running from the relationship? Shouldn’t I encourage him to do his best and meet him at the finish line? If I don’t, I’ll be the reason he could have done better but didn’t.
"You need to just let him support you," my friend said. "Sometimes in marriage, that’s what you have to do. Not only be supportive when it’s asked of you, but to let someone be your strength. It’s a test for both of you."
Whether they are physical, mental or emotional, there are tests at every turn. Such is training. Such is marriage.
Stay the course!
Follow Christy Wong Yee’s adventures training for the Honolulu Marathon on the second Tuesday of each month.