My husband LOVED to run. When we first began dating, he was training for the Los Angeles Marathon. At the time I could not imagine why anyone in their right mind would purposely run 26.2 miles, but as a newly in love girl I willingly accompanied Phil on many training runs.
The upside for me was that my job only entailed riding my bike alongside him carrying his water and runner's fuel (goo packs to those of you who run). We spent many wonderful hours getting to know each other while he pounded the pavement, and I coasted along at his side.
Phil was a very disciplined runner. He timed every run, he lived his life by his training plan, and he judged how much he could eat based on how far he ran. Seriously. But watching him run was amazing. His stride was effortless, you could set a watch by his pace, and to see him run was to see grace in action. He also loved to coach running...you can see where this is going. I became both Phil's wife, and his running partner. One of our favorite dates was heading out for a trail run, then stopping to pick up tacos on the way home. Running alone was very rare during our married years.
As I rubbed Phil's legs down after his first marathon, I mused about what a great accomplishment finishing a marathon would be. Phil said, "You could do it." I said, "I think I will, when I am 40." Don't ask me why I made this random statement, but that became our plan. He would run one more marathon, with me, when I was 40. We discussed locations, Hawaii was a favorite and Big Sur a close second. He told me he would be there for me, he'd pace me, carry my water, write my training plan, do all the runs with me, and he promised not to make me miserable in the process. As the years passed, whenever a marathon was mentioned he'd remind me that mine was still ahead.
When Phil died, I thought my love of running died with him. Being out on our favorite trail without him was torture. I could see him around every turn, I could hear his voice in my ears, and feel the pounding of his feet beside me as I navigated the paths we ran so many times together. I thought my heart would literally break each time I thought I "saw him" around a familiar bend. For the first few months after his death I quit running. But as the days passed I discovered that I needed to run. For me, for him, and for us. Slowly I learned to pace myself. I carried my own water. I found ways to push myself. I started heading out with an iPod full of inspiring music as my companion, and eventually I adapted to running solo.
My 40th birthday is next week. As the milestone year was approaching, I kept thinking about the plan I made with Phil. Now that life was so radically different...did I really need to run a marathon? As much as I have come to enjoy running alone, I wasn't sure I wanted to do all those training miles by myself. After a month or so of waffling I found a marathon and made a commitment to accomplish the goal I set long ago. I guess I felt I was honoring a promise to Phil by staying the course we set ten years ago.
So yesterday I went out for a run. I left my iPod at home so that I could think about all that I need to accomplish this week. As I jogged along my route I heard Phil tell me to loosen up my arms so that my neck wouldn't hurt. I automatically shook my arms out. A little while later he told me to get off the pavement because it is so bad for my knees. I swept off the sidewalk and ran along on the asphalt. The route I planned was hillier than I expected. Phil's voice chimed in reminding me that it would be all downhill on the way home. Every time I heard his voice, my body responded immediately. My brain was still busy planning the week, when suddenly I really HEARD him. And then I knew. Tears ran down my cheeks as I realized that I won't have to run the marathon alone. He will be there with me for every one of those 26.2 miles. We can still do this together.
One other bonus? I talked Michelle into running the marathon, too! Wish us luck ;)