By Linda Nusbaum
Special to the Signal Tribune
It was really good news to hear. Bennett tells me one of his colleagues is going to train with a group to run the Long Beach Half Marathon and she asked him to join. I held my breath wondering what I would hear next. My hope has been that we do something like this together. I have wished for the day we could train for an event. The day had arrived.
“I think I’m going to do it,” he announces. “I’ll do it with you,” I chime in, not too enthusiastically. I don’t want to scare him with my excitement. Whatever we are entering into has got to be driven by him. I have plenty of individual drive. Years ago I trained for and completed six full marathons. I wondered if I would ever run another. I wondered if I would ever have the opportunity to train and run one with my husband.
A marathon, half a marathon, the distance didn’t matter anymore. What mattered is hearing him make a commitment to a five-month training program culminating with a 13.1 mile race.
We get up early on a Saturday morning to meet with the group for the first training run. There were about fifty people standing around. We knew two of them. We paid our money and received our training materials. Bennett and I were both casual runners before this and were not too worried about finishing the 3.5 mile distance.
That afternoon Bennett tapes the five month schedule to the refrigerator door. On it are the weekly miles we will be running until race day. We examine how the distances increase on our Saturday long runs, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12. We study the grid and wonder if we will be able to complete all the miles.
And from then on, every day I watch as Bennett gets up and goes out for a training run. We don’t run together. I run a little faster and like to run with people. He likes to walk to warm up and prefers to run alone. But I notice that every time I see him head out of the house to do his miles, I feel compelled to do mine. It’s like an incentive, and a reminder. It’s the same for him in reverse. Our lives now include putting in the miles. Five days a week.
We’re out at a Saturday run and we’ve upped the mileage. I think it’s a 6- or 8-miler, the most either of us had run in a very long time. I finish the training run first and wait for Bennett to finish his. I watch him come in and he has this pained look on his face. I approach him and he tells me, “It was awful. I couldn’t breathe. It was a terrible run.”
I get afraid and really quiet. I don’t think he needs to hear anything from me right now. We drive home and I wait to get a sense of how he’s doing. I am afraid he will want to quit. He starts to talk and then he says, “Next week I will give myself permission to walk when it gets too hard.” I hear his defiance and his determination. He is not quitting. He is pushing through. I am happy for him, and for us.
For the next 16 weeks we fall into a pattern. We accomplish our training runs during the week, we get up early on Saturdays and run with the group. Every run for Bennett is now successful. We are in this together. It feels like something big. We talk about our bodies, how each run feels, what we are eating, whether to take energy supplements during the run. We have so many conversations about this commitment we have entered into. It brings us closer.
Race day draws near and we plan our days leading up to the race, and our celebration following the run. Bennett plans a party with big food for us and our two running friends. We decide to take public transportation rather than fight with nearly twenty thousand runners, bicyclists, and wheelchair athletes who will be competing on the same day.
We pack our bags the night before, dry clothes to change into, sandals for our feet, water and protein bars. We’re up at 5 a.m. We drive to the Metro and there on a Sunday morning what would normally be an empty train is full of runners, half asleep runners. My excitement is so big it’s hard for me to stay quiet. I am one of the happiest people on the train.
We get to the starting line and determine our positions. Bennett and I position ourselves at different places in the pack, me and my running mate more toward the front, Bennett comfortably a ways back. We pinpoint where to meet after the run and say our goodbyes. My run is challenging. Not in my body, in my head. Me and my running partner converse the whole way. I am grumpy for the first five miles. Maybe it’s the crowd, maybe it’s my doubt. I don’t know but it stays with me until mile six. I begin to feel better. Mile seven is even better. I am starting to feel okay. We are past ten miles and I know in the next mile I will see my mother. I am motivated.
She’s wearing a big sunhat sitting in a chair holding a big sign. “Go Linda, Go Bennett,” it reads. I run over to her and thank her for supporting us. She asks about Bennett. I say he’s a little bit behind me. I return to the race and we head to the finish.
We cross feeling strong, high fives for me and my running mate. She leaves to go cheer on her husband who is running the full marathon. I head to the finishing line to watch Bennett arrive.
I am visited by worry. I see a picture of that pained face I witnessed early in our training. I think about him having a hard run. I hope he has a good day.
I watch for his black running outfit. And then I see him. He’s tall and stands out in the crowd. I watch him approach the finish line looking relaxed and confident. He is passing people. He looks strong.
I am jumping up and down screaming for him. He can’t hear me, too many people. I meet up with him after he crosses, hand him a water bottle and ask him how he feels. He says, “I feel good. It felt good.” I am so happy to hear his response.
We hydrate together, eat a banana and talk about the run. We stretch our bodies, change into dry clothes, put on our sandals and begin a slow walk toward the Metro station. We are holding hands. I ask him to go slow. He does, but it’s still too fast for my little legs. I ask him to slow even more. He bends towards me and I see his beautiful, soft face as he says, my slow is still too fast for you. He says this with great love and care. He slows down and we continue to move forward, the two of us, hand in hand. We cross the street and I glimpse a shadow of us on the ground. He is tall and I am a foot shorter. I see the two of us, holding hands and I know this is the image I will remember, the picture of my half marathon with him. This is the picture of us in this big thing together. And this is the vision of us as one.
Later that day he talks to another runner on the phone and announces to him, “I think we’ll do it again next year.” My heart smiles.