Anniversary Musings

Today is our anniversary. 14 years ago we committed to love and honor and cherish each other until death do us part. 14 years ago we celebrated with friends and family, buoyed on a sense of destiny and rightness. 14 years ago we set down the road of marital bliss, convinced we knew better than anyone else how this thing called love should work.

We, as a society, go into marriage with a sense of certainty: this person, this time, this place, all of it was meant to be. We see everything in life as leading up to that moment, spend entire paychecks on a ring, months or even years planning everything to perfection, and then celebrate with an ornate ceremony and massive party. But the everydayness of life is what makes a marriage. The ins and outs of each morning and night, the little kindnesses, the small moments, the tiny generosities of spirit that make up a happy life-long bond. The constant turning toward each other, choosing each other that keeps love alive through all the daily stresses that batter us down. As so many have said before, marriage is not a destination, it is a journey.

I am no novice to a journey. Really, an ultramarathon is just that, a journey. A journey that many find unfathomable, that’s true. But all it requires is one foot and then the other, over and over, moving as best as you can with as much energy and positivity as you can find in that moment, and not accepting a way out as the answer. And when you do reach the finish line, you find it wasn’t really about the destination all along.  It was always about the highs and lows, the times you felt you couldn’t continue one more step and somehow found a way, the times the struggle gave way to a euphoria so high it erased all pain, it was always about the transforming power of the journey.

14 years later we have journeyed far. We’ve changed jobs and houses, buried grandparents and watched our parents age. We have celebrated with friends as they married, and watched helpless as they drifted apart. We have travelled for work (too much) and for pleasure (never quite enough). We supported each other as we forged through graduate degrees, each in our turn. We struggled through 3 miscarriages, to find the euphoria of having our son. We faced my post-partum depression, to find the intimacy of a marriage rebuilt out of pain. We felt the lethargy of a relationship adrift in a sea of schedules and plans, goals and busyness and the disconnect of dreams not completely shared. We have experienced the passion of finding each other again, learning we were there for each other all along. At times it has felt too much, too hard to push forward. But we committed 14 years ago to never accept a way out. And so we continue, one foot in front of the other, together.

Marriage is a journey, and it has its highs and lows. It is not about the end destination, it is about the transformation we undergo as we move through life together. My husband and I have had our fights, we have had our times we pull away, when we wonder “if.” But 14 years ago we committed to love each other, no matter what. And so we turn toward each other again, we work our way back to each other. We give kindness, we find generosity. There is passion, oh yes. But at the end of the day, it is intimacy that keeps us strong. The intimacy of knowing a person sees you completely, all your faults and your strengths, and still loves you. The peace of knowing you can let down the armor your put on each day to face the world. The comfort of knowing no matter how ugly life gets, the other person will be there with you, beside you, holding your hand.

Marriage, like an ultramarathon, ebbs and flows. At times you don’t know how you will keep moving. But if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, the pain will fade, replaced by beauty and joy. You can never hang onto the highs, they will always fade to a new low. But if you keep moving forward, the highs will come again, and again, until you look back and see more beauty than pain.

Tomorrow we celebrate 14 years, years that have brought us more joy, and more pain, than I could have imagined in that church so long ago. But I still turn toward him, lean into him, love him, more today than the day before. Love him more because of the journey, not in spite of it. The journey has changed us, its true. We are neither one the person that the other married. We are transformed by our shared experiences. We have evolved through our struggles, our reaction to pain. We have turned away, only to come rushing back to each other, pushing ever forward, together. I know our years together are a drop in the bucket to some. That we will look back in another 14 years and see how much further we have come. But I also know that as long as we keep turning toward each other, moving forward together, choosing “us” together, we will find the joy is not in the destination. It is the journey.

Limbo

If you run long enough, you eventually meet the post race blues. That time when you find your goal race has come and gone, and regardless of how you did, you are left aimless, missing the purpose that drove you for so long. I imagine this is how Olympians feel, if not on a smaller scale. You pour so much of yourself into the training, every thought pushing toward your goal. If you succeed in your expectations, you ride the high of the race for days or weeks. If you fall behind your goals, you immediately second guess and analyze, and often seek redemption. Either way, eventually the intense emotions bound to the race ebb, and you are left with an emptiness that is hard to describe.

With more road races than I care to count, 2 marathons, and 6 ultras under my belt, I am not unfamiliar with the varying forms of depression or lethargy that creep in after a race. I always tell myself I will take time off after such and such race, relax, recharge, rebuild.  But after a few days to a week, I am picking a new goal, digging deep into training, pushing forward. Having a new goal on the horizon pushes away the blues, if only for the next training cycle, and then the next, and the next. Many runners prescribe a new race to put the blues behind you. There may be no harm in that, for a while. But eventually, no matter the race distance, you need an off season. After 6 years, I need an off season.

An off season, less running, more rest, less striving, more reconnecting. It sounds simple, but is much harder to execute. Without a goal on the horizon, I am at times lost, drifting. I have looked at a few races for next year, but am making no commitments. Leaving things up to time and how I feel. But not having concrete goals means not having an answer to my plans for the future. We prioritize fitness, activity, goal crushing, and busyness. Pulling away from those, even for a bit, seems traitorous.

I am in limbo, not sure what I want or where I am going. And that leaves me empty, lost, lethargic, apathetic.  Everything is brighter and duller at the same time. I told my husband the past few months since the 100 miler is the closest I have felt to depression since our son was born. Another moment in time when dreams culminated in an instant, leaving a void as life marched ever on. Once I recognized it for what it was, gave it a name, I realized I needed to sit here. Sit in this time and place, where I am. Pushing past it, forcing my way forward, only stalls its return. It’s not a cure. I need to sit in my sense of self, in this place of uncertainty, in this void, and be okay with it. I need to welcome these feelings, give them a place to expand, and tell them it’s okay to stay awhile. They are a part of me, and not something to be shoved aside by rushing into a new race or a new goal. Only by loving this place where I am can I truly move forward in a healthier way.

I’ve grown a little “fluffier” the past few months and for once in my life I am good with that. I still run, but forgo pace or miles for an easy heart rate and time on my feet. I stop for pictures, enjoy the views, and go off plan (sorry, not sorry, coach). I eat chocolate, lots of chocolate. These last two weeks, I have found joy on the trails that I haven’t known for a while. The euphoria of movement for movement’s sake. The lightness of running easily.  My body is not 100%, I still have lingering issues. But I am not pushing for anything right now, I am trying to be patient, take time, and let things unfold without a forced deadline.  This journey isn’t easy, in many ways, letting things be is harder than pushing forward. But here, for this moment in time, I have found peace.