In the movie Run Fatboy Run, Simon Pegg signs up for a marathon to prove to his ex-girlfriend he’s changed but sprains his ankle only a few minutes in. Sure, it’s formulaic romantic-comedy fare, but it’s also a triumph-of-the-spirit type of thing. Fatboy had the same effect on my girlfriend, Jade, as Top Gun and Rocky III had on me when I first saw them. “We should sign up for a marathon!” she exclaimed. (I think there was wine involved.) CUT TO: a look of shocked horror on my face.
It became apparent a few weeks into our training that we had taken away very different lessons from the movie. Hers: “If that guy can run a marathon, anyone can!” Mine: “I can walk the whole way!” The training highlighted other fundamental personality differences: She could wake up at 6 a.m. bubbling with excitement at the pros-pect of kick-starting her body as the natural world came alive. I, who might generously be described as less of a morning person, have murderous thoughts toward chirping birds. I had never really run more than 200 metres in my life, and my body protested loudly as it scrambled to build the required strength tissue: Joints popped, tendons frayed, muscles squealed. Jade, whose body responded to the physical activity by releasing flowery endorphins instead of transmogrifying lactic acid into black bile, did her best to be encouraging: “Come on, Mark! It’s not that hard!” (Jade had trained for, and run, the Seattle half-marathon a few years earlier.) On these occasions, I’m ashamed to admit, I was less than gentlemanly.
It’s the four months of training that stays with me. I recall the weekly spats, the laughing, the ritual coffee afterwards on the way home. Not to get too “Zen and the Art of Relationship Maintenance” here, but I remember those things much better than the mara-thon itself. The three-hour training runs also gave me plenty of time to wax philosophical about what keeps people together. Especially when, 18 miles into the marathon itself, after a sweltering, exciting, punishing time spent running around downtown Chicago, I realized that we were going to have to separate. I needed to walk for a while.
Jade and I have never broken up, but we have spent a fair amount of time apart living in different cities. (She’s at grad school in Chicago; I work in Toronto.) Maybe that’s why it didn’t matter that she crossed the finish line 25 minutes before me. The best part of the day wasn’t actually finishing the race; it was finding her, at the end, waiting for me.
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