Athletic Supporter

Sometimes you can’t always be an athlete, sometimes you’re the athletic supporter. I don’t know who said that or when I first heard it, but as I sat watching my third hour of “Paw Patrol” with my daughter in a hotel room near Auburn, California, I tried to remember.

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Race morning

It was pouring rain outside and the more I tried to coax my three year old into leaving the room and go to an indoor playground, the more she dug her heels in to “Paw Patrol”. It was no use: we weren’t leaving. As much as I knew she’d enjoy the playground more, I wasn’t in the mood for the screaming temper tantrum that would ensure in the deluge outside as I tried to put her into the car seat. I turned from Chase & Skye and the rest of the pups and looked outside.  It was awful out: temps in the mid-30s, rain, probably snow in some spots out there. Running would be the last thing one would want to be doing, but yet my wife was out there. She was running her first ultra-marathon while my daughter and I sent positive vibes from the comfort of our hotel room.  Truth be told though, I secretly longed to be out there with my wife slogging through it all. We were in Auburn, California and she was running the Way to Cool 50km in Cool just down the road. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, but then again no plan survives initial contact. So there my daughter and I were, watching the rain and the television and my mind drifted to how exactly we’d gotten here.

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Despite my best efforts, she chose butter for breakfast

For my wife the idea started simple enough. We were running one of those New Year’s Day Resolution Runs (you know the ones where you give up drinking at a decent hour on New Year’s Eve so that you can be up super early on New Year’s day to run?) with another couple when they shared their interest in running an ultra-marathon.

Now for me the answer was simple—and I quote the immortal words of Dirty Harry Callaghan who said, “A man has got to know his limitations.” There was no way I was going to do an ultra…at least not at the moment. My recovery has been going well, but I still have a long way to go and 3 months wasn’t going to be enough time. My wife thought about it for all of about 3 seconds. “I think I can do it!” Now people say some strange things during races, so I shrugged off these ideas. I mean, c’mon, it’s a resolution run—it’s all about making resolutions for the year that you’ll forget about within 2 weeks, right?

It only took 4 days for the opposite to occur.

On the 5th of January, my wife came home from work and announced, “I’m signing up for the Way too Cool 50km!” I inquired, “When is it?” She then proceeded to tell me over a glass of wine how she could train up in about 8 weeks and that her first long distance training runs would start that Saturday. Now I’ve learned when my wife gets this look in her eye and tone to her voice, there’s no backing down: she’s committed. Only one thing to do: be the athletic supporter. Having run three marathons myself, I knew the time involved. I flashbacked to long Saturday mornings a decade before running around Monterey training for my marathons. I also remembered the afternoons on the couch just about comatose from the expenditure. I would be the athletic supporter. I knew I’d be watching our daughter and making sure my wife had the time to devote all day Saturday. As the weeks passed the stakes got higher. Our friends who talked her into the run both became injured and bowed out. She waivered a bit since the whole point was to run as a group. In the end some “love encouragement” (my words) got her back focused on the run and totally committed.

The weeks passed, the miles accrued, and before we knew it, we kissed her good bye on a dark, cold, rainy morning about an hour before race start. We had driven up the day before in one of those winter Pacific storms that while lacking the snow of a good nor’easter, packs all the same punch with days of wind and rain. We’d checked the course: unfortunately it didn’t make much sense to try and find vantage points along the route to cheer her on.

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The amazing terrain around Cool

Not to mention my daughter wasn’t going to make it long outside in these conditions. (Heck, I didn’t know if I would make it long cheering my wife in these conditions). Even before the start we decided we’d drop her off, and then when she could she’d text us her location on the route so that when she got to the marathon marker (roughly 26 miles), I’d load up my daughter and we’d be there for her finish. And that’s exactly what we did: waited patiently in the hotel room as the hours ticked by watching Paw Patrol, trying to play games, and even starting to nap when my phone buzzed, my wife was nearly done!

By the time we got loaded into the car and drove down to the race site, I was convinced we missed her finish. But as we walked up to the finish line and didn’t see her, I knew we still had a chance. My daughter and I crawled under a strand of barbed wire to get a closer look as the runners ran their last 200m to the finish. They all had a common look of cold, wet, and determined. We stood on the side watching, waiting, and cheering all that came. Then finally, about 100m further down I saw my wife’s familiar form trotting up. I pointed her out to my daughter and the biggest smile came over her face!

She started to jump up and down and yell to her mommy. I thought for a second she was going to run over to jump onto my wife, but at the last minute she opted to cheer and jump in a puddle instead. I picked her up and we followed my wife to the finish. She was done and we all hugged in a post-race moment of sheer bliss. Isabel hung on to her mom, paying careful attention to play with the new “bling” hanging around her neck—her finisher’s medal. My wife was tired, cold, and a bit hungry. She just wanted to go home and take a long hot shower, but she had that finisher’s smile that makes one willing to put up with it all for a few moments more. Secretly I was jealous and now motivated to run my own. The seed planted, I now began my own hunt for an ultra to tackle.

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At the finish

The next evening when we got home, I offered her something special to celebrate her accomplishment. From my adventures in Germany I acquired two bottles of a Westvleteren XII, Belgian Trappist Monk ale, seen by some as one of the best beers in the world. In fact in a recent ranking of the best beers of 2018, Westvleteren XII ranked 2nd overall, beating out more well-known (and easily acquired) Pliny the Elder, which ranked 4th. The monks allegedly only brew enough beer to keep their monastery going so one often has to make orders ahead of time. I was fortunate enough in my recent travels that the American convenience store on the base I was working actually had available for sale several bottles of this precious gem. I bought one to try while in Germany and finding it simply delicious, opted for two more to take home. So as a reward to her (and as one to me too), I broke out one of the two bottles and we celebrated. Think of it as the Dom Perignon of beers—except a bit on the darker side. I just hope when I run mine she reciprocates with a beer just as good too! Until then I’ll be training…hope to see you out there!

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Westvleteren XII

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