Stand By Your Man: On Being the Best Marathon Spectator You Can Be

The Blackfords as spectators at the 2009 Akron Marathon.

April 29, 2001 was one of the most amazing days of my life.  I was running around the Cleveland Marathon course all morning, watching my boyfriend run a PR marathon.  With only 12 or so marathons under my own belt and my first Boston-qualifier still a year away, I was in complete awe of this guy.  His training had been insane – people really did run 100 miles a week!  He was extremely thin, powerful and focused.  So focused that he saw, but didn’t have time to read, the silly little sign I had made him using his pet name, “Puppy.”

Since I was still kind of green, I didn’t realize that guys running in the 2:40’s don’t have a ton of time for signs.

Anyhow, my boyfriend’s goal was to run 2:45 for the first time.  I never doubted he would do it.  I mean, this guy was awesome.  He was, like, totally the coolest runner I had ever known.  I was still kind of shocked that he was sticking around with me, that he wanted to hang out with me and all my baggage and my awesome 4:00 marathoning skills.  He didn’t even look like he was working for most of the race.  Focused, yes.  Distressed?  Nope.

Then came the 21 mile mark or so.  No doubt at all in my mind, but I could see it in his.  I could simply see “mile 21” in his eyes.  I said something.  I don’t remember what.  He put his head down and he worked.  I went to the finish line with my friend Robin, and we waited.  We looked up at the final corner he would have to turn, and we waited.

2:42.

It’s okay.  His goal was 2:45.

2:43.

It’s okay.  Is that him?  No?  It’s okay.

It was weird.  I was definitely nervous now, but I still couldn’t fathom him not making it.  Yes, he would be here within the minute.

2:44.

No.  It’s not possible.  Because seriously, this guy is awesome.  He’s like, totally the coolest runner I’ve ever known.  Did I miss him somehow?  He was in all black, the “death march” outf…

YES!!!  My heart started pounding as if it were my own finish line.  He had to run, he was going to have to run this thing down, but he had it, he had it, he had it, he had it!!!!

And he did.  2:44:55.    My boyfriend was a badass, and that was supposed to be just the beginning.

This really is the look of success, 2:44:55. Success is hard, yo!

Sadly, there is something called “the trial of miles and miles of trials.”  And the trial of miles slowly caught up with my beloved husband, and kicked his aspirations square in the gut a few times over.

First was the stress fracture.  For weeks there was something in his heel that just needed to “pop.”  But it got worse and worse, then uncomfortable, and next painful.  By the time we saw our favorite sports doctor, he was relegated to a cast.  A plaster cast.  The indignity of it all!

He stayed in shape by “crutching.”  Oh yes, he would go down on the bike path and “crutch.”  He even has a quarter mile “PR” for crutching.

But he was never quite the same after that.

Next came the back problems, which crept up during a half marathon in San Francisco in 2007 and took more than a year to fully abate.  Then, last spring, the hamstring.  He was getting ready for Cleveland, hoping to just break 3:00 hours again, and during a training run just a few weeks out, something went awry in his hamstring.  He kept telling me it just needed to “pop.”

He ran around that with limited success until this summer, when he finally found his body-work match, a chiropractor/ART practitioner that undid the past and rebuilt him.  He started running well again.  He started running REALLY well again.

Then he tried to get that sub-3:00 again at Niagara Falls last October, just one week after the Columbus Marathon.  As Executive Director of the race, he works 24 hours a day throughout the month of October, and I advised against this, but supported him nonetheless.  He slept for almost 16 hours the day before the race.  The sub-3 wasn’t in the cards that day either.  Good friends and a favorite place helped take the sting out.

A near miss on a beautiful day at Niagara Falls.

And then he rested.  And got hungry.  And decided to try a new training program.  And slowly, week after week, workout by workout, he transformed.

He transformed back into that boyfriend of mine from 2001.

Focused and determined, he has completed every single workout.  Every tempo run, every speed workout, every long run with descending pace.  He has dropped a few pounds (as if he had them to drop), and I have watched his confidence be reborn.  Workouts that were unfathomable three months ago were completed easily.  Confidence has returned in spades, and he has never been more prepared.

As “we” wait out these last few days of taper, I am faced over and over again with the realization that not running this race is going to be harder than actually running it.  Not that I’m martyring myself; I sure as hell couldn’t bust out a sub-3 the way he’s about to.  But being on the sidelines is hard. 

It was hard when he was in the cast, telling me that “if I really loved him” I would bring him the serrated bread knife.  It was hard when his training went well, but his racing didn’t.  It was hard when he was getting so close again, and that hamstring went at the worst possible time.  And it was hard –  yes it was – trying to convince him of his strength again.

But my husband, he needs no more convincing.  He is there, confident, strong and ready.  Me, well, I’m a basketcase of nerves.  I wish I could run it for him.  I wish I could take the pain for him.  I wish I could do something to make absolutely certain that none of those crappy variables that we all know too well get anywhere near him on race day.  I say with absolute conviction that I would trade one of my own PR’s to see his this weekend.  And as I stand on that final stretch with an adorable sign, I will be telling heavens they can have one of mine if they need it.  Because it has never been someone’s turn the way it’s his right now.

A two runner household can be tough to live in.  It’s amazingly fun when you both hit your stride and get to run well (and celebrate) together.  It’s not so easy when one is constantly set back, and the other keeps moving forward.

It’s his time to move forward.

I am so invested in this race for him that it almost feels like mine.  Almost.

But the sweetest thing of all hasn’t changed a bit, and for that, I remain eternally grateful.  Regardless of what the clock says, and regardless of how the day goes, this guy is awesome.  He’s, like, totally the coolest runner I have ever known.  And I’m still kind of shocked that he’s stuck around with me, that he stills wants to hang out with me and all my baggage and my (now slightly more awesome) 3:20 marathoning skills.

I am truly the luckiest girl on earth.  And there’s not a damn thing any clock can say about it.

But this clock, I really think we’re going to like it.

‘Cause my boyfriend’s back, and there’s going to be trouble …

What about you, Salty readers?  Have you been on “spectator duty” for a significant other or training partner?  How do you deal with “spectator’s nerves” – and let your runner know how much they mean to you no matter what?

Trail and adventure enthusiast. Girl who swears like a sailor but not when she's teaching Sunday School. Survived infertility without a successful pregnancy. Self-employed, primarily working for Clif Bar and Company. Thirteen 100-mile race finishes with seven top 3 placements. An original Saltine.

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5 comments

  1. This made me smile and think of my husband, who is a much more awesome runner than I. Who stands on the sidelines of my every race, encouraging me and supporting me. I will be thinking about yours and hoping that he has his perfect comeback race!! And that mine will be out there for his soon…

  2. Your 2001 sounds so eerily similar to my 2005! My husband was running his 100 mile weeks and I was in AWE! He was amazing and could do no wrong. Now life has gotten in the way of his running, or should I say he now chooses to farm our backyard instead of running in the little spare time he has. Someday I’ll be back in the spouse-spectator position. I’m sure of it! Destination marathons are going to be our retirement fun 🙂

  3. I loved reading this Clove! You say your lucky, but your husband is one lucky guy to have a wife who is so invested in the support that she has for her husband!! My husband is not a runner and never will be. He knows my passion for running, he has been a part of it from day one when we started dating 13 years ago. But, I know he will never quite “get it” the way other runners do. I ran my first marathon 11 years ago. On that day my husband (then my boyfriend of 2 years) was with me from start to finish. He road his bike around the whole time and was beaming with pride for me. Well, now 11 years later, I will line up on the starting line for a 2nd time and he is just as excited for me, if not more. I know it isn’t the most exciting thing for him to be out there watching me run. But, I do know that he has seen me live through my training and is just so proud of me completing (or hoping to) a goal of mine that I have had for so long. I hope you will post how he does!

  4. I love this post and the commenters’ own stories about standing by their men (or men standing by them!). I think it is slightly more nerve racking for the spectator. James hasn’t raced as much since we’ve been dating but the few races I got to watch were nail biters, hoping for the best when he turns the corner. I think those last few minutes before you can see them coming home are the worst but also the best! Good luck this weekend!