Untying the Knot

“I’m not happy,” my husband said.

He was standing in the doorway of our recently renovated master bathroom in our dream home. Our six-year-old was downstairs parked in front of a rare unsupervised Sponge Bob–fest. It was 23 January, a date I remember because it was the day before I was to begin a 16-week training plan for the Big Sur International Marathon in Monterey, US. Never mind our child, our marriage, our mortgage – what about my marathon?

Pull a thread on a 20-year relationship and it’s amazing how quickly it unravels. Over the next 16 weeks, we met mediators, attorneys, real-estate agents. We staged our house to go on the market, divvied up belongings, found new places to live. We broke the news to our daughter (heartbreaking).

You might think that the dissolution of a marriage is the worst time to train for a marathon, and indeed, we often say in these pages: “Don’t train for a marathon during stressful life changes.” But marathons had been a part of my life for 20 years. They provide rhythm, routine, control, the illusion of sanity. With my life in chaos, training kept me (somewhat) grounded: three-hour runs with any friend who’d go, tempo efforts with colleagues who didn’t know, existential pre-dawn speed sessions on the treadmill in the garage. On one 32km run, a friend said, “I wish there was something I could do to help.” To which I replied: “You’re doing it right now.”

But if running is part of your identity as a couple, what happens to it when you divide your lives? We had met training for our first marathon, had planned our wedding between an Ironman (his) and a marathon (mine). We travelled to many local and international races. All our closest friends were runners and triathletes. In the split, I got the kitchen table; he got the couch. As I sorted through photos of us together at races, I wondered, who would get to “keep” running? What would it mean outside the context of marriage? With no one to cheer for me? Would it still matter?

Point your feet and move forward. That was my mission three years ago, and once again, I find myself training for Big Sur in April. My reason this time around? My daughter and I have settled into our new (small) house with our new (small) dog and celebrate our (new, small) victories like installing shower taps by ourselves. I’m training for and travelling to the event with my fast teacher friend Susan and her husband, who’ve been instrumental in helping us rebuild our lives.

And over the coming kilometres, I will be mindful and grateful that I kept moving forward – and got to keep running.

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