A Marathon Widow Lost in Translation, by guest blogger Diane Kaneb
Seated at long tables laden with sushi and flame-heated woks bubbling with noodles, broth and mystery meat, my husband, teenage daughter and I shared our first lunch in Tokyo, Japan among sixty American runners and their spouses. Everyone buzzed about the Marathon two days away, shaking off jet lag from the 13-hour flight. Veteran runners swapped stories of previous marathons to exotic locations and their personal records. Then a quiet “marathon widow” across from me politely asked, “Are you running?”. When I responded I was not she visibly relaxed and asked about my daughter, Blair, a first time marathoner, and my husband, Gary, who has run more races than I’d like to count, but fewer than the folks around us. A proud mom, I nudged Blair to share her story. She explained how training for her cross-country team coupled with her Dad’s enthusiasm for marathons were huge motivators. The kind woman then asked what endurance events Gary had completed and when I began to list them, she shook her head and, warmly touching my arm, said, “My condolences.” Somehow, this made me feel less alone in my role.
This odyssey started when my husband ran his first marathon (26.2 miles) at the age of 48, four long years ago. Since then, he has run twelve marathons, completed several Ironmans (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run), including the Kona Ironman in Hawaii. Even though I too ran one marathon, I happily checked that “one and only” off my bucket list. Now, although I respect Gary’s dedication, watching him pedal with a puddle of sweat under his stationary bike in our basement and trudge miles through snow and sub zero temperatures, I have no interest in participating ever again! Shamefully, I’ve grown weary of his obsession, and I’ve become a reluctant witness to recent events, reluctant but dutifully present (because I feel it’s important to bear witness to events important to those we love). Being a spectator isn’t easy; it means fighting crowds and navigating subways in unfamiliar cities to chase one athlete in a sea of 30,000 runners. Dispiritingly, all too often, Gary runs by without me seeing him.
For readers who cannot relate to what it’s like to be married to a marathon addict, I’d recommend viewing the funny but true You Tube video, “I am a Marathon Runner. I am injured.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2TRUUu2uHo) if only to prove I’m not a complete complainer!
When Gary reported to me after he completed all five “World Majors” (London, Berlin, New York, Boston, Chicago) that Tokyo had been added as the sixth “World Major”, I was passively resigned to his next goal. It was an “Oh that’s wonderful dear, could you please pass the salt?” moment. Then after a year of contemplating this event, my husband piqued my interest: our eighteen-year-old daughter, the baby of the family, wanted to train for the Tokyo marathon. How couldn’t I be excited about that?!
I knew what to expect with the first part of our adventure. The focus would be on the need to acclimate, to locate pasta meals, register for bibs, and take relaxed jogs before the big day. We also managed to fit in a few fun excursions, including a visit to the fish market, to Mount Fuji on the bullet train, and a sushi making class. As first time visitors to Japan, we felt very foreign, but that’ll be the more interesting topic of a different post!
Reluctant marathon spectator that I am, I confess this one was special. I was proud of my athletes: of my girl who had the stamina to grind through the lonely miles of winter training and of her loving coach dad who encouraged her, and who after 16 endurance events was as he put it “an old Samurai retreating into the sunset” to give his girl her day. He was there to see her cross the finish line with pride, and I was the lucky one to be their witness.