On July 4th of 2020, we ran together. When I say ran, I mean I plodded along with heavy wheezing while Israel lightly trotted, wishing he had more weight in his pack. The goal was the Afton 25K Trail Run we had signed up for months in advance. I was supposed to train and be ready for July 4th. We didn’t care so much about the holiday – the trail race was what we focused on.
Then COVID-19 came along and ruined everyone’s plans, including ours. The trail race was cancelled and we had some deciding to do. I tend to want to take the easy way out and immediately thought, privately, “Yes, this is my OUT. Now I don’t have to do the race. Phew. I wasn’t reallllly planning on training anyway.”
And let me tell you, that is NOT what my husband had in mind.
He excitedly approached me with the idea that we should go ahead and run the race by ourselves on the same day. Afton was still open. The trails were there for us. Twenty-five kilometers of trail were mine for the taking.
I reluctantly agreed, because if I am totally and completely honest, I have a weird relationship with running – particularly trail running — and particularly the trail running that my husband decided to do with passion about 2 years ago.
Running was a negative, horrible thing. At least at the start. To me, it seemed that my husband woke up one day, consumed by the yearning to run long distances. He was going to skip the boring old regular marathon (you know, the run tons of people spend a lifetime training for), and head straight for the ultras. His main goal is the race that takes place near Canada in the dead of winter: Arrowhead 135. (That remains the goal to this day.)
Yes, it is amazing that I have a husband who is driven to be active. YES, I am lucky he isn’t boring and sitting on the couch (like, ever). And YESSSSS I REALIZE THAT RUNNING IS A SUPER GREAT THING TO DO!
But we had a lot of other things going on at the time. This 135 mile race became my husband’s coping mechanism – a dream of accomplishing something so extreme and superhuman, all before he’d be stuck at home with me, guiding my every step and unable to go on adventures. This sounds dramatic, but his ultra running started right around the same time I found out I have a good chance of going blind in my 40s. (You can read all about that here.) Every time he went out on a run it was like a giant slap in the face: you will be blind and your husband needs to run because of it.
Nevermind the fact that it was healthy and good and fun and inspiring for him. All I could see was the pain behind the action. And so, I hated his running.
Fast forward to this past summer. I experienced a change of heart. After countless arguments, tears, and frustrating nights, I saw why he loved the ultra community so much. I attended his races. Our entire family volunteered at the 100 Mile Superior Hiking Trail race. We saw how happy it made Israel. We saw how vibrant and uplifting the entire culture of trail running is. When my husband finished his first ultra, a 50K at Afton, I cheered and almost cried. The accomplishment was great and I could no longer pretend that it was an evil intended to hurt me.
I gave in to running, and there I was, agreeing to the shorter version of what he had done the year before. He was willing to cut his preferred distance in half and do the 25K by my side. And on July 4th, we woke up and headed to Afton State Park.
And I would love to write a blog about how it was just this absolutely amazing and inspiring day… about how we held hands the whole way through and felt more united than ever before. I’d love to tell you that I trained in advance and felt ready for the challenge.
But that would be a lie. The reality is, I didn’t run even a mile in the weeks leading up to our private race. It was blazing hot and super humid and I wanted to quit during the very first kilometer. Israel started with a 30 pound pack and with my slow pace and his yearning for hardship, he decided about halfway through that he needed to leave me on the trail, run back to the car, and add 30 more pounds to his pack. The reality continues: I couldn’t read a trail map if my life depended on it. So I got lost while he was “just quickly running to the car” and kept running, sweating out of my eyeballs and completely unsure if I’d ever see him again. We eventually found one another, after I back tracked and somehow got myself on the right trail. Israel was excited to see me and I was curt — totally annoyed that I’d been left like that, but also so relieved to see him that I decided to let it go. I had huge blisters on my heels. And the only time we held hands, was when he had to drag me up steep hills.
To wrap this part up, I want you to know that I FINISHED!!!!! I finished 25K of trail, and in the amount of time that wouldn’t have disqualified me! It felt great. Boy, was I proud. Israel was proud of me, too.
Looking back, what I remember most is the conversation we had about this very blog. On the flat parts of the trail, we rucked along at a pace where talking was made possible. We asked ourselves: Where is “Israel & Melinda” going to go? What will we do to move forward? What is our end goal?
We discussed successful marriage gurus and dissected their strategies. Names like Dave & Rachel Hollis came to mind, specifically. I recounted how they loved to do really hard physical adventure-y stuff together. They were the king and queen of sweaty We-Just-Ran-A-Marathon-Together selfies. I brought up authors and podcasters I loved.
However, one thing we talked about was not wanting to be like those other people. They aren’t bad, but they aren’t us. We have both been divorced and we know that divorce is possible, real, and very much a part of this world. However, we both also know that hope and change and happiness can be part of the world as well, even after the unbearable pain.
What we want to share is all the shit and muck and hard stuff that marriage requires you to trudge through. We want to share the stumbles and failures, as well as the lovely successes along the way, all in hopes of showing that if you are honest and refuse to keep quiet about tough things, THEN you might have a chance of making your relationship last.
To be completely honest, the divorces happening in the marriage world during COVID-19 have freaked me out. I thought I was pretty immune to that stuff. But low and behold, Dave and Rachel Hollis are no more. They made a fortune telling the world how to be a great couple, and wound up divorced. Jen and Brandon Hatmaker were married for over 25 years and they, too, divorced. Even though we have both been through it, these faces and symbols of “good marriages” crumbling before my eyes gave me the heebie jeebies. I felt like so many others felt, confused and sad and also sorta kinda vindicated … yup, the perfectness being portrayed is never real. Knew it. But I also felt a compassion in my heart and the knowledge that only other divorcees know: the hurt is theirs alone. The story is theirs alone. And I HOPE we never know the details of those divorces. Because they’re frankly none of our business and we are kidding ourselves if we think we deserve a peek inside.
All that is to say: we are still figuring out where we are headed when it comes to this blog and our mission. We know what we don’t want to do, but we really aren’t sure what it is we DO want to do. Whatever we do, we are not ever giving up. Our marriage is tough as nails and it’s because of all the brokenness and pain. It isn’t because of rose colored glasses or wishful thinking – we never had the luxury of a time like that.
I have a love/hate relationship with running. I have one with divorce, too. It sure worked out in OUR story, and I tend to think that others will survive their divorces, too.
When you finish a run, you have blisters and sore muscles and frustration, much like the damage we do to one another in marriage. But you also have trust, clear (!!!) communication, and joy in the fact that you made it. Just … made it. Marriage for us is making it through each day. And they’ve been very hard lately. We’ve both softened a bit and we’ve grown together in a way I actually, even a year ago, didn’t think was possible.
We are going to keep moving forward one day at a time, knowing that life will NOT get easier. The ruck will continue, as long as we are breathing.