Love is an Endurance Sport


Lewis and I started dating a month before my first marathon. We got engaged a month before my second marathon. We got married a month before I started training for my third (his first). By our first anniversary we were training for an ultra-marathon.

Endurance training is the back drop of my love story.

It’s not really surprising that on the back of a picture frame holding a cute photo of us I wrote, in a fit of dramatic resolution: “Love is not a game of desire. It is a game of endurance.”

You can’t tell in this picture, but this is the day that Lewis carried a writhing, sobbing one-year-old UP the switchbacks of Navajo Loop at Bryce Canyon National Park. He never complained.

At some point in our dating relationship old wounds reared their heads and the giddy, moonstruck, giggles became intense conversations. My irrepressible excitement was replaced by a nagging sense that he was not giving me everything I had dreamed my love story would be.

The truth was this: He was living by a poorly calibrated internal compass and unable to see it was getting him nowhere. We were in an uncomfortable holding pattern waiting for some kind of magic to awaken in him.

I was on the brink of breaking up with him, because I was tired of waiting on his magical feelings to kick in and make me feel like the fairytale princess I’d waited so long to be.

But I remember the night I stubbornly looked at him and thought, “Damnit, I’m going to win this. I am going to outlast your issues with love.”

Because love isn’t for fairytale princesses. Love is for endurance athletes.

This all came up again as we were talking to some friends about the deficiencies that we all fear will keep us from ever being “enough” for someone’s lifetime love.

What if we can’t make them feel beautiful or desired?

What if we lose our own looks?

What if we can’t give them the emotional support they need in difficult times?

What if we turn out to be crappy parents?

We concluded, of course, that we are all going to ruin our partner’s fairytale at some point. But we might give them a great triathlon. 

In that same Utah trip, I ran a half-marathon, and impressed Moira with my medal more than my speed…

My endurance sport is actually marathon running.

When you are falling in love, and considering commitment the question is not, “can you make each other’s lives perfect?” Instead it is, “do you want to imagine your life without them?”* If the answer is no, then you’ve found your marathon, and it’s time to commit, because you’ve already started running.

I’m not saying love is a bloodbath. I’m not saying it’s a war. Others will say that, but I don’t feel that way. Love is a marathon, and I like marathons.

It’s a rush of excitement and a groovy seven-mile high of “I WANT TO RUN MARATHONS FOREVER.”

Sometime after that comes the first hard mile. It can be rough terrain, a nagging old injury, and new blister, or just plain old fatigue, but once you’ve had your first hard mile, the rest of your miles will be an uneven mix of agony and ecstasy.

Mile 12 you may see a familiar face and get a burst of happy energy. Mile 16 you might hit a comfy stride and find yourself in zen mode.

And at mile 10 you might trip and fall and skin your knee. At mile 18 you might get a cramp you can’t shake.

This is the average marathon experience. For all but the luckiest and unluckiest, marathons are an “acquired taste” kind of pleasure and a “hurts so good” kind of pain. And so, for most of us, is the person we love. Except those first seven miles. Those are fabulous. That’s why, in life and in love, some people only run 10Ks.

(Time for the caveat: in marathoning and in love, it’s possible to drop out of the race for perfectly wise and legit reasons.)

Lewis showed me his marathon side this year when I showed him my own dream-shattering deficiency. I couldn’t keep living in the renovated home in the inner city “transitional” neighborhood he’d poured his heart and soul into for the last five years. I felt weak and tired and I needed a more stable place to practice motherhood. He was devastated.

It was a really tough mile with no steady stride and no easy breathing. But loving me is the marathon Lewis is running, so he did not cross his arms and demand that I continue to make his dreams come true. He did what he needed to do to love me, and showed me just how much of a marathon runner he really is.

*I can hear the professional Christians trying to think of a way to Jesus-up that paragraph. I’m preparing a much cheekier blog posts with my thoughts on this. For now, we leave it at this: it was the pastor who married us who told Lewis that “can you imagine your life without her?” was the main question. Lo and behold. Here we are. Married as hell.

Appendix: every marathon needs a playlist. This is my marriage marathon playlist (definitely not for literal marathons):

“Walken” – Wilco

“That’s What’s Up”- Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

“Born”- Over the Rhine

“Hard to Concentrate” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

“Get it Right” – Amy Cook

“Dead Sea” – Lumineers

“Both of Us’ll Feel the Blast”- Waterdeep

“Two”- Ryan Adams

“You Are the Best Thing”- Ray LaMontaigne

“I Hate Everything (But You)”- Derek Webb

“Home” – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

“A Million Years” – Alexander

“I Hate It Here” – Wilco

“Trying My Best to Love You” – Jenny Lewis

“This Tornado Loves You”- Neko Case

“Lucky Ones” – Pat Green

“You’re the Ocean” – Teitur

“Shelter”- Ray LaMontaigne

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