“I can’t breathe!”
“Cut it out, you are stuck in your head…get out of your head…keep moving.”
“No really, my lungs aren’t filling with air; I can’t breathe!”
“Put your hands over your head, walk for a minute, and pull it together. We are finishing this race!”
“Go ahead of me. I’ll meet you at the end.”
“No way, we are doing this together. Can you breathe now?”
“Yes, but my right hand is still swollen and I can’t feel my left foot.”
“Can you move it?”
“Good; let’s start running.”
If you happened to be running near my husband and me at the six-mile mark of the 34th Annual Army Ten-Miler this year, you probably overheard this dramatic conversation. I was in tears and convinced my lungs and body had decided to revolt. My husband was exasperated, but trying his best to motivate me. This was how we decided we were going to celebrate ten years of marriage. We thought it would be a fun challenge and we (mostly me) thought we were so clever with our catch phrase: Ten Miles for Ten Years. I liked it so much that I even put it on a t-shirt.
The race had a predictable start. We registered using my average pace, placing us in the last wave to begin. So, forty-five minutes after arriving at the Pentagon, one potty stop (minus toilet paper), three sneaker adjustments, lots of stretching, and several motivational speeches later, we finally began to run. Miles one through three were everything I thought they would be. I felt like a machine, jogging along next to my husband without a care in the world. Much like the first three years of our marriage, we seemed to have this thing locked down and were cruising right along: get married, buy a home, get a puppy and have a beautiful baby girl (check, check, check and check).
Per our plan, we walked the fourth mile. The weather was perfect and as the course skirted along the National Mall, we were able to catch glimpses of the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the Washington Monument. At mile-five, we picked up the pace again and began to run. I surprised myself, by being able to maintain a decent pace. Five miles was the longest I had ever run and I knew I’d be pushing my limits for the rest of the race. Yet, even after my significantly faster husband took off towards the port-o-potties, instructing me to keep running and that he’d catch up, my now-slightly-aching body seemed to move on its own as I reflected on our fifth year of marriage; a year spent excitedly anticipating and systematically preparing for the arrival of our second daughter.
Mile six was where things got interesting and both my body and mind began to betray me. As my husband chattered on about the Smithsonian Buildings and various other notable sights, my right hand began to swell. It was as if the skin itself was going to split open like a well-cooked hot dog. This is also where I inexplicably lost all feeling in my left foot. Noting the discomfort loudly, but receiving no reaction, I kept running until I felt what I was certain could only be my right lung collapsing. I slowed to a walk, started gasping for breath and broke out into a complete panic. Apparently, although my body was still working (mostly), my brain decided we were done. I felt terrible, which didn’t make things better. I knew my husband was holding back for me and I was not about to let him watch me quit and be the reason he didn’t finish. I urged him to finish the race without me, but he was not having any of it. So, sobbing and gulping for air, I continued to half-walk/half-run as he slowly jogged next to me until I regained my composure and my ability to breathe.
After that, I never actually picked up the pace again to anything resembling a respectable jog. Miles seven through ten were a sad display of run-walk-limping on my part. Shockingly, I did not fall over into heap when we crossed the finish line and after about fifteen minutes my hand returned to its normal size and the sensation in my foot returned. Meanwhile, we made our way through a city of tents grabbing water, cookies, muffins, bananas, fruit cups and whatever else was being offered and I continued to compare the race to our marriage.
My youngest daughter was born just one week shy of our six-year wedding anniversary and the following year was surprisingly difficult. Life was louder, messier, and significantly less organized with two children than it had been with only one. I’m sure I can speak for both of us when I say that my husband and I experienced many “limp-through-the-finish-line” kind of days that year and throughout the years that followed. Nevertheless, we faced those days together. We may be older and a little more beaten up then when we started, but just as we crossed that finish line, we also arrived at the ten year anniversary of our marriage together, as partners, as planned and already making plans to return next October.
(I later discovered that our official finishing time was 2 hours, 19 minutes and 23 seconds. I was 1,464 out of 1,641 in my age group and 9,919 out of 10,962 women overall. I’ll take it. I’m simply thrilled to have finished. My husband, however, is a different story. Even though they are public, we don’t discuss his statistics.)