Running Together: Lessons from the Paris Marathon with My Husband

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As a military family, we often face long periods apart due to deployments and training. My husband had recently come back from a year in Iraq. These times apart are challenging. They mean missing holidays, precious moments, and chances to grow together. To reconnect, we find shared goals. Running the Paris Marathon together was our way to catch up and grow closer. But it actually accomplished much, much more.

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running-the-paris-marathon-together-1 Running Together: Lessons from the Paris Marathon with My Husband

What’s My Why


This deployment was challenging, so I decided to find something we could work towards together when Steven returned home. And that something turned out to be training and running the Paris Marathon together.

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An-Expat-in-SK-2-1 Running Together: Lessons from the Paris Marathon with My Husband

At the Finish Line

I couldn’t see the finish line, but according to the GPS watch strapped on my left arm, I knew I didn’t have far to go. My heart was racing, my calves were aching and the sweat made it hard for me to see the road ahead. Two kilometers into the run, I couldn’t understand the spontaneous cheers that erupted from the crowds that formed along the Route de la Pesage or from those that waved French flags from the window sills, overflowing with spring flowers. Eighteen kilometers later, the crowds and shouts had dissipated.

Only a few runners left on the course ahead of me clapped or shouted encouragement as they returned from the finish line. An older lady sporting a sweatband and a fanny pack was within view. Steven picked up the pace, challenging me to catch her. I tried to will my legs to move faster, without success. He scolded me, like one of his soldiers, thinking that would motivate me to move out.

It didn’t. I stopped in my tracks, just short of the finish line, and cried. Moments later, she ran right up to me, patted me on my back, and she pitched her voice, quivering an encouraging “Bon travail, Presque fait!”

Why this is a story about marriage and relationships and not just about running.

As a military spouse for the last 18 years, I have had to spend a large majority of time alone, away from family, friends, and what is familiar. Up to this point, my better half has served two tours in Iraq, two in Korea, and one each to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan for a total of 6 years taken right off the top. Then you add all the maneuvers, training missions, and military schools for an additional 4—10 years of separation from the man I love, the man I married… my best friend.

I’ve tried to make the best out this time pursuing activities that enhance personal growth, preserve family cohesiveness, and maintain the near impossibility of intimacy. Infrequent telephone calls, letters, emails, and now Skype and facetime help create a bridge between deployments and homecomings. But I am always looking for ways to make the transitions easier on the whole family.

Preparing for the Run
with Help from Friends

This last homecoming was special because we were stationed overseas and it was just prior to Christmas. After a little consternation, I suggested we train for the Paris Half Marathon that took place three months after his return. He thought it was a great idea, partly because we could do it together and partly because he figured I could lose a few pounds too I’m sure. He wasn’t wrong. I registered us both online.

In the meantime, I signed up for Jingle Bells 5k to get an idea of my current abilities. I sucked, I mean I really sucked. I finished 3.1 miles in 46:21, more than 15 minutes per mile. However, I think I walked more than half of it and was out of breath the whole time.

I tried to keep up with my friends, who did everything but call cadence and pull me along with a leash.

So I tried to enjoy the scenery, control my breathing, and enjoy the whole experience, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t understand why I was panting, heavily, unable to talk. In the end, I couldn’t keep up with any of them and they ended up cheering my less than a heroic effort at the finish line. I darn near passed out as I crossed under it.

The Birth of a Runner

Surprisingly, once I crossed under the finish line banner the fatigue was replaced by a palpable sense of triumph. It felt great and I was instantly hooked. I went home and looked at myself in the mirror. Staring at myself, I wasn’t thrilled by the reflection staring back at me. I was seriously overweight. The tag in my pants said 18. Eighteen was one size short of 20. I was 5’2” and weighed more than 200 pounds. It’s amazing how much denial you are willing to accept if it means you have to be honest with yourself. I had to do something about that immediately.

So I signed up for another 5k and began researching weight and running plans. If it’s your first marathon too, you may not really know what you’ve signed up for. You purchase a pair of great running shoes, according to Runner’s Magazine, and a few microfiber shorts, because you heard they keep perspiration away from your body and dry out quickly. You may have even downloaded a few marathon training schedules or picked up a magazine in the Commissary to get you started.

Getting Checked Out

First things, first, I made sure I was healthy enough to run. A routine physical confirmed my worst nightmare in print. I was overweight, actually according to the report, I was obese. I needed to lose more than 70 pounds according to the pamphlet my nurse handed me before leaving my doctor’s office that day. It didn’t take a genius to figure out I needed a lifestyle overhaul. The weight started to come off but slowly. Turned out I wasn’t taking in enough calories, so my body was in a mini starvation mode. I started a food diary and kept to a pretty strict diary of 1200 calories and the weight began to peel off.

The Daily Struggle

I ran every other day, went to Zumba and kickboxing classes, and educated myself about portion control. I learned to love eating breakfast, cut back on soda and juices, and drank a lot more water. It wasn’t easy, but after a while it became routine. I finished the next 5k in under 40 minutes and lost more than 12 pounds. When my husband returned he jumped right into the new lifestyle. We ran for 6o minutes together every morning before he headed off to physical training with his unit, and longer on Saturdays when the weather cooperated.

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In Conclusion

I knew it wouldn’t be all fun and games… that’s not how my husband operates. A walk in the park is not fruitful if we can carry on a conversation and if I run slowly, he’ll stop jogging all together and start to walk. He pushed every button, countered every doubt, and trampled over every excuse I made for three solid months. We ran three more 5ks and a 10k before heading off to Paris.

I struggled with breathing and never ran more than 9 miles in training. I lost another 20 pounds and was down to a size 10 in pants and an 8 in most dresses. We arrived in Paris the day before the run to pick up our packets and checked into our hotel. We carbo-loaded with friends at a yummy cafe off Rue Cler. The next day was race day. Click here to read what happened next.

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