My husband runs marathons. I have nobody to blame for this but myself. Well, sort of.
Four and three-quarter years ago, when we moved to this area, I found the local library and discovered that story time for babies happened on Tuesdays at 10.30. The next Tuesday, I showed up early, and got talking to a mum who had a daughter who looked about the same age as Monkey (8 months at the time). In fact, her daughter was exactly two days younger. We promptly handfasted the children, gave two llamas to bind our promise, and became great friends. She happened to mention that she ran marathons, and I said, blithely, “Oh, my husband would be interested. He’s always said he’d like to run a marathon.”
Of my life.
No, not really. But the end of my life as the wife of a casual runner. He joined her club and their excellent first-time-marathoners programme, and I said “Okay, just one marathon then.”
We just got back from his eighth.
I didn’t understand then that a marathoner (or anyone who runs distances, even if it’s a 5k, and I say this as someone who doesn’t even run for the bus, so you all have my undying respect and admiration) is only ever trying to beat their own best time. So you can’t just run one. You have to keep going. And going. And going. It’s a bit addictive, apparently, especially for someone like my husband, who was built for running and finished his first marathon smiling and saying, “That was fun!”
Anyway. When you’re the supporter instead of the runner, a marathon goes something like this:
- Leave the house in a rush just at naptime for the baby. Watch all your plans for the perfect nap crumble as she proceeds to stay awake and/or wail for all of the journey. (Poor Mabel had had a bad morning, but that’s another blog post.) Manage to remember everything vital except the camera.
- Drive a couple of hours to a town near the marathon site. The ugly town, not the cute historic one with the attractive restaurants, but the one where all food options are fast and very plastic except for the local diner, which has stink bugs inside the windows. Eat there anyway because the portions are huge. Call fries with ketchup and chocolate milk respectively dinner for the kids.
- Stay somewhere called the Turf Motel. Discover that despite the name, the room is actually fine. The free breakfast, however, is a steak. You feel you are not the target market.
- Spend a long, long time getting the baby to sleep. Spend a long long time fruitlessly trying to get the preschooler to sleep. Get the baby back to sleep again. Curse hotel rooms in general and marathons in particular. Watch your husband cart a yelling child out of the room under his arm, return momentarily for the car key, and come back half an hour later with a fast asleep child. (Vaguely assume it’s the same child, but don’t check too carefully.)
- Get some semblance of a night’s sleep.
- Hear your husband leave as quietly as possible at 5am to get the shuttle bus to the start of the race.
- Remain in denial as long as possible while the baby wakes up the moment the door clicks shut.
- Give up.
- Proceed with resignation as the chirpy baby, who despite her enormous vocabulary and excellent communication skills, does not seem to understand “indoor voice,” let alone “whispering,” takes you to the bathroom to do a wee (yay, and yet I’d so much rather we were all still asleep) and wakes up her brother, who could certainly have done with another hour or two.
- Get everyone dressed and proceed to front desk to enquire about breakfast. Laugh derisorily at fat man who tells you that the restaurant opens at 8am. (It’s six about now.)
- Get into the car to go to McDonald’s.
- Realise that McDonald’s is directly opposite the motel. Drive there anyway.
- Savour your hot coffee and greasy breakfast as the children climb on the (plastic) seats and drum on the tables and sing songs, spurning food. Try to ignore them and pretend they belong to someone else. (Except that you know if they were someone else’s you’d be thinking they should be sitting down quietly. As they’re your own, you’re just happy they’re happy. Everyone else can go take a flying leap.)
- Return to motel. Collate belongings, consult maps, thank deities for Playhouse Disney (which is a big novelty now that we only have PBS – they greeted old friends like Handy Manny and Special Agent Oso with shrieks of glee).
- Get both children and all belongings to the car in one journey. (This is a great achievement made both easier and harder by the fact that Monkey is big enough to pull the bag along himself. The problem is that Mabel really really wants to do it too. Instead. Cue dramatics.)
- Now the fun part. Your mission is to get to a point on the marathon route before the runner you’re supporting gets there, in order to cheer him on his way for a couple of seconds. This involves the happy intersection of your ability to predict where he will be at what time, to follow maps without a navigator, to find a place you’ve never been before despite being hampered by road closings due to the marathon in question, to park legally (preferably), to get both children out of the car and warmly enough dressed to hang about in the early morning and fed enough not to complain, and to stand by the side of the road clapping and cheering a bunch of poor sweaty benighted strangers who are either grateful or oblivious, while stopping the children from running away or joining the race. One child will fall asleep.
- At some point, if your calculations are correct and the stars align, you will see your target and his gratitude and delight in seeing his loving family at some surprising point along this route of torture, around mile 13, or 19, or 22, will make it all worthwhile.
- Go back to the car. Load everyone in again. Wake up sleeping child, to their dismay.
- Drive to the marathon end, where you may or may not manage to do it all again, depending on how far along the course you intercepted the first time.
- Greet your conquering hero with a big congratulatory kiss and the promise that next time you’ll definitely make a banner.
Actually, I was thinking that we should get a cowbell, so that I can shout “More cowbell!” at opportune moments. Funny? Maybe? Maybe next time.