Friday, August 8, 2008

Wife Rule #65: She's Always There

It turns out that they have a special category called "Clydesdales."

I suppose those of us who qualify should take it as a compliment. After all, Clydesdales are large, strong, hard-working horses who get the occasional gig in a malted-barley beverage commercial. But really, I was hoping not to qualify. I thought being in the amorphous "30-34 year old" category was ignominious enough. A thirty-something: youth long gone, warranties freshly expired, still wandering in the wilderness of denial of the impending onset of middle age.

But a Clydesdale?

I had hoped that during my three months of summer training, I would drop the few pounds it would take to put me below the weight threshold to qualify for this special group. However, as millions of Americans know all too well, our weight-loss goals are not always attained. But since I already registered as part of the appropriate non-Clydesdale age group, I will be running the half-marathon as a stealth Clydesdale. A stud-horse among normal men. My little secret.

With any luck, I might even avoid coming in dead-last, although there are no guarantees. My brother-in-law explained how sheepish he felt during the last few miles of his marathon when he was passed by the hunchbacked old lady.

It will be the first time I have ever run in an organized race like this, and I hope it won't be the last. You see, if my name is out there on the Internet results page as coming in dead-last, well, that would be worse than acknowledging my unambiguous qualification for the Clydesdale category. I'm pretty sure I would never race again.

Thus, I have been training. After several months, I have to admit that it has been good for me, even kind of fun. Really. There's that endorphin-induced high they talk about that kicks in after you hit "the wall." Well, I'm not sure I ever got to the high, but as a strong, work-horse of a Clydesdale, I figure I can push against that wall for 13.1 miles.

I have taken my training seriously, even packing--and using--my running shoes on vacation. Not that I think I deserve a huge pat on the back for my diligence; running doesn't always feel like a sacrifice. Especially when running through the early morning mist across the sandy beaches of Southern California.

It was a great place to train. For starters, I was running at about 5,000 feet less elevation than when I run at home, so the oxygen in the air was about twice as thick. I really didn't have to focus on breathing, freeing up my mind to focus on other things. Like my wife, sleeping peacefully back at the beach cottage, the wind from the ceiling fan blowing the soft stray hairs over her forehead.

No, not now. I can think of her when I'm stuck on my basement treadmill in the middle of January. I only have a week at the beach, so I had better concentrate on enjoying the here and now of this morning run. I drink in the fresh, humid air, hydrating me with every breath. The longest I'll run here is about seven miles, and with the humidity, I shouldn't even need a water bottle. The air is also rich with the scents of the ocean, a wonderful mixture of sea brine and fabric softener freshness. I take a deep breath and just concentrate on smelling. Ahhhhhhh.

My mind shifts, and I can almost smell the pancakes that my wife is probably cooking in the tiny kitchen. A rich aroma of buttery batter, ready to be doused by maple syrup. The kids will be watching anxiously from the table, eyes hungry and forks ready. My wife will smile and announce in a sing-song lilt, Whoooo wants some paaaaaancakes?

But that's for later. For now, I'm enjoying the challenge of dodging waves, stepping onto the streaks of bright sea foam left behind on the firm, wet sand as each wave rushes back to the ocean. My eyes marvel at the patterns the water leaves behind in the sand: rich ripples of black and gold, strewn like blown satin sheets across the larger-grained sand. The glimmer of the hazy morning light on the wetness makes it almost look like I'm running across a giant, flowing mirror. Beautiful.

Like her. The sweet serenity that settles across her features when we come here. Her relaxation is almost tangible. Sure, there is still the morning bustle of cooking, cleaning, dressing, and slathering sunscreen on our kids, but I love the look in her eyes, here in this place she loves so much. It's almost like the shimmering, golden light from the setting sun across the black, rolling waves last night has been taken in and captured; like the deep blues of the churning sea and the electric blues of the afternoon sky are there, all blended together, in her eyes.

A thunderous crash brings me back to the beach, where my pace has slowed a bit during my distraction. Is there a thunderstorm blowing in? No, of course not--that was just the sea. I'm now past the flat beach where the rock jetties segment the waves, running across the long stretch of unbroken coast where the crashing waves can get huge and loud. I wish my wife were here to watch the churning of the water with me. We always liked watching the waves together. We would sit on the sand, huddled together for warmth, her head nestled into my shoulder and neck, while the brisk morning breeze flows off the water and through us.

I realize now that the best way to enjoy running here on the beach is to go ahead and include my wife in it. Even if absent in body, she's going to be constantly in my thoughts anyway, so I might as well accept that she belongs there.

She is always there, especially when I'm here.

Which is just as it should be. In a few weeks, when I run my race, she'll be there too, at the end, waiting anxiously for her Clydesdale to clop across the finish line. She'll embrace me, sweaty shirt and all, and tell me how proud she is that I did it, even if I come in dead-last.

I'll enjoy the embrace and the praise. They come from her. She's always there for me, right where I need her.

She's always there.

No comments: