Everyone has one of these in their life: a wise, slightly-older friend who just absolutely irritates the living piss out of you, in large part (most likely) because they’re right about something and you’re not ready to agree. In my past life running in the Deep South, that friend’s name was Pool. Pool loved all things apple cider vinegar, demonized High Fructose Corn Syrup, refused to drink a drop of alcohol, and– most of all–Pool desperately wanted me to start running marathons with him. Even though we’d already been travel marathoning extensively (by newbie runner standards), we’d only run half marathons up until that point– never the full.
I told Pool in no uncertain terms that I would run a full marathon over my own dead body. Who did he think I was– superwoman? But despite my vociferous protests that my body would fall apart, that I wasn’t “made” for the full marathon, that I didn’t have the commitment it took to train at that level for eighteen straight weeks, and that I just didn’t want to, Pool persisted, month after month.
Then, late one evening in July 2011, two months after I’d broken up with the boyfriend that introduced me to running, I found myself browsing Facebook on my laptop after a few too many glasses of wine. Suddenly, at the top of my feed, the Little Rock Marathon— known for marathon medals the size of salad plates and an epic after-party– posted that they’d secretly opened registration in advance, exclusively for their Facebook fans. The promise of exclusivity and a cheap deal piqued my interest, and once I realized it was the 10th anniversary of the race, I was sold. More accurately, I bought in, and drunkenly became the ninth person in the world to register for the 2012 Little Rock Marathon, the first full marathon of my life.
I called Pool at a quarter till midnight, elated and blabbering on about the marathon. Teetotaling Pool was both furious and ecstatic that I’d finally succumbed to his year-long marathon marketing plan but had done so without letting him know first. To apologize, I fronted the money for his registration that night. July, August, and most of September passed without more than a handful of training runs between them. I began to wonder if I was actually going to train for this race, or if I’d just made a drunken mistake of little consequence. My friends teased me– some people break their bones or wreck cars when they’re drunk, but Anne registers for marathons.
In October, a tiny, local half marathon kicked my training in gear, and I began running with all the enthusiasm of a single woman in her late-20s trying to prove that she could do absolutely anything she set her mind to– mostly, at the end of the day, for myself. As the miles ramped up, Pool and I talked more and more on our long, slow runs. When he wasn’t trying to convince me to start barefoot running– his newest kick– Pool gently suggested that he might have a potential boyfriend for me. I will never forget how tightly I pursed my lips and the epic parabola of my rolled eyes.
“No, Pool. Absolutely not. I will not have you play matchmaker,” I said, brushing off his suggestion that his new roommate– a burgeoning triathlete– was a perfect match.
Race day finally came. I was terrified about finally running a full marathon– the entire 26.2 miles!– and had a girlfriend meeting me at mile 20 to run me in through the last 10k, up notorious Cantrell Hill. Near the very end, I had to leave Pool and his battered bare feet behind. I felt like I was barely going to make it across the finish line myself and could not take another second of his grunted owches and oww’s. I crossed the finish line, laid down in the grass, and felt like I would never get up again.
A few hours later, I was wrapped up in every blanket that I owned, enjoying being clean, exhausted, and immobile in bed. My running soulmate– who had met me at the 20-mile mark to run me in after having run the half marathon herself– called me to see if I was joining her, her husband, and Pool at the free, self-proclaimed Big, Bad, Bodacious Marathon After Party. I didn’t know. At that moment, being still was the best feeling of my life, and the idea of having to put on clothes was excruciating.
“Anne! All you can eat BBQ, that famous potato salad, and an open bar!” she sang over the phone. “You just ran a marathon. You deserve it!”
Come to think of it, the idea of having to prepare food for myself at home with what odd ingredients I had with post-marathon hanger looming was even worse than the idea of putting on clothing. I asked my friend Maggie what she thought I should do.
“An open bar?” Maggie asked incredulously. “Are you kidding me? Can I come?”
Reluctantly, I dragged myself out of bed and pulled on the most chafe-forgiving dress and the comfiest pair of flats I could find. An hour later as I settled into my first plate of barbecue, I congratulated myself on making the right decision. As I began to stuff my mouth with pulled pork, Pool arrived fashionably late with his current romantic interest and his (outrageously attractive) roommate, who sat down next to me and introduced himself as the cyclist escort for the female winner of the marathon. I was tired, but I struggled to introduce myself just as the beautiful, blonde, svelte Leah Thorvilson came over to the table to thank her cyclist– who I now knew as Scott– for pushing through a bike wreck to guide her and her GPS marker through to a victorious finish.
If that was my competition, I was toast. Not only had I finished many hundreds of places behind Leah at the marathon, but this beautiful, effervescent character in high heels and huge wig (the after-party was disco-themed) was everything any man could ever want. She didn’t even look like she’d run a marathon, she was so perky and clean.
That rocky start aside, the rest, as they say, is history. Scott texted me the next morning to ask me out to the Flying Fish (a local southern-style fish joint), with trivia at a nearby pub afterwards. The story you just read about the marathon I was, unwittingly, always supposed to run despite my protests was lovingly narrowed into a beautiful design by local artist LetterpressPDX for our wedding invitations:
As you can see from the invitations above, we’re getting married on Sunday, July 13, 2014–the day of the Fueled by Fine Wine Half Marathon in Dundee, Oregon. I’ll be running the half marathon that morning in a white tennis dress, head attire TBD (suggestions welcome in the comments!), with a wedding that evening in Oregon Wine Country. Last year at Fueled by Fine Wine, I joked that the engraved wine glass that they give all finishers was the best race swag I’d taken home since the Little Rock Marathon gave me Scott in 2012. This year after Fueled by, I’ll get to take Scott home for good– a perfect bookend to our epic running romance.
Happy Valentine’s, readers!