My husband has been gone for the past ten days traveling for two different races. This makes 7 races in the last 5 weeks, 3 of which were marathons. (Not recommended, but sometimes necessary to bring home the gluten-free vegan-bacon, of course.) His absence has allowed me to keep the house a little cleaner, but it’s also reminded me how much I love and appreciate his sport-related eccentricities. With him gone, the kitchen seems bare without his stash of four water bottles huddled near the kitchen sink. The doorway looks lonely without his two-to-three pairs of muddy running shoes drying against the wall. The house is too quiet without the click of biking shoes or constant hum emanating from the trainer in his Man Cave, (at times known as “The Kona Pain Cave”). The washing machine looks hungry for clothes saturated with beautiful man sweat. The bedside table is too clean without the remnants of midnight snacks.
When he’s gone, I realize that the things I roll my eyes at are the things I miss the most. My standards of normalcy have been so redefined that a reprieve from this life of athletic oddities seems bleak and bland. I miss the weirdness that has become the new normal.
And with that, I bring you the latest “redefinitions of normal” in the life of an endurance athlete’s spouse that have become apparent in the wake of my husband’s absence. Previous chronicles here.
4) Be Prepared to Have Your Home Commandeered by Athletic Gear
I think one of the first protracted conflicts my husband and I ever engaged in was pitted around the storage of his road bike. At the beginning of our marriage, I was ignorant enough to believe that bikes could be outdoor creatures. I quickly learned that such a precious specimen could not be subjected to the harsh elements of wind and rain, even if covered by a concrete awning. Instead it deserved a place next to the bed- on my side, actually. She was a sleek and beautiful Bianchi aptly named Biancé. I stumbled over her when I woke up in the morning. She was always there, always in the way, leering at us incessantly through the night like a jealous mistress. I hated that B-word.
Endurance athletes may have you fooled into thinking that they are “minimalists”, but live with one for an extended period of time, and you will quickly learn the truth: they have a lot of crap. Really expensive crap. Apparently it takes an extensive amount of gear to live minimally.
As such, be prepared to devote at least one room to the amalgamation and proper storage of your athlete’s “minimal” sporting accessories. He may deny that it is an actual room, deceiving himself by calling it a Man Cave so as to minimize its superfluousness. You may expect to have this room filled with a vast array of athletic necessities, such as 15-20 water bottles (some of which will be filled with months-old electrolyte drink that have morphed to resemble the mother Kombucha), 10-15 pair of shoes (half of which have not been worn in nearly a year, but heaven forbid you suggest disposing of them), a shelf or two devoted to a stunning display of GUs, bars and electrolyte powders, and at least one shelf to store your athlete’s medals, trophies and other assorted strange-yet-novel “finisher” prizes (bowls, bricks, cowbells, etc.)
Items that may seem trite or useless should never be thrown away or relocated. As I mentioned earlier, endurance athletes have a lot of crap, and it’s all very important to them. If you feel the need to “de-clutter” by tossing an old, moldy water bottle, be prepared to have your athlete morph into Golam protecting The Precious from the fires of Mordor.
You may also expect to habitually see various athletic garments hanging from doorways, ledges, and shower rods. It will not be uncommon to have your face unknowingly engage in an intimate encounter with a pair of running shorts that have not been sweated in quite enough to warrant a trip to the washing machine. Your athlete may think it has a similar appeal to finding your own sexy minimalist clothing hanging around the house. I assure you, it does not. Sweaty stretchy pants are not the equivalent to Victoria and her elusive secret.
Lastly, be warned: your athlete will be sneaky in his or her pursuit to pirate portions of your home. It may start with an unassuming bottle of supplements in the cupboard, but soon your entire collection of plates and bowls will be cowering in a stuffy corner to make way for your athlete’s “minimal yet necessary” collection of valuable dietary supplements.
If you’re pregnant, he may also consume all of your prenatal vitamins, then wonder why his fingernails are growing so fast. “But babe, I need the folic acid and the Iron. I’m growing a body just like you.”
5. Be Okay With Being Alone
Endurance athletes tend to be lone wolves. It takes a certain mentality to be able to endure, let alone enjoy endless hours of solitude in the mountains, on the road, or in the pool. If your athlete leaves you for hours at a time (which he will), you must remember that it is a true case of “it’s not you it’s me”. Endurance athletes are wired differently than most ‘normal’ folk, requiring extended amounts of “me” time, usually in the form of physical exertion. You might be tempted to think that his or her lengthy absences are the result of a desire to be away from you. This is not the case. Endurance athletes are a lot like Border Collies; highly intuitive, extensively energetic, task-driven and prone to melancholy and/or running around the house in circles if not given adequate exercise.
It may take a few years to detach yourself from the notion that your athlete’s extensive workout schedule is not a reflection of your relationship. Allowing them the freedom to commune with the elements makes them happier people, better in tune with their own cosmology, and less likely to be found gnawing on furniture or chewing your shoes.
Your athlete may also need to travel a handful of times per year in order to race (and in our case, to supplement the income that my pregnant waitress body can no longer make.) If you do not like being alone at night, it might be a good idea to get a dog (preferably one that isn’t prone to chewing on precious shoes and water bottles. You already have one of those). We adopted a friendly pit-bull with a ferocious bark to quell my lonely nighttime fears.
Yes, if you pursue a relationship with an endurance athlete, you will be alone a lot. But fret not- there will be perks to your athlete’s leaves of absence! This week I acquired a wonderful assortment of hotel soaps and body lotions from my husband’s recent trip. I also got caught up on my girly TV shows and put eggs and butter in the muffins I made.
As you can see, being in a committed relationship with an endurance athlete requires a substantial reassessment of normalcy- and life in general. There will be difficult transition periods (like when I learned that going through a 6 pound bag of almonds in ten days is “normal”, or when I discovered that 18 miles is not considered a “long run”). But if the two of you reassess and redefine ‘normal’ together, you will both be better for it.