The Sherpa

28 May

Once upon a time, there was this guy who I liked.  We talked every night for hours online.  But he never wanted to see me in person, and I just didn’t get it.  The only time he invited me “out” was to come run laps at the Nazareth College track.  I was obviously not about to get sweaty and gross and show how sorely out of shape I was in front of a dude who I thought there might be some romantic potential with.  I ended up going to the track a few times, but just to walk around.  I decided a few different times that there was no potential there and gave up, but one or the other of us always rekindled the friendship and the conversations would just flow again.


Eric and I were most definitely good friends before we were anything else.  When I think back on our “romantic” relationship, sometimes I think about how “fast” we moved–we were engaged within 7 months of “officially” dating each other.  Some of my friends even expressed concern over the “pacing” of things.  But the reality is we had been friends for well over a year before we started dating.  We were engaged for over a year before we got married.   And we balance each other out in many ways, and I see it more and more with each day that goes by.


When Eric and I first started talking, we’d argue a lot.  About religion, politics, life.  I “hated” him–but I love arguing.  I didn’t hate him.  I looked forward to our hours of chatting and arguing.  And it’s one of the things I’ve always loved about Eric–that he challenges me to think and defend and push myself.  I love a good mental challenge.  But I never realized how far he’d push me physically.


We had bought our house, and while we house hunted, we’d gone to Breuggers Bagels every weekend for breakfast first.  One morning, I saw a brouchure for their 5k run.  I picked it up while we waited for our delicious unhealthiness, and saw that if you did it, you got 3 free bagels.  “Ummm how far’s a 5k?” I asked.  We finally went for our first run together when I’d decided that 3.1 miles wasn’t that far for free bagels.  Don’t judge me.  I love bagels.  Haha.  We made it to the end of the street (maybe .1 miles) and I stopped to walk, gasping for breath, puffing away on my inhaler.  He just looked at me incredulously, said nothing, and walked alongside until I was ready to run another .1.  I doubt if we even made it 1 mile that day.


It was a SLOW start to running.  He ran the first 5k with me, and I finished in something like 31 minutes.  I was miserable through most of that race, but he just ran next to me the whole way, til he let me cross the finish line first.  I didn’t think I wanted to do it anymore–this running thing.  Better off to just pay for the bagels, I told myself.  But for me (for us?) running was a slippery slope.  I jokingly tell everyone that runs their first race that this is how it starts–“I’ll just do one to cross it off my bucket list” and the next thing you know, you’re 20 miles into a marathon, silently cursing yourself for ever thinking this was a good idea. 

Anyway, we registered for another 5k.  And then another.  I ran at night mostly, afraid that people might see me running and *gasp* sweaty or in pain or upset. I distinctly remember saying to him “What kind of person runs 5 miles???? You’d have to be out of your mind!”  Most people that know me probably don’t think of me as a particularly shy or unconfident person, but there is a side to me that is definitely a little like that, and Eric and running forced me to come to terms with that.

So we ran, and the 5ks got easier.  The miles started adding up.  I would venture out by myself sometimes, even during the day!  I still refused to call myself a runner, though.  But I was making gains in my confidence, slowly but surely. 

We signed up for a 5 mile race.  Then a 10k.  Then a half marathon.  I finished the first half, swore up and down I’d never do it again, cursed him out for signing me up and telling me how much fun it would be.  I laid on the couch the rest of the day after that first half, huddled under a blanket, pissed at him and pissed at myself for walking most of the second half of the race. [Side note: I was injured after that first one, for 6 months no running and PT and it sucked and I started to wonder if I was a runner, since I missed the running, now that it was off the table.]  But the next day, I started thinking about what I could do to improve. 

In 2011, after finishing my second half marathon, I mentioned casually that I was starting to see myself possibly, maybe, kind of sort of running a full marathon someday.  There’s that confidence issue, rearing its ugly head.  A couple days later, I came home from work and Eric proudly announced that he’d signed me up to run the Corning Wineglass Marathon.  When I asked if he’d run with me for the first one, he informed me that he was running the half, and he’d see me at the end.   He was beaming, so proud, like he’d done something great.  What the hell?  You must be joking. 26.2 miles????

It went relatively well, but I was adamant that I wasn’t ready to run another marathon.   Besides, we wanted to have a baby, and while my intention was (and is) to run through my pregnancy (if/when), I don’t know that a marathon is a good plan while pregnant.  So we tried. And tried. And tried.  And the trying went from fun to frustrating, and I found myself in a dark place where I didn’t know what I wanted or who I was anymore.  In the meantime, we saw Krissy Moehl, an ultrarunner, and I mentioned, again in passing, that I thought that maybe I could run another full or even an ultra!  [I might not be able to have a baby, but I COULD run for hours and hours and hours.]   Eric said “well duh. Of course you can!”  and sure enough, 2 days later I got an email at work from Buffalo Marathon, confirming my registration.  5 minutes later, I got one from Eric, saying, “surprise.  I know a girl who’s going to run a marathon when I see one, and the day we saw Krissy, I knew.  I will be your sherpa–I will run all your training runs, and be right there by your side all the way through.  And you’ll do great.”  This time, I wasn’t mad.  I laughed.  Apparently this is how marathons come about.  How far I’ve come since that silly girl stood in line at Breuggers, scheming up ways to get free bagels.  The only thing I knew for sure was at the end of this race was a world of pain (and pride, but mostly pain haha), but at least Eric would run my weekend runs with me.


And he did.  Every Saturday morning, he was there by my side.  Friends would join us for chunks, but he was there for almost every mile of every run.   He pushed when I needed it, telling me to stop  complaining, slow down, speed up, chill out.  He told me to be smart when I needed it, reminding me of how strong my training had already been and making me stop running when my knee was hurting or I was feeling pukey.  Telling me to take an ice bath, foam roll, stretch it out, do some strength training, ice my knee.  He was my coach.  There through thick and thin, pushing me to do my best, but not to hurt myself or do too much.


Sunday morning, when he left me at the start, I started to cry.  I don’t know why, but I suspect mayebe it was because it was the first time in months that I was going to have to do a long run completely alone.   I frequently view running as  a giant metaphor for life.  There are rough patches when you want to give up, there are times when you feel really good.  There are moments to celebrate and moments to try to forget about.  Sometimes you are working hard, sometimes you are crusing along, and sometimes you are in between.  We joked a lot after that initial email about him being my sherpa.  But the metaphor of Eric being my sherpa is not lost on me.  The sherpas who help mountaineers climb Everest carry stuff, find safe routes and provide the knowledge and encouragement for climbers to reach their ultimate goals.  And Eric does that for me.  In running AND in life. 


So when I went to the starting corrals alone on Sunday, I felt cold and lonely at first.  Like I’d been ditched.  Except I wasn’t alone.  Even though he wasn’t running, Eric had plans for a busy Sunday morning (which I’m sure kept him busy plenty of other mornings, afternoons and nights, too).  He worked hard, organizing friends and family to meet me throughout the race course.  AND he and Leanne rode their bikes around the course, being my “crew”–grabbing gear as I ditched it, refilling my water bottles, and shouting encouragement at me.  For some reason, on Sunday, my mind and body didn’t want to cooperate.  Eric helped me push through all of that.  He picked people out for me to try to catch.  He reminded me of the good work I’d done leading up to the marathon.  He shouted “Nino’s and beer!” over and over (he may have wanted me to finish faster so HE could get to the pizza faster haha).  When I wanted him to leave me to die alone, he didn’t.  Sometimes he told me to get over it and sometimes he just let me wallow in my self-pity.  “What do you need? What can I do for you? “he kept asking.  There were points when I didn’t even respond, lost in my own discomfort and pain, but still acutely aware of him riding away slowly to wait for me a little ways down the road.

I felt like complete crap for most of the last 16 miles of the race.  Yet I remember smiling a lot.  How could I not?  Everywhere I looked, there were people who loved me and who wanted me to do my best, and my best was exactly whatever I was doing at that moment.  And those people were there because of one person’s love for me.  And the magnitude of that choked me up and even brought me to tears a few times yesterday and today.  And along with all of my friends and family, he was always there.  In moments of extreme pain or mental weakness, I found myself looking for his orange (and Leanne’s pale blue).  Even if they weren’t watching me, seeing them nearby let me know I wasn’t alone. 

And that’s the cool thing about being married to Eric.  I know I’m never alone.  Even when sometimes I really want to be (like at Mile 22, when what I wanted most was to crawl into a bush on the side of the road and take a nap), my partner in crime is always there, maybe not right next to me, but just up the road a ways, waiting for me to catch up.  Or just behind me, telling all of the people behind me that he is sleeping with me, and how lucky is he for that?  Or rallying friends and family to his favorite chant: “Hooray for Shme! Hooray at last! Hooray for Shme, she’s a horse’s ass!”  Even though I was hurting, suffering, miserable, I couldn’t help but laugh and smile through it.

If you had asked me back in 2006 when I first met him if I thought I’d marry him, I’d have laughed.  If you had asked me if I thought I was capable of running a marathon (or two), I’d have laughed hard enough to cry.  Yet here I am, sitting in my house tonight, surrounded by streamers, balloons, twirly-do’s and toilet paper finish banners that I could run through  (secretly decorated by friends who couldn’t make it to Buffalo, but wanted to participate in the Sherpas for Shme movement).  And I’m crying again.  I said in my first post that if I had to summarize my 2nd marathon experience up in one word, the word would be love.  And I owe that to the guy sitting next to me on the couch, who I love so much.

So the last  person, and the most important person I have to thank for my amazing marathon experience is my husband, the most amazing Sherpa a girl could ever ask for. I love you mucho, Eric, and I am so thankful for all of the amazing ways you have shaped my life and made me a better, stronger person, physically and mentally.  So when is your next big race, so I can take a turn at sherpa-duty??



2 Responses to “The Sherpa”

  1. Trails2Brews May 28, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    So proud of you! So glad to have been part of it, and so happy to bring you some motivation and most of all, love to your race. Love you this post is so “us” You are the best!

  2. mom May 28, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

    U are an amazing daughter and an amazing couple… I am so proud of all that u have accomplished as a woman, and as a couple….I love u both….

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