If our house was on the verge of burning to the ground and my husband had time to grab just one possession, he would flee with his running shoes.
Not the vintage baseball card collection passed down by his deceased father. Nor the irreplaceable family photo albums capturing our babies’ first smiles. Not even his plethora of prized electronic devices—iPad, iPod, Xbox.
Nope. If flames loomed outside our doorstep, he would choose to save the sneakers.
Let me assure you, this is not just an educated best guess on my part. Last May, as San Diego’s North County came under siege with six wildfires burning simultaneously, our rural property lay smack in the middle of them all. And, in the (highly likely) event you’re still puzzled by my husband’s choice, let me be clear: He did not need the shoes to outrun the fire.
Instead, he was safely ensconced in Interstate 5 gridlock, attempting to make his way home from work as I raced around our home snatching up as many sentimental possessions as I could cram into my SUV while giving him harried updates via cell phone. “What do you want me to take of yours?” I had asked, pausing breathless at his closet door, completely unprepared for his answer.
The shoes wouldn’t have always been his first request. But ever since my spouse had jumped on the running bandwagon several months earlier, a lot of things were different. It’s enough to make me wonder sometimes if I’m living with a teenage girl, because my hubby’s exercise routine is remarkably similar:
1. It doesn’t respond to nagging. My better half’s aversion to fitness was steeped in tradition: years of circling the grocery store parking lot to score the closest spot, among other rituals. We once got into an argument because he wanted to keep our 3-year-old’s toothbrush in the downstairs bathroom so he wouldn’t have to ascend the dozen steps each night to help her thwart tooth decay.
Over the years, I had managed to chip away at many of my husband’s unhealthy habits, from converting the fast food junkie who could barely identify a green vegetable to weaning him from his daily Double Big Gulp soda fix. But no matter how much I begged, pleaded, harassed, bribed, encouraged or—OK, maybe just once or twice—nagged, I could not get the man to exercise. It took a scourge of alarming blood test results and his doctor’s subsequent threat of medication to spark a dramatic change in my man, but suddenly—cue Chariots of Fire theme song—the flame was lit.
2. A new personality emerges overnight. My husband ventured into exercise first by walking briskly a few times a week (all the while complaining about how painfully long the 20-minute intervals were). But before I knew it, he had taken to jogging the hillsides. Not long after, he had miraculously rekindled his high school passion for distance running. Who was this new person living under my roof?
3. It’s all about the clothes. You know the men you see casually jogging through the neighborhood after work, sporting a simple T-shirt and a pair of old Nikes? Yup, well that is not my husband. While he may not primp and preen in front of the mirror for hours like a typical teen, he does make darn sure that he’s optimally outfitted.
It began with a declaration that his existing athletic shorts were “too long” for his fitness routine. After purchasing several pairs of designated running shorts—the seams reduced a whole inch in length—he then required complementary shirts, because who doesn’t love breathable, moisture-wicking poly blends? But it didn’t stop there. Next came a trip to the sporting goods store for special underwear to protect his manly parts from chafing, followed by bags of ankle-length socks, and then more apparel (apparently I wasn’t washing the original buys fast enough). His clothing bill tallied up faster than the dreaded teenage back-to-school shopping spree.
4. It’s all about the shoes. Properly attired, my husband’s focus then turned to footwear. And—surprise!—those widely available and attractively priced generic athletic sneakers? Not appropriate for Running Man, who scoured Internet reviews for hours before dropping $240 on his first pair of specially engineered ASICS off-road beauties.
5. It’s all about the technology. Nobody has any clue when my tires were last rotated, but you can be sure the tread on my husband’s running shoes is being carefully monitored—lest you wonder how many miles he’s jogged in that fancy new footgear, don’t worry, there’s an app for that. His iPhone is also equipped with a plethora of programs that not only log the number of miles he’s loped, but graph the grade of every slope, analyze each palpitation of his heart, compute calories burned, and register every last bead of sweat. (And while this may not classify as technology, did you know there’s even a runner’s fanny pack, which holsters a pair of small water bottles that astoundingly do not jiggle while one strides?)
6. It’s all about him—though my spouse would undoubtedly deem this as “being in the zone.” There’s one text I absolutely hate to receive from my husband; it goes something like this: “Hi Honey! I forgot to tell you that I’m stopping to run on my way home from work tonight!” He chooses this passive mode of communication over phoning, so he doesn’t have to be assaulted by the ensuing shitstorm from his wife. Yep, that’s me, the one who has spent all day long juggling work, kids, chauffeur schedules of said kids, grocery shopping, cooking—pausing briefly to yearn for a moment of exercise for myself (denied!)—and who now could really use a little freaking break! Because what his text really means is he won’t be home for dinner, or bath time, or story time, and when he finally saunters through the door just in time for bedtime, he will first need to mix up his exclusive runner’s recovery shake, and then shower, and then reheat the dinner I have so graciously left for him, until he’s finally ready to join the family activity. Unfortunately, at this point, we have all crashed for the night.
Even more, my husband is now committed to running two half-marathons per year, and has just added a grueling mud run to his 2015 lineup. Translation: He exists in a perennial state of intense “training,” which encompasses a whole other time-consuming regimen too cumbersome to detail.
7. You love them through the stage. I’ll admit it, I don’t understand the obsession. It’s not the way I would have chosen to map out his exercise course. But if we’re being perfectly honest here, my husband has transformed into kind of a badass. At 50, he’s got quads that rival a college athlete’s, and he now scales the stairs for fluoride with total finesse. His office wall displays race medals and framed photos of finish line crossings. His closet: littered with ASICS, packets of GU Energy Chews and an endless supply of (rather sexy) shorty shorts.
If he needs all of these external elements to keep him motivated, then so be it. If running is his designated midlife crisis, then hey, I’m the first to admit, things could be much worse. And if the spring in his step makes him as giddy as a teenage girl, then I resolve to take it all in stride.
Because ultimately, my husband is adding years—possibly even decades—to his life.
And that’s an amazing change of pace for the future of our family.
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