The Wife of an ultra runner

The Wife of an ultra runner May 02 2016, 2 Comments

Guest writer, Katara Hause

Welcome to my world…piled high with sweat-stained clothes, heaps of colorful shoes, stacks of trail maps, and masses of mismatched water bottles and lids.  This is the life of a runner’s wife; a long-distance, trail runner’s wife to be exact.  If your significant other is a member of the ever-growing competitive running community, this is familiar territory.  If you’re new to this lifestyle, grab a seat, take a load off, and allow me to enlighten you:)

Maybe your story started as ours did, or maybe you knew what you were getting yourself into.  Either way, just as our runners have their community to support, encourage, and commiserate with, we (those of us supporting them) gotta stick together too!  Wouldn’t it be nice to know you’re not alone on this journey?  I assure you there are others who share your frustrations, anxieties, eye-roll moments, immeasurable pride, and uncontained exuberance.  So, buckle up…here we go!

My husband didn’t start out as an ultra runner…he didn’t start out as a runner at all.  He was fit, of course, but not a gym rat or even a regular exerciser.  Then, one day, he casually said, “I’m going to start running!”  Okay.  Sure.  Whatever you want, dear.

As I write, he is in full-bore training mode for his first hundo, and only half-jokingly, plans for another 100 mile, back-to-back 50’s, or some blind-folded, in-the-dark- dropped-off-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-with-no-support kind of jacked up race later in the year.  I think he mentions these events just to gauge my reaction! 

He scoffs at some of the “crazy” people he hears or reads about, who run weeks’ long races through entire national forests (the same way he once scoffed at folks doing what he now does every day!).  “How could they do that?”, he asks, and in the same breath nonchalantly mentions he will be spending his day off this week running 35 miles in the rain on one of the toughest trails in the area…all in the name of fun.  

Welcome to the world of ultra running.  Or more succinctly, the world of supporting, loving, and living with an ultra runner!  Here’s what you need to know:

1.       He will NEVER own enough pairs of running shoes and they will seemingly multiply overnight!

Shoes of numerous colors and styles will infiltrate EVERY room of the house, both cars, and likely the patio and deck.  What looks like “just another running shoe” to you, may be THE missing half of his favorite pair of “low-drop, light-weight, mid-range, trail” shoes.  At least once a week, a full-blown, all-out search by every member of the family will be required to reunite these lost and separated pairs!

Your runner will be able to readily recite the exact mileage on each pair of shoes at any given moment, and will always be needing “another couple pairs” to hold him over.  And NONE of these shoes constitute every day runaround shoes.  Those are a completely different animal.

Tip: Invest in a boot/shoe dryer.  We were gifted one for Christmas and though I didn’t see the purpose early on, it’s become a very useful tool!

2.       He will NEVER own enough gear.

Gear is a general term used to refer to all items outside of shoes and clothing, including but not limited to: water bottles, hats, visors, sunglasses, headphones, chargers, hydropacks, supplements, compression sleeves, etc.  For a long run on a hot day, gathering all the accessories necessary can be exhausting in and of itself!

And even if there is a specified place to store all said gear, it will end up covering every open surface in your home!  My daily ritual now includes picking up various running paraphernalia and placing it on his nightstand for sorting and storage.

Tips: a. Encourage your runner to (at a minimum) rinse all said gear immediately after the run and hang to air dry.  This will reduce the potential for gear to end up at the bottom of a hamper or piled on the floor becoming a breeding ground for bacteria and mildew growth —YUCK!! 
  
b. Find a reliable disinfectant/deodorizer safe for clothing and gear which can be used as a soaking mechanism and keep plenty of stock!
c. Don’t invest in high-end sunglasses or headphones!  These invariably end up falling off, falling out, getting left behind, or breaking on a regular basis.  Consider these items disposable and stock-up so replacements are available at a moment’s notice.

3.       His favorite “non-running” clothing will only consist of logo’d apparel representing choice running gear or race swag.  

Whether your runner is loyal to a particular shoe brand, or devoted to a specific race series, there is a certain level of elitism that goes along with this level of competitive running.  They are dedicated to the sport and want everyone to know it:)

Tip: Don’t bother buying him off-the-rack t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, etc.  Find out his favorite brands, manufacturers, and race sponsors…go direct to these sources for every day, casual clothing options.  Pass along this information to friends and family for easy gifting options as well!

4.       He will INHALE anything resembling food after a long run!  

My husband has always had a super-quick (and disturbingly enviable) metabolism.  After a long-distance run, his appetite is nearly insatiable!  I guess if he’s burning 10,000 calories, he can rightfully eat anything and everything he wants:)

I try to always keep lots of healthy options available to hold him over in between meals; Greek yogurt, raw almonds, hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, and homemade granola.  But he is just as likely to grab a snack bag of Doritos, a banana, and one of his favorite IPA’s (not necessarily in that order) on his way to the shower.  Bottom line: keep your fridge and pantry stocked at ALL times!

Tip: Buy and use a powerful blender made specifically for protein shakes!  We have found various combinations of raw veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and spices that help reduce inflammation, diminish pain, ease muscle cramping, and moderate metabolism.  It’s been life-changing and has significantly improved his training and race preparation.

5.       Get used to “me time.”  

If you live in an area like we do, which celebrates the start of hunting season with the fervor and tenacity of shoppers on Black Friday, then you are familiar with the term “hunter’s widow”.  Well, I’m here to introduce you to a similar phenomenon…the runner’s widow.  The endurance required to train for and complete long-distance races, requires many hours spent running.  Early mornings, evenings, weekends, holidays…any time is a good time to run (so I’ve been told).  

You will spend a lot of time physically and emotionally supporting your runner, so when he doesn’t “need” you, find a hobby or activity which gives you a sense of accomplishment and which brings you joy.  To give your best to your runner, you have to be confident in your own worth and content in your existence.  

Tip: Discover your own passion.  Maybe you are also a runner.  Or maybe you enjoy yoga, or photography, or cooking.  Whatever it is, use the time your runner is away, to feed your soul in a way that rejuvenates and inspires!

6.       His “social circle” will now include runners of like mind and communication with this group will consume an inordinate amount of time and energy.

My husband does the majority of his training solo.  Only on the rare occasion will he team up with someone and run together.  However, his “peeps” depend on him to pontificate the benefits of running, provide motivational inspiration, offer proper hydration methods, demonstrate cross-training techniques, and share the topographic features of all his local trails.  Needless to say, he is in high demand!

His post-run priority will consist of posting said notions to all active social media sights, including but not limited to FB, IG, and Twitter.  Only after this has been successfully completed, will he entertain the thought of toweling off and removing his mud-covered shoes.   Many hours post-run will be spent reading, smirking, and responding to comments on these posts.

Tip: Don’t take your runner’s non-response or delayed response personally.  Much of this journey can only truly be shared by folks on similar journeys.  If you, like me, are NOT a “real” runner, we find ourselves outside the circle of trust.  Find other ways to connect to your runner without undermining their dedication and efforts.

7.       Remember he loves you more than running (even though it doesn’t seem that way sometimes!).

It’s hard not to feel like running is his clandestine affair.  He leaves quietly, before dawn breaks so as not to wake you.  He leaves a note by the bedside and you’re not sure when he’ll be back.  You know while he’s away, he’s happy, fulfilled, and care free.  When he’s not actually on the trails, he’s posting/blogging/dreaming of/planning for/talking about/reading up on/shopping for…running.  Especially during the height of training before a big event, it seems all-consuming.  

It’s easy for the mind to wonder, “Is running getting the best of him?”  “Does running do something for him that I can’t?”

Well, the answers to those questions are no and yes respectively.  Running makes him the best he can be.  It centers him.  It fills him with a sense of achievement and confidence.  It gives him an outlet for his frustrations, worries, and anger.  He pushes his body and mind further than 99% of the population believes is possible.  He takes care of himself so he can take care of you.  Put simply, it allows him to give you his best possible self.

Running absolutely does things for him that you can’t…and what a blessing!  If his happiness, serenity, and self-esteem were solely your responsibility, imagine the burden it would place on you personally or the strain it would cause your partnership.  The impact could be catastrophic!   

But, he loves you.  And he needs you.  He wouldn’t be able to do what he does without you.  You take care of all the other important “to-do’s” in his life, so he can focus on the next run, the next race, the next challenge.  He knows this and he will thank you in big and small ways every day.  You just need to be present enough to recognize and appreciate them!  

Tip: Don’t let bitterness or jealousy play a part in your relationship.  These are “energy suckers” and will feed on your insecurities and faithlessness.  Communicate your feelings with your runner and try to keep your emotions in check (tough, I know!).  

8.       Crewing is a critical part of the process.

At no time will you feel more a part of your runner’s success or failure than while crewing at an event.  From the days before preparations, to the early wake-up call on race day, to the start gun and to the finish line, you’ll get wrapped up in the anticipation, excitement, anxiety, disappointment and triumph right along with them.

As his lifeline, it will be your responsibility to predict what he will need each step of the way.  I can’t stress it enough…BE PREPARED!!  I’m a planner by nature, but if you don’t share my propensity for making lists and organizational charts, you need to find your own way of managing race days.  Familiarize yourself with all the supplements, powders, chews, gummies, pain killers and food stuffs your runner prefers before, during, and after a race.  

Sometimes you will know what he needs before/better than he does.  Don’t be afraid to be firm in your suggestions for nutrition, hydration, and first aid during check points.  There are such things as a “runner's high” and delirium which can cause your runner to feel better or more indestructible than they actually are.  Remind them of the race plan and the importance of sticking to it.

With that said, flexibility is also important.  Make sure various food options are ready for him to grab-n-go at all times…half a peeled banana, peanut butter and jelly mini sandwiches, beef jerky, flat Mt. Dew, etc.  Depending on how the race is going, the temps, humidity, and so on, his needs and his wants will vary greatly.  Better to have every scenario covered, than to find out you forgot the one thing he has now decided is critical!

As important as nutrition and hydration are, a well-stocked and easy-to-transport first aid kit is essential.  All the basics should be packed along with smelling salts, toothpaste, ace bandages, replacement shoe ties, disinfectant/baby wipes, Tums, gum, sunblock, and bug spray.

You are not only responsible for nourishment and first aid, but also for attending to the emotional needs of your runner; knowing when they need that encouraging word or swift kick in the backside is something only you can provide.  Letting them vent can be difficult and humbling, but it may be exactly what they need to clear their head and “get them in the zone”…all part of our crewing responsibilities.

Tip: You know what they say about the best laid plans…inevitably, something crucial will be forgotten, lost, misplaced, or broken.  Forgive yourself (and your runner) for the mid-race argument that may ensue!

9.       You will never stop worrying.

Aside from being in the best physical shape of his life, my husband has had his fair share of running-related and completely fluky injuries.  There was the corneal abrasion which laid him out for two weeks; the puncture wound in his foot which subsequently became infected and required a week-long hospital stay; the partially torn calf muscle thanks to a pick-up basketball game with our boys.  Numerous training delays due to Achilles tendonosis, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures have also occurred.  So pardon me if I worry…regardless of weather conditions, length of run, or training vs. race day.

I send him off with a kiss and reminders like, “Don’t go out too fast”, “Run YOUR race, not anyone else’s”, and “Be safe”.  What I really want to say is, “Please, please, please come back to me in one piece!!!”

For me, this is TOTALLY a control thing…I’m not a runner and have no real desire to put my body through the literal gut-wrenching tests of fortitude.  I cannot comprehend what it takes to push my body beyond what my mind thinks possible.  Because I can’t understand it, I worry.  Sharing in all the race-day excitement is a gift, but after the gun sounds, I’m left with faith and prayer as my only companions until the next aid station check-in.  During those early morning or late night training runs, sleep is NOT my friend and only comes fleetingly when exhaustion finally wins over angst.

Tip: Worry, but don’t obsess.  Share any safety concerns with your runner and help them understand and appreciate your fears.  Take precautions where necessary and let the rest go!

So, welcome to the club!  From one runner’s widow to another, I challenge you to embrace the lifestyle with all its quirks and eccentricities.  Go willingly and eagerly on this journey with your runner and amidst the chaotic schedule, mounds of laundry, and empty pantry, remember these are the signs of a healthy, happy runner…job well done!