I am a trail runner married to a trail runner. We were not trail runners when we met. We are now. Eight years for me, five for Todd. I frequently get asked: How do I get my partner/spouse/bestie to love running trails like I do? Here’s my pearl of wisdom: You don’t.
When I started running trails, I had a sports watch like all serious road runners do, with a heart-rate monitor, of course, and data to impress any triathlete. It was the first ever bezel watch, a piece of crap device that I wanted to throw in the river as many times as I used it. I lost the watch on a 20-km run in the winter, went into the woods for a pee and a coyote absconded with it (pretty sure). I was more grateful than disappointed, hoping the coyote wearing my watch would get better use out of it than me. One year later, the company contacted me: Someone had found my watch. I offered the kind finder a reward and reluctantly took back my wayward device who’d become like an old dog lost in the country finding its way back home. I retired the watch but couldn’t get rid of it. Too many memories. Last month, I lent the watch to a friend who finally broke the damn thing for good. May it rest in peace.
The watch is important for reasons other than training. It tells the story of my first trail running experience. In 2009, I signed up for a Five Peaks 7-km trail race in Terwillegar Dog Park. It’s a park in the city that dogs walk. How hard can it be? Heart-rate monitor strapped in place, finger poised on the “run” button of my watch, I bolted across the start line. Pace is good, trails are nice, cadence correct. And then I died. Where did all these hills come from? Is that actually a trail? Why are there medics in the woods?? My chest monitor, set to beep when my heart-rate exceeded 170 bpm, became a symphony of hysterical shrieks throughout the course. My apologies to passing racers who rolled their eyes at me (“Newbie”) eventually turned into weak arms flapping them by as my oxygen-deprived brain coughed blood into wheezing legs.
And so began my love affair with the trails, a sometimes dysfunctional relationship of suffering and forgiveness, understanding and acceptance. I’d sign up for trail races, get a finisher’s shirt in Todd’s size, thank him for taking care of three little toddlers while I snuck away for guilty pleasures. He’d listen to my excited stories when I returned, smile and nod. “Good for you. Sounds crazy. Glad you had fun.” I never asked Todd to join me, not once. This was my fun, my sanity, my agonizing pleasure.
Then, in the most unexpected of ways, the trail bug bit Todd. In 2012, I had been invited to join a Canadian Death Race relay team, my first mountain race ever! Being new to that scene, I had this grand idea that the family would enjoy a camping weekend in the mountains, during which I would carve out a few hours to run 21-km for my team. I have since learned that a mountain race is a jealous mistress, demanding your entire attention while mocking empty hotel rooms and desolate campsites that beg for attention.
As Todd drove my team all over the countryside with our then Littles squashed on strangers-now-friends’ laps and a panting Labrador crammed in the back, the Trail Mistress seduced him. Like a siren beckoning, she reeled him in with the promise of adventure. Bloodied knees, dehydrated runners, muddied smiles. “Now THIS I could do.” And THAT is what he has done since, from his first run six months later to mountain 100-milers that he now gleefully repeats in rapid succession.
So, when I’m asked how I got my husband to run trails with me, I speak the truth: I didn’t. And I tell them the reality of a trail running couple: We don’t spend more time together because we both run trails – probably less. We just have better conversations.