SALT LAKE CITY — In 1997 I ran my first marathon to impress a woman.
I was 29 years old and able to run sub 20-minute 5Ks. I ran injury free and weighed in at about 170 pounds.
The mechanics of running – legs moving, arms pumping, sounds of measured breaths, feet rhythmically pounding – had already drawn me in as an adult.
I hadn't taken up running until my senior year of college when I had three roommates, who preferred drugs to studying, two dropped out.
I quickly discovered a love of racing. I liked to go fast.
There’s a third-place trophy in a box somewhere, but not much other proof exists that I actually was sort of speedy.
Distance didn’t interest me until it seemed top-three finisher speeds were usually just out of reach.
I needed other goals.
Finishing a marathon seemed the way to go on so many levels.
When that woman, Lisa, and I were dating 15 years ago we hiked and biked together.
We’d eventually run together.
The image is as clear in my mind today as it is on photo paper of a proudly smiling Lisa crossing the finish line of her first half marathon.
We were active, vibrant and very much enjoying new love, and we were in great shape.
Her brother had entered the 1997 Chicago Marathon, and so I signed up. My longest training run was about 10 miles. I didn’t take the distance seriously enough.
It took me 4 hours, 23 minutes to finish my first 26.2-mile race.
I’ve finished eight more marathons since then: five in 2003 when my fastest time was close to 3:30, short of achieving my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
There was one marathon in 2004, and later that year I had knee surgery. That was the first blow to a running life.
Then in 2005 unimaginable tragedy struck.
Lisa lost her legs above the knees and her right arm above the elbow due to an illness after the birth of our second daughter.
The amputations saved her life.
And then we discovered hellish times. We were thrown into what initially seemed like desperate searches for moments of triumph or for stretches of what at least resembled simplicity or normalcy.
By that time our marriage already needed help. We’d soon find out it needed even more triage and treatment.
Our children have been in therapy. Lisa and I have been through counseling. Lisa has been seeking individual help to deal with everything.
We’ve moved twice. We sued and settled. I quit a 10-year journalism job I loved to be at home more with Lisa and the girls, and I’ve embarked on a new career as a freelance photographer.
Lisa learned to walk again. She learned to drive. She’s had her own mountains to climb – and has handled it with amazing grace, dignity, calm and patience.
But I also changed — and not always for the better.
Almost my entire focus would soon become our girls.
Then I’d learn my aim had thrown our marriage even more out of balance.
Soon I was no longer certain who I was or who I was supposed to be.
Along the way I gave up on running.
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