More on running and spouses

As a follow up to my Finding Balance post, the current Runner's World (April 2010) has some interesting articles about running and non-running spouses (as well as being a running mom). The articles are excerpts from a book titled, Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving - and Not Lose Your Family, Job or Sanity by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea.

From "The Two-Jock House":
"My husband likes to sweat. Exercise is like a toy both are kids are yanking at; somebody can play with it now, somebody has to wait to play with it later."

From "The Spouse: Married to a Nonrunner":
Husbands fall into two camps: those who run, or do similar sweaty endeavors, and those who don't...How do I know? Because I've had one of each. (her second husband is the non-runner).

When our marriage broke up unexpectedly (to me, anyway), I was bereft of a running partner as well as a life partner. Both were tough losses. so I daydreamed about replacing both by meeting a supersporty guy, someone with even more get-up-and-go than I have...

And then I met Jack. A guy who had last sprinted while trying to catch the El on his way to work...

...Like so many mommies, I run on weekdays while the rest of the clan is still deep in sleep. But on weekends, I head out after the sun has risen, and that leads to resentment. 

Interesting articles, worth grabbing a copy of the magazine or picking up the book.


I recently finished the book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes by William Bridges. It had been recommended by my counselor, and it was quite good.

A friend asked recently for my thoughts on some of the books I have been reading. Her comment was something to the effect that most self-help books sound great when you read the brief synopsis, but turn out to be mostly common sense. I can't really argue with that, but often it is in the way someone tells you something, even something you already know, that helps bring understanding. Whether it is a person or a piece of reading, we sometimes just need something outside ourselves to dust off our lens of vision.

In the book the author explains that we go through many transitions in our lives, great and small. He says they largely follow the pattern of - an ending, followed by a neutral zone, and then ultimately a new beginning. Common sense right? But the book does a great job of helping you understand the path through transition.

Endings are difficult. Most of us avoid them and their discomfort whenever possible. Some also ease the pain by beginning something new before the ending takes place, like beginning a new relationship before ending the current one. And the pain of the ending is not always related to the apparent importance of the change. "One person may be brought to a complete standstill by a divorce or a job loss, but another person may take it in stride. Someone else may come to terms with a debilitating illness and then be demolished by the loss of a beloved pet".

But it is important to experience the ending, to take the time to mourn. We shouldn't fight the experience or let others talk us out of it. "You are not the first person who ever lost a job (or moved or had heart surgery), but telling you that is of no help." Of course we need to try to keep things in perspective, and not imagine that there is no sequel, but we should not gloss over it like it is nothing. Your pain is your pain, and it is legitimate.

The second stage is the neutral zone, and it is probably the most important. Most people rush through this stage because it is a time of vagueness and uncertainty. It is a time when it feels like nothing important is happening, where we feel lost. It is a common reaction to change external things rather than work on the internal changes that need to happen. Many people distract themselves with shiny things and filling their lives with busyness.

But it is in this neutral time where most of the work is done (even if it doesn't feel like it). It is in the fallow time that the soil is renewed, and during sleep when our body repairs itself. The neutral time is like a "fertile time-out" where we can turn down the noise to listen for those quiet voices of healing to appear.

But it is difficult to be patient. We want to feel like we are "going somewhere". And it is also difficult to explain this time to friends and family. "'I want to think things over, I guess,' we say a little lamely. But then it turns out that once we are out there, we don't really think in a way that produces definite results. Instead, we walk the beaches or the back streets. We sit in the park or movie theater. We watch the people or the clouds. 'I didn't do much of anything,' we report upon on our return. And we feel a little defensive, as though we failed to deliver on our promise".

But the author assures us we shouldn't feel defensive. It is in the neutral zone that we get a angle of looking at things we don't get anywhere else. It is in this time of "attentive inactivity" that we see beyond the "reflected light of the familiar surface of things and see what is really there in the depths." It is a time of reorientation and realignment as you move from one phase of life to another.

Reading this book has helped reaffirm that what I am doing right now is important, and that I am making progress even if I can't point to something tangible yet. I am fortunate to be able to take this time away from things through the support of family, friends and even J. I don't know what I will find, or even if I will be able to explain it, but I believe that this time in the neutral zone will prepare me for what comes next.

I have only stepped away for a while, and I will still be "me" when I return. I have more reading and discovery ahead, and there will be plenty of work as I move toward a new beginnig. As the author says, the neutral zone is a "great place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.," And as he quotes in the book "As a wonderful Zen saying expresses it, 'After enlightenment, the laundry'."

Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes

Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, Revised 25th Anniversary Edition

From unexpected places

I have recently moved from Washington to California to try to "learn the points of compass again" as I begin a new life. I felt that a new place would open me to experiences I might not attempt in the relative comfort of home. I am staying with some wonderful friends and the first month has gone well.

Instead of tv, they watch a fair number of movies. As they pull DVDs from their shelves or from Netflix pouches and ask me, "have you seen this one", it has become clear that I woefully behind on the cinema. We have seen some good films together including some smaller hits like: Spellbound, August Rush, and The Sandlot (now I get the reference of "you're killing me Smalls!").

Last night's flick was the 2009 remake of Fame. It's not exactly going to stand as a classic, but it was decent. There was a scene toward the end that I thought was good/poignant. The student Malik carries a lot of anger from his past, and throughout the film, his teacher Mr. Dowd reaches out to try to help. In their final scene together, he says:

"All that your ashamed of, 
all the parts of yourself that you keep secret, 
everything you want to change about yourself -
it's who you are. 
That's your power. 
Deny it, and you're nothing. 
And you'll never be much of an actor. 
Now you're good Malik, 
but you've got to start breaking down those walls 
and accept your circumstances. 
Just tell the truth."

Finding balance

There was an episode on the podcast "Running with the Pack" where they talked about what they called "mixed marriages" - those with one spouse who runs and one that doesn't. The woman on the podcast is recently divorced, and her husband was not a runner. They were discussing if it was more difficult than if both partners run, logistics, and the pressures to fit everything in.

When J and I met in 1999, I wasn't doing anything active beyond working in construction. She said she used to run regularly, but wasn't by the time we met. I started biking in 2002 and running in 2005. I kept it up as a way to challenge myself and stay in shape. It became an important part of my life and a great way to spend time with friends. Running has also been a great thing for my state of mind, a time to quiet the inner chatter and leave problems at the side of the road.

But both the events and all of the training took up a fair amount of time. Our time. J toyed with running and biking, which would have been great to do together, but neither of them stuck. So it ended up being mostly a solo pursuit.

But J was definitely involved. She bought me my first books about running, supported me at many of my events, and helped make my bike trip down the Pacific Coast possible. When she flew down to meet meet me in San Francisco, I said "we need to find a two week adventure for you, something I can support and help make happen." Unfortunately, she never decided on anything.

I participated in more and more things, and by 2007 I entered 16 different events. J was there for many of them to support and cheer me on, and I was very appreciative to find her in my corner. I thought things settled down a bit in 2008, but as I look back it turns out it was just as busy.

It is funny how your perceptions are so different from reality. I thought that J had been schlepping out to nearly all of the events, and that I had cut way back in 2008. It turns out that I had 17 events in 2008, an increase not a decrease, and that for the events she wasn't participating in, J was actually there for a bit over half of them in 2007 and 2008. In my head, I was giving both of us a bit too much credit.

I found out in counseling that she grew to resent being the "running wife". At the peak, there was at least one event every month. Too many weekends spent doing something that was almost entirely about me. I know I said a few times that she didn't need to be there, but of course she felt an obligation. The running and biking may have been doing me a lot of good, but it put a strain on our relationship and marriage. Both of us valued our "alone" time, and weren't one of those couples that felt we had to do everything together, but the training and events definitely cut into our "couple" time.

In 2009 I only participated in seven events, and planned to do my weekend training in the wee hours before she got out of bed so we could have the day to spend together. But these changes came too late. Like so many things, I wished she had spoke up long before it grew into resentment, instead of waiting until counseling to make her feelings known. Of course I should have been more considerate, and I suppose not accepted her answer of "I don't mind".

As counseling went on, it appeared that this was not one of our major problems, but it clearly was a source of frustration for her. And it was something tangible to point to that represented our lack of communication and understanding of each other's needs.

I certainly don't regret that running, biking and exercise have become a part of my life. I feel better both mentally and physically for having gone out on the roads, and I think that carries over to my relationships and the rest of my life. But I definitely could have done a better job of managing the negative impacts. In the end it becomes a balance between taking care of yourself, and taking care of your family. A balance I didn't strike very well.