In the enlightened words of the iconic philosopher Kelly Clarkson, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I’m at least 81% certain Clarkson was referring to running an ultramarathon with your spouse. What I think she meant to say was, “If the miles don’t kill you and your spouse doesn’t kill you before making it to the finish line, your relationship will become stronger.” Unfortunately that phrase is just too wordy to turn into a Billboard-topping pop song.
I’ve had some personal experiences running an ultramarathon with a spouse. I ran every step of a 100-miler with my wife, Mel. I also DNF’d a 100-miler with her. During both experiences, the miles tried to kill us. And at some point (okay, multiple points) during each race, we wanted to kill each other. Luckily those experiences made our relationship grow even stronger.
Our 100-mile finish came at the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival where Mel decided to run her very first 100-miler. We shared many miles together training for the race, but nothing in training can quite simulate how challenging a 100-miler really is.
During the race, Mel had the usual highs and lows, but it wasn’t until around mile 70 when those lows got even lower. Quiet tears streamed down her face, mile after mile. Through her crying she said, “Cory, I’m not sure I can do this.” I tried to normalize how she was feeling, and told her that everyone else was struggling as much as she was. I tried to encourage and support her.
She managed to fulfill the most important requirement for completing an ultramarathon: relentless forward progress. Finally, after 100 miles together, we were each holding a belt buckle. I was so incredibly proud of Mel for earning her first buckle. And Mel was so incredibly proud of herself for being strong, brave and determined. At the finish line, she said, “I’m never doing that again.”
You know where this story is leading. Of course her sentiment lasted approximately four days before I started seeing her wandering around Ultrasignup.
Before I knew it, we were training for the Badger 100. Then, a few months later we were in Wisconsin for the race. The scenery was absolutely incredible. The vibe of the race was happy, fun and encouraging. Unfortunately this little adventure didn’t end with buckles. At mile 47, we knew we wouldn’t be able to make cutoffs and accepted DNFs. It was one of those days where things just didn’t quite click.
Because of these experiences, I feel it would be valuable to provide eight helpful tips should you decide to run an ultramarathon with your spouse. If followed, I’m almost certain your choice won’t end in divorce.
- Ignore comments made out of “hanger,” that deadly combination of hunger and anger. (Keep a pack of M&M’s handy to toss into your spouse’s mouth if they start getting too sassy. Yes, you will look like a trainer at SeaWorld tossing fish into a dolphin’s mouth. Deal with it.)
- Ignore comments made at 4:30 a.m. (I may or may not have heard, “Your motivational speech isn’t helping at all.”)
- Ignore comments caused by weather. (“$%^&! I’m so sick of this *@&#% wind!”)
- Hire a marriage therapist to be your pacer.
- When you start getting sleepy, initiate a spontaneous dance party. (May I humbly suggest avoiding the song “Another One Bites the Dust.”)
- Prepare for how to handle a bonk. Or more accurately, bonks. (There is nothing more romantic than taking turns bonking.)
- Be willing to accept tough love. (The jury is still out on whether the phrase “Suck it up buttercup,” directed toward a spouse is permissible during an ultra.)
- Don’t take anything personally. (Once the lactic acid begins to fade and electrolytes begin to balance, it’s almost certain that your spouse will start talking to you again.)
While running, I was often distracted from my own struggles by focusing on supporting her. I’m sure she received the same benefit of distraction when she supported me during my low times.
Whether the race ends with a buckle or not, those miles shared with a spouse are special. Memories mean more than buckles anyway. Deciding to run an ultra with a spouse guarantees adventure, and plenty of “We’ll look back on this and laugh” moments. Of all the races I’ve run, those miles with Mel have been among my favorites.