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January 7, 2020

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”-Spartan.com

My wife and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary this year, and I am chasing her tail with a renewed sense of vigor.

You see, in the last few months we’ve come to enjoy trail running together, and my wife usually sets the pace, which means her backside is my focal point—kind of like the pacesetting rabbit at the greyhound races.

So why take up an activity like this now?  Having both passed the half-century mark, what possessed us to begin running up and down the hilly trails around town?  To answer that, we need to go back 15 years…

Like many families, my wife Amy and I were busy with work and raising kids.  We pursued an active lifestyle, coaching our kids’ athletic teams, and playing outside as often as we could.  Amy and I were both raised in active families and just naturally continued that lifestyle with our children.  However, we never had a formal “exercise regimen” as part of our schedule.  Life had settled into a routine of sorts.  

Then, I received a heart-wrenching phone call.  Amy and the kids had gone to spend a couple of days with friends on the coast.  Not long after she left she called me, and as I answered the phone she cried out, “We’ve been in a horrible car accident, and Andrew is dead.”  Andrew is our oldest son.  Within seconds she said, “Oh, he just jumped out of the car and is okay. Gotta go.” And then she just hung up… 

It turned out they’d been slowing down on the highway to turn across traffic and were rear-ended, totaling the two cars they were in. Amy and the two younger children were in the first car, and Andrew was in the second. She assumed Andrew couldn’t have survived the accident based on the impact she felt in the lead car.

Amy’s van was pushed off the side of the road but these cars were not so fortunate.

While our three children, aged 6, 4, and 1, and Amy had no visible injuries, it was clear to the paramedics that Amy was confused and was developing a headache and neck pain.  She was transported to the hospital by ambulance, where she was evaluated and diagnosed with a concussion.  

While Amy didn’t appear to be injured, she’d suffered a serious head injury, leaving her unable to remember how to use a phone book or even perform simple addition, much less any of her graphic design work.  Her headaches were often debilitating, and we eventually discovered she had injured her neck as well, which would require a fusion a few years later.  

As Amy struggled to recover, my responsibilities at home increased significantly.  Life became simply about survival.  

In order to keep up with work and a busy family schedule, we ate a lot of prepared meals and takeout.  And exercise? It was non-existent.  

Amy tried her best to keep up, but physically demanding activities were too much for her.  I tried on multiple occasions to begin an exercise program but could not sustain a routine.  

During that timeframe, we had the help of an excellent counselor.  He warned us that 80% of marriages where one spouse has suffered a traumatic brain injury, end in divorce.  To combat this, he impressed upon us the importance of maintaining good sleep patterns, a healthy diet, and regular exercise.  

I can’t say that we really excelled in any of those areas, but Amy did make some major progress in recovery from her brain injury.   We also hired a personal trainer and were working out as a family once a week. Plus, I was trying to work out on my own several days a week. 

Then, four years ago, I flunked a life insurance physical.  I was stunned.

Sure, I was carrying a few extra pounds.  And I knew that the stress from work and some related projects was less than healthy.  But being told my blood pressure was elevated and my blood sugars were in the diabetic range was a complete surprise.  

Now a good diet and exercise regimen wasn’t just a good idea, they were a necessity.  Amy helped to overhaul our dietary regimen and worked hard to cook healthy meals while I began rowing a half an hour a day.  I lost weight, and my numbers came back down within three months.  But I got bored—rowing nowhere fast.  

Amy’s father, who has always been an inspiration to us, asked us to do a mud run along the way for fun—which it was. Who knew getting dirty exercising could be so much fun?  

Then a year into our lifestyle change, a friend invited me to join a group running in a more competitive obstacle course race.  I found this race not only fun but invigorating. 

So in 2017, I started searching for my own races to compete in and found a Spartan Race close to home. (Spartan is a brand in the growing sport of obstacle course racing which involves running over varying terrain with obstacles thrown in along the course.  Think basic training.) 

I signed up for a 4-mile/23 obstacle course race in Portland, Oregon, and ran it in memory of a college roommate who had recently committed suicide. I knew if I wanted to be around for my own family, I needed to improve my own physical health.

I was hooked.  

Mark completing the ‘Fire Jump’

In addition to winning a medal for completing the race, I earned 1/3 of a Spartan Trifecta medal.  If I could finish two more Spartan races, their middle distance, and the longer distance called the Beast, I would complete the three-piece medal and earn my place in the ’Spartan Trifecta Tribe.’  

Never one to pass up a challenge, and irritated by missing two pieces of the medal, I signed up for two more races, one at Big Bear and one in Sacramento, California.  I started training for the obstacles, watching videos, and doing research and apparently talking about it—a lot.  My kids accused me of “geeking out” over my new hobby.

I traveled to California twice before the end of the year and raced on my own.  With all three pieces of the Trifecta medal, I had joined the Tribe.   I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment, but it was also lonely, crossing the finish line without anyone to help celebrate the moment.  

So, what does this have to do with marriage in the second half of life?  Everything, thanks to my amazing wife.

Amy is smart and intuitive and understood how motivating these races were to me.  With our kids about to leave the nest, Amy realized that if this was important to me, she wanted to give it a try as well. 

Running up hills, climbing over walls, crawling under barbed wire, carrying buckets of rocks, and throwing a spear didn’t sound like fun to her (well, maybe throwing spears), but she signed up anyway for me, and more importantly, for us.  

Our first race together was with a group of friends.  The challenge stimulated her competitive nature, and she agreed to go back to Sacramento with me to do the middle distance race, 8 + miles, and 25 + obstacles.  

We finished the race together, sharing in the sense of accomplishment and celebrating together at the finish line.  

Couple running in the Spartan obstacle course race
Finishing hand-in-hand

As we were driving home, feeling that good sense of tired and sore, it occurred to me that our weekend spent racing fulfilled another desire that we had — to have a weekend getaway.  While the purpose had been to run the race, we had enjoyed the entire weekend together, talking, eating out, and just being together.  

In 2019, Amy wanted to take on the challenge of finishing her own Trifecta.  So we started working out together at Orange Theory, which we found was a good fit for both of us.  After encouraging Amy to actually do some running before tackling the Spartan Beast, a 12+ mile race with over 30 obstacles, we started trail running on Saturdays, slowly building up our mileage.  

Initially reluctant, as Amy didn’t think she enjoyed running, she’s found that running together through the trees on the trails around Eugene, Oregon energizing and a lot of fun.  

As I write this, we are traveling back from SoCal, where we combined our racing with an opportunity to see our college-age kids.  We spent dinner with them on Friday night, and our youngest hung out with them during the day while Amy and I raced, then we all celebrated with dinner.  On Sunday morning, we all went to church and then finished with brunch before heading back to Oregon.  It was a rich weekend with family. 

And even more amazing, Amy finished the third leg of her Trifecta, earning her membership in the “Tribe.” 

A couple who won a Spartan Obstacle course race and renewed the passion in their marriage
After both completed the Trifecta

When you consider where she was 15 years ago, with a traumatic brain injury and a neck injury requiring a fusion, this is an incredible accomplishment, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.  She said it was the most challenging thing she has ever done, physically, emotionally, and mentally—but well worth the effort.

Our mutual love and respect for each other, and pride in one another’s accomplishments have grown immensely. This is all because Amy was willing to try something new, out of her comfort zone, to spend time with me.

Finding an activity we both enjoy, and competing together, has renewed our passion for one another and has definitely brought us closer together.  We are blessed that it has become something we both love to do.  

Our goal going forward is to complete at least one Trifecta a year and expand our travel horizons to include international races.  Sparta, Greece, is foremost on our bucket list.  And hopefully, someday soon you’ll see the two of us up on the winner’s podium for our age group.  

In the meantime, my life is so much richer than two years ago when I finished my first Spartan Beast in the dark, surrounded by strangers and feeling oddly alone, without anyone to help celebrate my accomplishment

Having my best friend and partner cross the finish line, holding my hand, makes it infinitely sweeter.  And it doesn’t hurt that I get to chase her tail up the hills every week – she even lets me catch her once in a while. 

*If you’re not connected to Facebook and you would like to comment, please do so below the Author’s Bio section. Please note, neither the Meyers nor I Do Part Two has a marketing affiliation with Spartan.com or Orangetheory Fitness.
 

Jason and his wife, Ann, walking Shoulder-to-Shoulder at his daughter’s wedding.

3 Minute Read

It’s taken time to understand and recognize, perhaps years if I really think about it, but something amazing happens when you get “shoulder to shoulder” with a loved one.  

In my case, it’s been with either my wife of 25 years or one of our 20-something daughters.  

Conversation and communication unfold with a depth and authenticity that doesn’t happen any other way.  

Living in a house full of lovely women, there’s rarely a lack of conversation. As a mild introvert, I haven’t always been central to the conversation; I was never excluded but neither did I always include myself. Fortunately, that’s changed in a monumental way.

When our daughters became teenagers, my wife and I discovered an openness and honesty our girls conveyed only during our “shoulder to shoulder” runs.  

Something changed as our gaze looked ahead and our breathing became more and more distressed.  

Real stuff started coming out of their mouths, stuff neither of us had heard from them before.  Stuff that mattered: hopes, dreams, fears, concern, you name it, it came out on those runs and they volunteered it!  

I loved, and still do love those runs. I would learn more about my daughter(s) in 30-60 minutes, than in a month’s worth of everyday interactions.  

What was going on, how they felt about it, what should they do: questions they sincerely wanted mom or dad’s advice and opinion on.  It was the opening for real conversation that every teenage parent hopes for. 

Could the same principle hold true when it came to conversations with my wife?  

Without making any direct efforts to apply it, I discovered this to be absolutely true. Evenings spent walking our dog around the neighborhood, have turned into significantly important connection time.  

Over the course of our well-worn route, amazing conversations take place.  All the stuff married couples MUST talk about: kids, jobs, plans, money, and schedules.

We’ve found that we are able to talk and connect at a deep and focused level.  For me, it’s being able to really listen without any household, device or family distraction.  

Just my wife’s words, her tone, her inflection without the eye-to-eye contact.  It enables me to talk, and my wife to listen and respond openly and honestly.

It’s my experience, being “shoulder to shoulder” creates a very safe environment to converse with a loved one.  

In our marriage, intimacy and trust already exist, so gazing forward together has empowered us to be vulnerable, while avoiding the eye contact that might make us feel hesitant to share what’s really on our mind. Eye contact that has, at times, been unintentionally passed and received as judgmental.  

Certainly, I am not saying we don’t or shouldn’t look each other in the eye- that’s critically important.  What I am saying is that walking with your spouse, maybe hand-in-hand, allows a level of authenticity that we might be uncomfortable with when we are face-to-face.

Sometimes the walks are impromptu or one of us will say, “Let’s walk the dog tonight.” Planned or unplanned they have become an amazing way for our family to connect in the deepest and most meaningful way.

*If you’re not logged into Facebook, you may leave comments below the Author’s Bio section. Thank you for taking the time to read this story!

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