55. My Running Partner

55. My Running Partner

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

My Running Partner

Now bid me run, and I will strive with things impossible.
~William Shakespeare

In May of 1988, I started a new job and met Paul. He found many pretenses to come to my office, usually bringing an entertaining story or joke along with the ostensible reason for his visit. Six weeks later, at a Friday night gathering at a local pub, he finagled a seat across from me. In case I didn’t already understand, he made his romantic interest perfectly clear. I enjoyed no similar interest in him, but something kept me from rejecting him completely. I settled on the old line, “Let’s just be friends.”

Undaunted, Paul continued the chats. He wanted to know all about me, including my running, which was peculiar since Paul made no attempt to exercise. His diet was unhealthy (high fat, few vegetables) and he smoked. He apparently wanted to show me that he was interested in everything about me, even the ways in which I was different from him.

During that same summer, another co-worker walked into my office with an application for a road race. He knew I ran but had never entered a race. Apparently he thought I should. I didn’t consider myself an athlete, but the application refused to disappear. It lay there — taunting me. Three days later, I mailed it in.

After the race, as we were drinking Gatorade and eating bagels, I was shocked to hear my name called for second place in my age group. This was a first for me, someone who had never before done anything athletic.

From the shelf in my family room, the small award dared me to enter another race. I hoped to earn that heady feeling of achievement again.

By August, Paul’s humor was melting my resistance. When I mentioned the first race in September, he said he wanted to go with me.

He became an enthusiastic supporter, getting up before dawn to tramp through cool, dewy fields to the start and wait with his camera at the finish. Six months later, we were living together. Within another year, we were engaged.

In 1992, I joined a marathon training program. After each run, Paul greeted me with coffee on the back porch, and eagerly listened to the morning’s adventure. He lent encouragement during my first marathon, and met me at the finish to rejoice at my 4:28 time (considerably faster than the five hours I had hoped for). Occasionally, he even joined me on short runs, in spite of the fact that he still smoked.

A year later, he joined the marathon training program himself. The Sunday he ran 8 miles for the first time, he said it was much harder than he had expected. But since he had never run that far before, he thought maybe that’s simply what 8 miles felt like. Besides, he had a persistent cold. Later that week, he also had a fever and decided to see a doctor.

Paul went to a nearby clinic, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. When he went back for a follow-up visit, the doctor was disappointed that a dark area remained in one lung. Two weeks later, a bronchoscopy revealed a large, inoperable, malignant tumor. It wrapped around the trachea and right bronchial tube, partly closing it. No wonder Paul had difficulty running 8 miles. Paul declined chemotherapy, but began radiation therapy right away, which his oncologist said offered the greatest hope.

I had been more content than ever before — my kids were grown, I liked my job, I was in good health, and I had a loving fiancé. Now my future had been ripped out of my hands. I was unable to accept the bleak prognosis. There had to be help somewhere, and I intended to find it. I had little time for anything other than searching for alternative treatments, since traditional medicine offered little hope.

But in the midst of my search, Paul insisted I take the time to run. He said it was more important than ever for me to have that one bit of normalcy and the support of our running friends. He was right. They told me stories of courage and beating the odds, as well as giving us advice about several non-traditional therapies.

Even though the radiation therapy weakened him, Paul insisted on going with me in October to my first big city marathon — the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. After we returned, his condition worsened. Even so, he insisted I keep running for both of us, which I did until the last month before he passed away.

After his death, grief paralyzed me. I could barely make it through a workday. I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t shop, and I certainly couldn’t run.

Six weeks later, Sophie, a fellow runner, called and asked me to run with her the next Sunday morning. I made excuses, but she insisted.

Sophie knew just what to say while we ran. She reminded me that Paul wanted me to go on with my life, including my running. She suggested we meet in a few days for another run. I did. Running reminded me I was alive.

Running had been a thread throughout my relationship with Paul, and now it would have a role in easing my grief.

In November of that year, I ran the New York City Marathon in Paul’s memory. He had so wanted to go with me to New York, to show me where he grew up, to show me the sights of Manhattan. Though he wasn’t with me physically, I felt his presence every step of the way. I was sure I saw him in the crowds with his camera. I know he saw me cross the finish line. I even heard, “Way to go, Bet.”

~Bettie Wailes

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