Wissot: Can’t keep up with the girl and never will (column)
The first time it happened was in 1993. We, meaning my wife Alyn (then my girlfriend) and I, were running the Chicago Marathon. We had run our first marathon together the previous year, the Athens Marathon, and I beat her handily. I wrongly assumed that the same outcome would happen again.
To my shock, at about the 23rd mile mark of the race, I heard a voice behind me say, “You know if you’re going to get in under 3:25, you’re going to have to speed up.” The next thing I knew, my very cute girlfriend darted in front of me and blasted her way out of view. I did catch up with her when I crossed the finish line some 3 minutes after she had.
That was 24 years ago this fall. In the ensuing years, we have managed to run some 60 marathons together, seven of them on the seven continents, and enjoyed an abundance of nonrelated running experiences all across the world. But, and I used to say this with a tinge of tarnished male pride, I rarely was able to beat her in a marathon ever again. The last time it happened, truth be told, was in 1997.
I reluctantly came to accept the fact that my wife was a better runner than me. It wasn’t easy. After all, aren’t men supposed to be genetically superior to women when it comes to strength and speed and endurance? Don’t male runners have better racing times than their female counterparts in almost every racing distance (the exception may be an ultra distance run of 100 miles or more)?
I pondered these questions at length until I reluctantly concluded that while that may be true for many men and women who run together, it definitely was not true for us.
What began as wounded male ego has now transformed into enormous pleasure in the running accomplishments of my wife, Alyn Park, who some of you may know from seeing her in Vail recreation-sponsored races during the summer, especially the annual Vail Hill Climb.
In 2005, we traveled on a converted Russian ice breaker to King George Island to run the Antarctica Marathon. Alyn was 53 when she won that marathon. On the passage back to the tip of Argentina, she turned 54, and when we arrived, she entered the Tierra Del Fuego Marathon and won that race, too. To wit: two victories on two continents eight days apart at age 53 and 54.
Her victories were highlighted in the Rocky Mountain News, (“Queen of the Ice outruns the penguins,” March 19, 2005.) The last three times she has run the Boston Marathon, 2011, 2013 (the year of the bombing) and 2017, she was the second woman older than 60 to finish the race.
Space is limited, so I won’t list her many other running achievements over these past years, but I will let you in on how her success has changed my view of what it means to be the spouse of a gifted runner. I stopped being upset over the fact that she is a much better runner than me and began to vicariously enjoy each of her victories, relishing in the fact that I was a member of Team Park.
Like any other sports fan, be it a team sport or an individual athlete, their success, his or her success, becomes your success.
We are fans because we are not athletically talented enough to do what they do. There is a reason why nine players are standing in the field and 50,000 fans are sitting in the stands at a Major League Baseball game. They belong on the field, and we belong in the stands. Talent has its privileges.
Do I wish it otherwise? Do I wish to be doing the winning, rather than doing the cheering? Of course I do. But I also wish I was taller, smarter, handsomer, kinder than I am. Alas, I am not, just as I am not a better runner than my wife.
We were recently in New Orleans and running the streets in order to scope out restaurants and bars we might return to later that evening. We don’t run together anymore because I can’t keep up with her. Her slow running is faster than my fast running. She waits for me to catch up to her every few blocks.
Some people noticed that she was way ahead of me on one street and they began ragging me for not keeping up with her. “Hey man, that girl is beating you.” All I could do was shrug my shoulders and call back, “Tell me something I don’t already know. She’s been doing that to me for the last 25 years.”
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail.