It was a little while before I realized just what kind of runner he was. He was the kind of runner I'd never considered, something I knew existed but had never seen. Like Bigfoot, but real. I probably need to explain because that sounds weird (and Jason's feet are a normal size).
Jason was usually in the front during a race. He usually won his age group and sometimes he won overall. Now, somewhere in the back of my mind I knew someone was in the front of the race (because it definitely wasn't me), but these people...these people who won...I never considered them.
I had no idea what a winning time should or could be, and I'd never seen anyone win a race (unless you count high school track). All I knew was my time, and I didn't even consider whether it was a "good" or "bad" finishing time. It just was. I never considered going faster or that I could or should. I just ran. Those guys and gals who ran in the front...I had no idea who they were.
My first marathon, run at the age of 23, was a 5:26. I never considered whether or not this was a good time. I thought it was AWESOME! Why? Because I ran 26.2 miles, of course. I ran several more marathons before I started paying attention to my time and wondering if I could run a bit faster. In South Dakota in 2006, I ran a 5:20 marathon and decided I wanted to run a 5:15.
In Seattle, Washington that same year, I ran a 5:11 and thought I was pretty hot stuff. This is where Jason came into the picture. We had just met and after that marathon he sent me an e-mail congratulating me on my personal record. I was touched that he took the time to look it up and that he knew it was a personal record. And I said yes when he asked me out for coffee.
Sometime around this point I learned what kind of runner Jason was when I found out he'd won first place in his age group, placing 8th overall in the Huntsville half marathon. Eighth overall? I had no concept of this. (Just a fun fact, he won it again the next year, placing 3rd overall. By that time, I was his proud WIFE).
I had no concept of pace. I had no concept of finishing times. I'm trying to make the point clear here that I knew SQUAT about running. I just ran. Down the road. Every day.
The problem was that this new information about Jason made me aware of my own pace and next to his...it seemed like walking. It was a little embarrassing. One thing that made this knowledge worse was the fact that Jason lived about a mile from me. That meant our running routes were probably very similar. That meant he might actually SEE me running my very slow pace (as if he did not already know). I thought I might like this guy and I did not want him to see me slogging along the roads of our city like a snail in the mud.
The only thing to do about this was to watch for him, and if I saw him, I was going to pick it up and run really fast (as if my "fast" would even touch his "slow" but remember, I knew squat). I ran my neighborhood pretty comfortably figuring he did not run there, but once I got out on the main roads, I kept my eye out. I would even glance behind me to make sure he wasn't coming, and I'd try to pick up my pace anyway just in case.
We laugh about this now. Because the truth was (and is) that Jason was the kindest fast runner you could meet. He liked to push himself and work hard to achieve his running goals, but he didn't think he was anything special for doing what he loved, and he certainly did not compare himself to others. He was very content to go about his business, running down the road (quickly) every day, giving it his best in a race, and calling it a day whatever the outcome. That was very attractive (hence the whole we-are-married-now thing).
We'd been to coffee once and to dinner once, with lots of phone calls in the middle when the Rocket City Marathon rolled around. I was going for a 5:05, and I meant to get it. I had to look good in front of this new runner guy. That day I ran a 4:55, breaking 5 hours for the first time, which was unfathomable to me. Jason ran a 2:55, breaking 3 hours for the first time and then he waited TWO HOURS for me to finish (waiting around for two hours after a marathon was also unfathomable to me at the time).
We were both very excited for each other, and I waited around with him for awards afterward (look at me, I'm with the guy with TWO medals...). Nine months later we got married. And in these 3+ years of marriage I have done things I never imagined or considered or fathomed. Not anything overly impressive time-wise, mind you. But I went from running a 5:26 to running a 3:58 marathon. I went from running a 33 minute 5k to a 23 minute 5k. I learned to get out and run the day after a marathon. I eventually ran more than a marathon.
And here you might be thinking, "Oh he must have coached her and trained her and helped her get stronger." The truth is he hardly said a word. He never told me what I should do to run faster or that I should run faster at all. He never urged me to run when I did not want to, and he never gave me unsolicited training advice. Sure, he would look at my training plans and support all my goals, but that was it.
And that has always been enough. He is excited for me when I reach my goals, when I achieve a personal record in an event. He also hurts for me when I fail at what I am trying to do, and he will discuss it at length with me when I want to talk it out. He never pushes or prods. He is simply there at the finish line cheering me on, no matter the race or the pace.
Now when I see Jason running down our city streets, I wave enthusiastically. He does his cool little one motion wave and we smile if the weather hasn't frozen our faces. I still wear an orange toboggan and race t-shirts and he is still the kindest fast runner I know. Most of what I learned from Jason, I learned from watching him and picking his brain now and again.
I write this post not only to share what I think is a funny little tidbit about Jason and I as a running couple, but to also say that sometimes the best way to help someone improve is to simply support them in what they decide to do. I have known many people who have stopped running or refused to even start because of too much pushing and prodding. Maybe it was done with the best of intentions, and in some cases that just might work. But not always.
I really appreciate that about Jason. I like his humility about what he does and how he has quietly supported my own efforts despite how they differ from his. And yeah, I kinda feel like hot stuff now that he's my husband. Not only do I know those guys in the front, I'm married to one.