Of Cramping, Coffee and Coal Miners

“Why do I do this?” Jack whined without energy. “Why do you support me doing crazy things like this?”

“I support you,” I explained, “not necessarily the crazy things you do.”

I’ve been to two of Jack’s 24 marathons, and we’ve had this conversation after both of them. We look at running very differently. He loves it and won’t stop if he doesn’t have to. I only run when someone is chasing me with a weapon. Still, it’s gratifying to know that an insane person who punishes his body for 26.2 miles in what I believe is an effort even God would react to with incredulity (“You did what?! Are you off your head?! I didn’t design you for that!”) is at least logical enough to admit he’s nuts when it’s over.

We road tripped to his latest endeavor on Friday. Runner’s anxiety gets the better of him the day before a marathon, so he gets quiet. Happily, our drive took us through some country scenes that lent themselves to easy wisecracks from city slickers. We mocked Christmas decorations and counted at least seven plastic light-up nativity scenes. I threatened to rain violence upon inflatable decor. He laughed at a Kiwanis club’s hand-painted claim that its bar-be-que was “really good.” When I saw the “car dealership” comprised of three new, identical vehicles distinguished only by color, sitting in someone’s front yard, I laughed so hard I choked. (“I need a car,” says the buyer. “Okay,” says the dealer. “What kind of deal can you give me on the red one?” says the buyer. “Same as the blue one,” says the dealer. “What about the white one?” says the buyer. “Same as the red one,” says the dealer. End of haggling.)

I did voices and accents. That made it funnier.

We accidentally spent dozens of miles in the Twilight Zone, where highways appearing on Mapquest don’t actually exist, east apparently doesn’t really mean east, and growing hunger contributes to the threat of all-out hostile grumpiness compounded by the fact that he was driving and therefore did not stop somewhere for directions. We made it to our hotel after an extra 90 minutes on the road. Relaxing in the suite, Jack searched for answers to Friday’s crossword in the New York Times. He finds them relaxing, while I find them maddening. So I read local magazines. It was very quiet and cozy until…

Tap. Tap. Tap tap tap tap taptaptaptaptaptap.

We looked up at each other.

“I’m thinking it’s the heat?” I suggested. Jack had cranked the thermostat up so his muscles would be relaxed, and I turned it down when the room hit 78. Maybe the cooling was causing the noise in the walls.

“Hey, these are weird,” Jack called in to me as he prepared for bed. He came back to the couch with a pillow in hand. “Feel this.” It didn’t have much give, and was neither square nor typically rectangular. Weird, indeed. But that was all the thought I gave it. It was a pillow. Until I went to bed about an hour after Jack, and realized there was no way in hell I could sleep on these things.

I have a bad disc in my neck that pinches nerves, so I’m fairly concerned with matters of bedtime head cushioning. Within 20 minutes of lying down, these pillows and I were at an impasse. Atop a single cushion, my head felt about a foot above the bed. I could already feel the pinching down my left arm. There was no beating the pillow filling into submission. To my left, Jack was tossing and turning, clearly struggling with them, too.

The frustration of knowing I would be exhausted and in pain all day because of these stupid pillows triggered a mild anxiety attack. Which, of course, kept me awake.

Tap tap tap taptaptaptaptaptap. The walls continued their percussion not only unabated, but seemingly louder and more frequently.

The room was stuffy. I threw off the blanket.

I moved between the two positions in which I can sleep: my right side and my back. Repeatedly.

Whoosh! The pillow sailed off the bed and I tried going without.

I dozed.

Tap tap tap taptaptaptaptaptapTAPTAPTAP!


Creak rustle squeak rustle sigh. Jack flopped.

He’s not getting enough sleep, I worried.

A door down the hall opened and closed. Loudly.

I dozed.

Tap tap tap taptaptaptaptaptapTAPTAPTAP!


It’s too f&^#ing hot in here. I debated getting up and checking the thermostat, but I didn’t want to wake Jack or give him a muscle-clenching chill.

Laughing in the hallway, men at full voice.

Are you kidding me? It’s– what time is it? I feel like I’ve been lying here for days. Don’t you know people are running a marathon in a few hours?

Doors. Rattling. Opening. Closing.

Tap tap tap taptaptaptaptaptapTAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAP!

Jack levitated, turned, and crashed back down onto the bed.

I tried a different pillow so I could move to my side.

Someone in the next room apparently did not understand the concept of door handles.

Tap tap tap taptaptaptaptaptapTAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAP!

That’s it. Get me a sledgehammer. I’m going in after the godd@#%ed Chilean miners.

You guys are a$$holes.

Jack picked up a pillow and covered his head with it.

I dozed. Jack got up and went into the other room to get ready for his race. After several minutes, he came back in and told me he was heading out. I woke up. It had been a dream. Jack was still in bed. My head ached. I sat up to look at the clock. 5:14am.

“S#!t,” Jack whispered. The alarm clock in the room didn’t work, so he’d set his phone alarm before he went to bed, and when he’d turned off the light it had cut the power to the phone’s charger. He was 30 minutes late getting up. He heaved his way into the other room to start his ritual while I lay fretting about whether he’d have enough time to digest his oatmeal, whether he’d be anxious that he woke up late, whether it would throw off his whole run. In the hall, some idiot was talking loudly on his cell phone. Doors were opening and closing regularly. The godd@#%ed Chilean miners had not given up their completely inconsiderate struggle to be freed from the wall. At 6:00, I gave up the ghost and got up, much to Jack’s chagrin. I told him I’d try to get more sleep when everyone had left for the run, but by that time, young children had awakened for the day and were roaming the hallways.

After a cup of hotel room coffee, a shower, a walk down to the finish line and a cup of Starbucks coffee, I wandered some shops while I waited for Jack to cross the tape. I hid my puffy, tired eyes behind sunglasses and picked up a Christmas gift or two. There is something patently ridiculous about sipping a Starbucks and munching a croissant while watching an endless stream of wild-eyed runners either stride or struggle their way toward a 26.2 mile goal while their friends and family cheer them on. I saw some of them hitting the ground hard with their feet, grunting and gasping to the end. I wondered whether Jack would finish ahead, or on time with his expectations. I wondered if he was lying somewhere at mile 17, defeated. I debated at what time I would start worrying.

I chewed.

And then suddenly there he was, having cast off various layers of the clothes he started in… Jack, coasting confidently toward the finish. I checked my watch. He was more than eleven minutes ahead of his 3:40:00 goal time and looked strong. I stood up and shouted to him as he passed me, “You’re about to beat it!” I followed him around the corner to the finish and saw the clock register his time. On maybe four hours of interrupted sleep, against two miles of strong headwind halfway through, he’d cruised to an extraordinarily successful race. As I approached the line, I saw him stretch, smile and exchange congratulations with other runners who gained silent respect and admiration for each other through the run, who had unspeakingly paced one another and pulled each other through tough miles. Jack and I grinned, high-fived and hugged with controlled excitement. He told me about the strong parts and the rough patches. We both knew this was a big run for him, after a difficult year fraught with injuries and minor but significant crises of confidence. He had done it, and done it well.

Not so well that he didn’t later, nauseous in the hotel suite, ask me why the hell he does this kind of stuff. But still, very well.

I bought a little extra time from the guy at the hotel desk so we didn’t have to rush out and Jack could let his body work through some of the least-pleasant bits of post-marathon recovery. The four guys in the room across from us complained about the jerks who had made so much noise overnight. Jack slept a little while I drove home to the sound of music on low volume rather than rattling doors and tapping in the walls. By evening, he’d recovered enough to eat without fear.

He wants to do another one next month.

Turns out, one of the Chilean miners ran the NY Marathon after he was freed. I bet he got more sleep than we did.