Article written by: Steph Catudal.
A couple of months ago, my husband made a deal with me that if he won a particular 50K race, we could use the prize money for a trip to Hawaii. I have to say that I got the better end of this “deal,” as all I had to do was sit at home and wait for the “I won” call. I can’t really remember, but I was probably complaining about being totes wiped out from my 28 minutes circuit workout when he called.
Anyways, as we had hoped, he won the race and with it, exactly enough money to purchase tickets to Hawaii for myself and two daughters. Unfortunately, my husband’s school schedule didn’t allow him to take time off, so he wasn’t able to go. Yup, I definitely got the better end of that agreement. I have to admit that I felt like a feudal lord, telling my peasant that sure, he could plow my field but in exchange he would have to work for a miserly wage, give me 10% of the menial amount I paid him as well as half of his crops. Sweet deal, Lady Steph.
Just to be clear, Hawaii wasn’t a random, romanticized choice for our vacation destination. Both my husband and I had attended university there, and after a short absence from the island for my grad school pursuit in Costa Rica, we returned with our 8 month old daughter Harper so that my husband could finish his Bachelor(s) degree(s).
In total, we lived in Hawaii for 9 years, and our oldest daughter spent her early childhood playing in the ocean, hunting for hermit crabs and running around sunkissed and naked. When we moved to Flagstaff, Harper immediately started a “Hawaii” jar (which was briefly switched to the Madagascar fund for a short interim after she watched a documentary on Lemurs), where she would put pennies, washers, Chuck E. Cheese tokens and any other circular, metallic objects that vaguely resembled modern currency. At least once a week she would ask if she had saved enough for a plane ticket, and we finally decided it was time to convert those metal buttons and wing nuts into a dream come true.
We spent two glorious weeks basking in the Hawaiian sun with good friends while my husband studied for midterms, sent us videos of blizzards in our backyard and trained for an upcoming road marathon. I was going to ask where he was going to send us with the foreseeable prize money, but I didn’t want to push my noble luck.
We booked our return flight to arrive in Las Vegas around the same time my husband was scheduled to finish his race in Sin City. The race had started at 4:30 pm and finished after the sun went down. The plan was for my husband to park the car in the airport parking lot and send photos demarking exactly where he had left the car and keys, as well an address for a rendezvous pick-up spot. Somehow, what had seemed like a viable game plan beforehand quickly unraveled into a cryptic treasure hunt.
Upon our arrival in Vegas (not before spending the last half hour of the turbulent flight fighting to vomit as silently as possible into the tiny white barf bag with one hand while trying to tame a rambunctious 18 month old with the other), my phone decidedly refused to download any of the parking photos my husband had sent. I spent the next half hour repeatedly convincing Harper to push Iris in the umbrella stroller so that I could pull our suitcase with 2 broken wheels while carrying 3 backpacks and a giant fleece zebra blanket wrapped around my neck. We looked super special. I felt the pitying stares from airport onlookers wherever I went as I hoped for a call from my husband to direct me to our car.
Finally, my phone rang with an unrecognizable number just as Harper was running over someone’s foot with the stroller. It was my husband using a random person’s phone, saying he was hypothermic in the medical tent and couldn’t get in touch with his friend with whom he was meant to drive to our (still unknown to me) rendezvous spot. He said the car was probably parked on the second floor somewhere probably close to the elevator, and the keys were probably in the glove box. The following half hour was spent guiding my six year old’s erratic stroller steering while relaying messages between my husband and his friend and hoping that my husband was lucid enough to have accurately described the car’s location.
As it turned out, he was. The car was parked on the second floor near the elevator. I loaded the kids in the car and drove to the nearest Jack in the Box for a healthy post-flight meal. Luckily, by this time my husband had finally met up with his friend and they were on their way to meet us. The girls were so excited to see their father that they could hardly eat their supple chicken tenders and fresh, crispy fries (not).
When my husband’s friend was the sole person to enter Jack in the Box to greet us, I knew something was wrong. Normally, my husband would have come running through those doors to see us, even after having completed a long race.
“He’s in rough shape. He’s outside. He needs an extra large Sprite,” said the friend.
I quickly purchased the beverage and led my kids out to see their dad. We rounded the restaurant’s corner to find my bearded husband curled in the fetal position, huddled against a brick wall. He was still wearing his short shorts and was burrito-wrapped in two metallic hypothermia blankets, puking onto the cold concrete. He gave me a forlorn look and weak smile, trying his best to muster the energy to greet our excited daughters. He hugged them briefly before leaning over to dry heave into a nearby trashcan.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the numerous people walking by on the streets of Las Vegas Boulevard thought that a nice lady and her two young children had bought soda for a drunk homeless man and were concerned for his well being. They were also probably wondering why a homeless person would be dressed in booty shorts and compression socks on a rainy, 40 degree evening. Either way, he was definitely homeless.
Once my husband had stopped retching long enough to stand, we loaded him into the car with the heaters on full blast and started our four-hour journey back to Flagstaff. He slowly thawed out enough to tell me how terrifying it had been for his mountainous, trail-running self to run through the loud, bright, over-stimulating streets of Vegas. Not his cup of tea, but he still managed to podium.
His unusually disheveled post-race demeanor was the result of a series of unfortunate events. He had felt sick during the race, so he didn’t drink, causing him to get really dehydrated. The dehydration made him delirious for the last eight miles, and he couldn’t convince himself that the flames, loud noises, dust, bright lights and thousands of people running around weren’t a real threat to his life. He was on the verge of a panic attack for the last 40 minutes of the race, anticipating a Gangs of New York-style street fight to break out at any minute. The cold, coupled with dehydration, had given him hypothermia and so he didn’t want an IV pumping cold saline through his already freezing body. Apparently he had won me a bouquet of flowers but had thrown-up all over them. I gave my pukey, bearded homeless man a kiss on the cheek and told him I was proud of him.
And I guess that’s the dichotomy of the running world, from my pedestrian perspective at least. It can be exciting, motivational, adventurous and inspiring. It can also be dirty, scary, disappointing and frustrating.
Relationships are quite the same, in that regard. One minute you’re being flown across the Pacific by your partner to relax in the tropics, and the next you’re mama-birding them sips of Sprite and wiping vomit from their beard.
As long as we’re willing to stick it out through the rough spots, we can enjoy the joy and satisfaction that comes from the good times.
This article originally appeared on Chronicles of an Endurance Athlete’s Wife.