Joel and Lis cutting the cake

Joel and Lis Thomas

I’m coming back from a one week vacation from social media.  My brother-in-law got married in Palm Desert in a fabulous three day affair, and I decided to spend the week removed from the running world to focus on family.  Its my last chance to do that before pushing straight through to October 1st (the end of this blog.)  It appears my absence has annoyed a few regulars of the site, so I may have to put in advanced “vacation notice” next time.  Sorry peeps.  Turns out there are several hundred people checking this thing daily, according to analytics.  Pretty cool.

I’m actually not done with my week away, since my sister is graduating from NYU tomorrow and Tuesday.  I’m writing this post from a taxi into Manhattan on my blackberry, but something happened today that I think deserves to be recorded in the middle of my break.

Jesse and I don’t run together often, but today we did.  It was a post-wedding day long run in a barron desert before traveling our separate ways for the next three days.  As is in the norm for vacations, training is a strain, and the lack of local runner knowledge had us running in the bike lanes of six lane roads for 12 miles.  When we were nearing the half-way point of an out-and-back boring run, our six lane road crossed over a dry river bed, and being runners, we stopped to see if there might be a dirt trail along either side of this wash.

We started on the left side of our road, and tried both sides of the wash, but the trails ended within 50 meters.   So we crossed our street and tried the other side of the wash.  One trail ended into a driving range, and at that point, I was over it.  Jesse said, “Man, you’d think there would be a trail somewhere along here.  Maybe the fourth time will be a charm.”

I was less optimistic, and something about being in the wash made me feel even hotter than running on desert highways.  “I don’t know J, I’d be cool with heading back on the road and just doing a few loops on that grass field to fill the time.”

“Lets just try the other side, and then we can say we exhausted all of our options,” he replied.

It was silent except for the sound of heat waves rising off the cracked dirt, and the slight hum of traffic on our now distant six-lane road.  I should have fought it.  I could feel that it was a bad idea to keep running in this wash, but I couldn’t justify it with logic.  So I let Jesse’s enthusiasm take us to the 4th and final hope for any trail along this wash.

It started out ok, a dirt road quickly narrowing into a single track trail.  But then there were tumble weeds and prickly branches, and suddenly the trail became dramatically sloped to one side.  Up ahead the shrubs of the chaparral got thicker and Jesse said, “l00ks like its gonna peter out up ahead, but at least we tried.”  And two seconds later, SNAP!  His left ankle rolls over a pebble and he jumps into the air, only to abruptly stop running and grab his knees in what would be the most scary reaction I’d ever seen to a sprained ankle.

He freaked.

All at once I thought about how I should have listened to my gut two minutes earlier and insisted we give up on our trail hunt.  I thought of how only last weekend, Jesse established himself as the most promising rookie triathlete in recent memory with his Escape from Alcatraz performance, and now he might be done.  I thought about his ankle surgery in 2006 that reattached a ligament he had torn off after countless previous sprains, and how now that ligament looked like it was balled up on the side of his foot.  I thought about how he took the year off of work to pursue his athletic dreams and how this season could potentially be over before it really got going.  I watched his pain and I started to cry.

I don’t know what will happen with his ankle, but it has caused me to be in this taxi by myself, rather than with my husband.  Jesse is nursing it back in Palm Desert, crossing his fingers that the damage is minimal.  I will watch my sister graduate without him.  What has become abundantly clear is how lucky we have been in the past six months, and how easily it can be taken away.  With Jesse and I both pursuing professional athletics, we have created a really nice daily life together.  We don’t bring in much money, but we have enough to survive, and we get to spend tons of time together while doing what we love.  We are taking advantage of our youth, delaying “careers” for these unusual athletic pursuits, and throwing out conventional ideas of success (which is something these two Stanford grads never did until now).

As I watched him hunched over, I realized that what we have together could disappear in an instant.  Far beyond sport, our lives are unbearably fragile.  As often happens since my friend Ryan Shay died in the Olympic Trials marathon, I had a flash of Jesse disappearing from my life all together.  And as I write those words, my mouth waters with nausea and my stomach clenches with distress.  I can imagine the cortisol washing through my veins, wreaking havoc on my body the way only stress can.