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The double-pro marriage has its perks, but it can’t all be run and games. Allow me to introduce my super-supporter alter ego.
I like to think I’m a pretty big deal. But in my house, I’m not. I’m married to Lauren Fleshman, one of the top U.S. distance runners of the past decade. She’s a two-time U.S. 5K champion and five-time NCAA champion. She also has way more Twitter followers than I, and a blog that gets like a billion visits a day.
Being a pro triathlete married to a pro runner has its fair share of perks. We do couples’ 5×1 mile under five minutes and she makes a reliable ice-bath buddy.
But the biggest benefit is that she “gets it.” She understands what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. She’s supportive, and doesn’t see my “job” as competition for her attention, but rather a required part of my own self-expression—an expression that makes me who I am, and ultimately a better husband.
But it isn’t all run and games. We travel a lot, independently, to opposite sides of the world. Between camps and competitions, we’ll spend less than 60 percent of our days together this year.
The hardest part of the double-pro marriage is balancing our constant needs for support, selfishness and attention. Triathlon and running can be all-consuming pursuits, particularly at the highest level. Relationships typically work better in this situation when there’s a primary supporter to match the primary pursuer.
But I can’t be a primary supporter and a pro triathlete. So what do I do? I become Mr. Fleshman. Kind of like how Spiderman and Superman magically appear when they’re most needed, except I don’t wear a leotard. Mr. Fleshman looks, talks and even smells like me. What he doesn’t do is ask his wife to grab dinner after a long late workout, pick him up when he gets a flat or even try to fit his workout into her schedule. He is super-supporter. He drives the car, warms up with her and gets her a double ice, no-whip, vegan soy latté Frappuccino mocha or whatever the hell it is, whenever the hell she needs it. He shows up in full force when wife needs him most.
What makes Mr. Fleshman possible? His alter ego is Mr. Thomas the triathlete: He understands the sacrifice, effort and helplessness that his wife experiences in pursuit of her dream. When Lauren didn’t make the Olympic team in 2008, it was one of the worst nights of my life. I know what she feels, and it’s honestly harder to watch than to experience it yourself. I become Mr. Fleshman because I understand what she’s put into it, I want her to succeed, and I know what it will mean to her when she does. Plus, I know that when the appropriate time comes, she’ll become Mrs. Thomas, like she has many times before.
The U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials start at the end of June in Eugene, Ore. As of writing this, Lauren’s struggling with injury and her chance of making the team is growing smaller by the week. But, I’ll be there, regardless of what happens, doing whatever she needs, no matter how it impacts my own training or racing. If you happen to be come, be sure to stop me and say, “Hi Mr. Fleshman.”
Update: Fleshman competed at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, but did not make the team.
Jesse Thomas is a second-year pro and the 2011 and 2012 Wildflower Long Course champion. He lives in Springfield, Ore., with his wife, and is the CEO of Picky Bars (Pickybars.com). Follow him on Twitter: @jessemthomas.