Triathlete Love: Pay Up

Do you owe your spouse for putting up with your triathlon habit?

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Do you owe your spouse for putting up with your triathlon habit?

“Which one’s yours?”

I was waiting for the starting gun to go off at Ironman New Zealand when a lady in a homemade GO! BILL! GO! t-shirt sidled up to me.

“He’s somewhere over there,” I gestured to the sea of wetsuit-clad athletes bobbing in the water with a giggle, “they all look the same to me!”

“Glad I’m not the only one who thinks so. I have no idea what’s going on. It’s my husband’s first Ironman. I’ll be so glad to finally have him back after today. Is this your first time watching, too?”

“Nah, it’s pretty familiar by now,” I smiled proudly. “This one’s his 10th.”

“Tenth? Oooh, girl!” cried Bill’s wife, “He owes you. You must get some flowers or diamonds or something good for putting up with this 10 times.” She squeezed my arm and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Between you and me, I could barely stand my husband while he was training for this race. He’s buying me something pretty after this, I just haven’t told him yet.”

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I laughed out loud at the thought of Neil ever buying me post-race bling. In fact, I don’t think he’s ever given me flowers. After 10 Ironmans in four years, his routine no longer bothers me. Sure, he wakes me up when his alarm goes off at 4 a.m., and yes, I’ve picked him up in the middle of nowhere when his bike broke down. I’ve shivered in freezing conditions to watch his swim start and stood for hours in the hot desert sun for a 10-second glimpse at him on the run course. And yes, there are times when I can barely stand his tired, grumpy, chlorine-scented ass (these times usually coincide with the early-morning alarm clock).

But that comes with the territory when you fall in love with a triathlete. If Neil were a concert pianist, I’d nod appreciatively as I listened to the same Beethoven song for the 987,436th time in a row. If he were a woodworker, I’d let him build bookshelves all over our house. Neil is a triathlete, so I proudly boast to everyone the tall sweaty guy in neon spandex is mine.

But does he owe me for that dedication, as Bill’s wife insisted? After all, it could be pretty sweet. Flowers smell nice, and sparkly things…sparkle? (I’m not sure. I’ll report back if I obtain said sparkly things.) But will it really make our relationship better? Do I have to buy him something every time I finish a race, too? This is getting expensive. When did relationships become a business transaction?

As I type this column, I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a car. Neil is driving us away from Taupo, the host city for Ironman New Zealand. He’s singing along with some ridiculous 80’s hair band song on the radio, making me dissolve in a fit of giggles. That’s when it hit me: Of anything I could possibly receive after a race, this is what I really want.

Soon, he’ll start training for another Ironman, and we’ll start this cycle for the 11th time. For now, though, we’re sleeping in past 4 a.m. We’re taking the scenic route. We’re holding hands and laughing. There’s not a thing in the world he could possibly purchase that could make me happier.

Neil squeezes my hand. “Want to stop for a cappuccino, babe? My treat.”

Okay…maybe one thing.

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