“Huh. An Avengers half marathon. That looks like fun. Too bad I’m not a runner.”
That was it. That was what I thought of the first post I saw about the Avengers half marathon in California that was to be held the following November. I mentioned as much to Mom over lunch at the Mexican restaurant.
“But they’re not Mexican,” Mr. Frogman advised me. He was riding shotgun on a ninja cat expedition through the neighborhood. “They’re from El Salvador.”
“Really? How…how do you know that?”
“And the people that own the Chinese restaurant are from Cambodia.”
Retirement Acres: Doing foreign food wrong forever.
“Your brother mentioned something about that too,” Mom said. “Maybe you should call him.”
He never answers the phone the first time.
“I had to get three of the ninja cats out of my Jeep,” he explained. “What’s up?”
“Disney is doing an Avengers half marathon in November. Mom said I should call you. I don’t know why.”
“It could be fun,” he said. In the background I could hear the hiss of an angry cat whose position had been unceremoniously exposed and then had its oil changed. “It’s just thirteen miles. Anyone can do that.”
“We aren’t runners, and I drive 12 miles a day, total, to work and back home. So we’re talking about running one more mile than my daily commute.”
“You aren’t a runner,” he argued. “And 13 miles is nothing. You could do that now. Besides, November is like 10 months away. You’ve got a ton of time. Dr. Wife and I will train with you. We’ll all go. We’ll need costumes.”
“I’ll start looking.” Because shopping is way easier than training. “What costumes do you want?”
“I’ll be the Hulk. I already have the shirt, but purple shorts don’t exist. Dr. Wife can be Black Widow.”
“How do you know I didn’t want to be Black Widow?”
“You’ll be Captain America and you’ve already started ordering stuff,” he countered, righting the oil bottle most recently bulldozed by an angry cat. “Don’t even lie.”
“It’s 13 miles,” I reminded him.
“Then you better start with some running shoes. Dr. Wife can run on the weekends with you. Let me know when we need to sign up.”
So off I went in search of purple Hulk shorts, a Black Widow running outfit, and a half marathon training guide for people who definitely are not runners.
You know where this is going, right?
The day of registration arrived. I hit the submit button, giving RunDisney a significant portion of my paycheck so that I could run around a strange city in an unfamiliar state. I had already been training three weeks and had lost most of my patience and all of my dignity. But it was still too cold to run outdoors, so I had yet to contact Dr. Wife for a run.
“Okay,” I said into the phone. “I registered. I just emailed the link for you and Dr. Wife to sign up.”
“We can’t go to California in November,” he said, clearly annoyed that I would even ask. “Neither of us has that kind of vacation time.”
A frosty silence settled on the phone line.
“You said we could all do this. You were going to be the Hulk. Dr. Wife was going to be Black Widow. I have been training for three weeks now! YOU–!! YOU–!!”
“I don’t know why you thought either of us had leave for something like that,” he said, totally unconcerned. “She just started her job, and it’s not like I get paid leave days. But maybe we could fly out Saturday night before the race and fly home Sunday afternoon.”
“That’s one of the dumbest things you’ve ever said.” He’s actually younger than me, so I have a long, long catalog of dumb things he’s said for his entire history.
“It’s not as dumb as thinking you can go from zero to half marathon in 10 months,” he said. “Gotta go.”
The little bastard hung up.
I called Mom.
“I have to kill him.”
“What is it this time?” Obviously, was not our first contretemps.
“I just, on the advice of you and my idiot brother, signed up for a half marathon and now he says he and Dr. Wife can’t go because they don’t have the vacation time.”
“I mean, they probably don’t,” Mom pointed out.
“Not helping. But he did say they could do it if they flew out Saturday night, ran the race, and flew home Sunday afternoon.”
“Wow, is that ever a stupid idea.”
“Do it anyway.”
“I kinda have to, because the registration isn’t refundable.”
“It’ll be good for you. Maybe you’ll find out it was the thing you were always supposed to do.”
Knowing full well that a half hour run routinely took me 45 minutes, I doubted that.
“And you can’t kill him. His birthday is next week.”
“Here,” I said, chucking a wrapped gift at him. “Choke on it.”
“Is there something I should know about?” Dr. Wife asked. “You two are weird even for the two of you lately.”
“Why, I have no idea what you mean,” I answered with as much dignity as I could muster. Which was almost none.
“It’s just that you haven’t spoken directly to each other for like three hours now,” she said. “And you just threw your gift at him.”
“Hey! Purple shorts! These are great!” he exclaimed.
“What are those even for?”
“Here,” I said. “I got you something too.”
She quirked an eyebrow at him when the Black Widow outfit and tutu came to light.
“I signed up for a half marathon,” I explained. “He said you two would run it with me.”
“You volunteered me to run a half marathon?” she asked incredulously. “Without telling me? I don’t run.”
“Neither does she,” my brother answered. “But I told her we couldn’t go.”
She looked to me for confirmation.
“I have to,” I said. “I’d already paid when he backed out.”
“Is it here?”
“It’s in California.”
She turned a full glare on him.
“You said we would run a race in California?! Are you crazy?”
“I told her we couldn’t go,” he shrugged.
“I’ll train with you,” she promised. “As long as we don’t have to run fast. And there’s…wait…was this…Was this an Avengers marathon? Is that why you got purple shorts?”
Many are the times when I’ve questioned why she married into our family. That day, I think she questioned her sanity as well.
Spring plodded into Summer. Everyone got busy working on other things. Work things. Family things. My mom spent an extended amount of time outside Retirement Acres and therefore only got periodic briefings about how marathon training was proceeding. Dad, however, took an intense interest in it. Graphing my miles and times gave him something to do.
I called Dr. Wife after work one afternoon.
“Go on,” she said warily.
“There’s a superhero running event at Automanufacturer Park in three weeks,” I said. “I will pay your registration if you’ll run it with me. Except we’re not going to run.”
“Damn right,” she said. “There’s a hill in that park that’s, like, half a mile up. How far is it?”
“There’s a 5k or a–“
“We’ll do the 5k,” she decided. “Trust me.”
“If you want to come over and stay at Chez Auto that night, I’ll drive us over in the morning. Dad won’t mind.”
Dad wouldn’t mind. He’d been holding down the fort all summer with no one to talk to but the dogs. 426 could complete most of his jokes and all of his stories by now. They were a household in need of some visitors. Even Bruce knew most of his punchlines by now.
It’s worth noting at this point that this was the summer of the Ice Bucket Challenge. So I was tired, sore, and constantly worried that I’d get doused in cold water. Super fun!
Dr. Wife and I sat on the couch, 426 between us (he likes to participate in the conversation too), poring over a map of the park.
“Last year,” she said, “they ran the 10k runners up the hill and the 5k runners around the flat part.”
“How big is the hill?” I asked. “Like, ‘entrance to Retirement Acres’ big? Or manageable.” Retirement Acres sits upon a ridge overlooking a lake. The hills leading to the entrance are not for the faint hearted or for those with bald tires.
“The runner I talked to said it wasn’t all that bad,” she said.
“Topographical map it is.” I googled around while Dad cleaned up the remains of dinner and my brother went to shoo the cats out of the Jeep again. It’s disputed territory in the neighborhood: my brother thinks it’s his alternate source of transportation. The ninja cats believe it’s their satellite base. The hostilities are ceaseless, and also fairly one-sided because there is only one of him, but there are anywhere from three to five ninja cats, all of whom have five pointy ends. We buy Neosporin by the gallon.
“Oh, this says the change in elevation is only 600 feet anyway. That’s no big deal.”
In the kitchen, Dad and 426 both started to laugh at the same time. Dr. Wife and I had no idea what was so funny.
Early the next morning, for reasons, I was up and puttering around, getting ready for the race. I had something of a pre-race practice figured out. After I scarfed a peanut butter sandwich, I pulled the ice bin out of the freezer to move the ice to the cooler Dad had left out. 426, who had free run of the house, was nowhere to be found.
“Granola bars. Check.”
“Registration papers. Check.”
“I’m going to kill you.”
426 and I both jumped; I didn’t know Dr. Wife was up yet. 426 thought maybe bacon would materialize in the kitchen.
“I…the race starts in like 90 minutes,” I stammered. “So we’ve got a few minutes before we need to…”
I tracked her gaze to the ice cubes in my hand.
“You *never* said there was an Ice Bucket Challenge with all this,” Dr. Wife accused. “That’s insane.”
“This?” I held up the ice cubes.
“This is for the Gatorade. Dad said we could have the…you thought I’d make you do an Ice Bucket Challenge at 5 in the morning?”
“They keep threatening to do one at the office,” she explained. “I keep telling them no.”
“It’s to keep the drinks cold,” I offered. “So we won’t have to drink warm Gatorade, which is gross.”
426 watched the conversation intently, listening for a hint that someone at this ungodly hour might start cooking bacon.
Two hours later, when we were running up a very large hill that felt like a LOT more than a 600 foot elevation change, Dr. Wife turned to look at me.
“If I have to hear ‘All About That Bass’ one more time, I’m going to shove her over the edge.” One of the runners in our group had clearly used music for her training. We were all kinda done with Meaghan Trainor by then anyway, and ‘All About That Bass’ seemed as if it might be every third song in her playlist. To each their own, but this is why God gave us earbuds.
“Agreed,” I heaved. “Are we at the top yet?”
“No, but we just have 10 miles to go. I really shouldn’t have stopped you from putting ice in the Gatorade this morning, because this is how we’re going to die: Meaghan Trainor, half a banana, and cool-ish Gatorade.”
“Dad said he’d have Bojangles waiting for us.”
“I hope he remembers to bring Bruce a biscuit too.”