That’s not me in the photo. I have never run a marathon. I am not a great runner, and I’m generally proud of myself if I run a 5K or a 10K. I can do those races, just not very quickly, and it’s something I do for fitness more than for fun. The thought of running 26 miles, which would take me at least 5 hours, is something that is completely intimidating and not remotely appealing to me.
Kind of like deployments.
No one does deployments for fun. Military deployments are something any wife can do, but it will not come easily, and it will probably be completely intimidating and not remotely appealing when the possibility becomes real. Nevertheless, most wives rise to the occasion, face the challenge of deployment head-on, and find that they can, in fact, survive without half their heart. When I thought about deployment in this light–as a challenge that we must prepare for and push ourselves to the limit for– then I realized that deployments and marathons have a lot in common. Military deployments are a lot like marathons--long and challenging! #milspouse Click To Tweet
8 Ways Deployments are like Marathons
- You have to train. No one can expect to complete their first marathon without some conditioning and preparation. You have to practice running distances that are gradually longer and longer. Similarly, a military relationship should ideally have some training time before deployment day 1. The military member will spend short times away from home training for deployment. Sometimes it will be a few days, sometimes a few weeks or even a month. These work-ups are frustrating, but necessary for the unit to be prepared and to do their jobs well. So try to view the pre-deployment stages as training for you, too. When your spouse is gone, practice taking on responsibilities like paying the bills on time. Try to set some reasonable short-term goals, and see how you do with your time management. Take note of each person’s communication expectations, and discuss how often and in what ways you will be able to communicate during the deployment. Use this time before deployment to ask your spouse lots of questions, too. Learn as much as you can about their job, their chain of command, and what resources the unit has for you, so that you will be fully equipped and conditioned when the time comes.
- You have to fuel your body and take care of it. Experienced runners view food as fuel. They make healthy choices that will help them achieve their overall goal, which is running farther and faster than they did before. Even if you aren’t a runner, you still need to take care of yourself during deployment. Especially if you are the solo parent in the household and little ones are depending on you! You need to eat food that will fuel you with good energy, and make sure that you get enough sleep to keep functioning. Although it is tempting to get caught up in a sluggish routine of binge-watching shows and binge-eating Ben & Jerry’s, try to keep you overall goal in mind: you want to get through deployment successfully. So make choices that will make you stronger physically and mentally. Consider turning off the TV sometimes. You don’t need to follow a special diet, but continue to keep cooking and preparing fresh meals. You may even want to plan some of your meals in advance. Try to pursue activities that are relaxing and rewarding. Taking care of yourself physically will help you have the strength to handle whatever deployment throws at you.
- You have to pace yourself. A marathon is 23 miles. An average deployment is at least 23 weeks. Coincidence? Runners know they cannot sprint for long, especially at the beginning.They have to choose a pace that they can stick with mile after mile. The same is true for deployment. Many people start strong the first few weeks, with huge fitness and weight loss goals, new jobs, new classes, and maybe a new baby. But then everyone starts to slow down and get discouraged as the weeks tick slowly by. The immensity of the months ahead can bring the grand goals to a screeching halt. Don’t let this happen to you. If you set small, reasonable goals for each month, then you will be continually challenged, and also motivated by your slow and steady progress. Learn how much you can handle, and don’t say yes too often. You can’t help anyone if you are burnt out. So make sure you always have something small to look forward to, so that your attitude stays positive.
- You need a support squad. In a race, your support squad comes to cheer you on. They may wear a T-shirt with your name on it. They may also bring you fresh socks or energy bars to use along the way. Wouldn’t it be sad and lonely to run a marathon without anyone cheering from the sidelines? Deployments would be lonely too, if there were no friends to cheer you on. Don’t isolate yourself and try to go it alone. At some point, even the strongest spouse needs help and encouragement. It is wonderful if that support comes from family and civilian friends, but realistically they often don’t understand what you are going through. So you will need to connect with other military spouses. Even if you are new to the unit or the base, try to attend unit events. There you can network with other spouses. Reach out to someone older than you for advice (like a Seasoned Spouse!) and reach out to someone younger so you can help them. This will help you have meaning and direction. Get cell phones numbers of people you will call in an emergency, like if you or a child gets sick during deployment.
- You will need pit stops. Runners don’t usually do a long race without stopping. There are water stations and places to gulp down an energy bar. There are even bathrooms along the route. Sometimes a quick stop is necessary for the runner’s health. There are not many people who can go through a whole deployment without a break, either. Sometimes you need a babysitter just so you can get a haircut. Plan ways to take care of yourself so you can keep going strong. It is good to celebrate each month with some small event or gift, so you have a little something to look forward to. Once you make a few acquaintances, plan a girls’ night to make some new friends. Plan a short touristy trip to a local attraction, or plan a visit with family members. Whatever it is, makes sure it is something that will refresh you, not drain you. It should be something that excites you and motivates you, so you have the energy to carry on for a few more weeks.
- It’s ok to walk sometimes. If I signed up for a marathon, I would definitely have to walk for part of it. I simply don’t have the stamina and the strength to use my muscles continuously for that long journey. And that’s ok. Running guides tell you to slow to a walk if you have to, catch your breath and stretch out your muscles for a few minutes, and then start running again. As we go through a deployment, there will be good days and bad days. Sometimes we all get emotional and cry. No one can bring their A game every single day for 7 months. And that’s ok. When you start to feel overwhelmed by all the stress and responsibilities piling up, just slow down. Say no to some obligations. Go to bed early. Use shortcuts like serving cereal or leftovers for dinner. Let the laundry sit unfolded. Do what you need to do to catch your breath and get back on track. And then…pick yourself up and start running again. Get back in there and give it your best for a few more months. Just like a diet or exercise routine,it doesn’t matter how many times you get off track or have a ‘cheat day.’ What matters is how quickly you can get back on track. I recently had a stressful week with a family funeral and an unplanned cross-country flight. Of course my eating and exercise routines went out the window that week. I was frustrated that I was undoing all my progress, and the stress made me eat even more. But once I got unpacked and had a few good nights of sleep, I went back to the gym. It felt so good to realize that I could start again right where I left off. Deployment plans are like that, too.
- The hardest part is not the end–it’s the middle. For a runner, the end is not the worst, because they can see the finish line and the adrenaline carries them through, even if they are exhausted. No, most marathoners say that the worst is mile 13. It’s right in the middle of the race, when you are already feeling pretty tired, and wondering if you can continue. That same problem hits in the middle of deployment, too. Some call it the ‘deployment wall.’ I just call it exhaustion. Several months into a deployment, the tasks at home start piling up, the lack of sleep becomes more noticeable, and the emotional anxiety of not being able to communicate with a loved one really starts to take its toll. Right in the middle of deployment, it is common for spouses to want to give up. Everyone starts questioning how they will get through this. If you know what to expect, you won’t be caught by surprise when you suddenly lose motivation and energy. When this happens, do what the runners do. They slow down, they refuel, and they look for their cheering squad. If you feel like you just can’t do a few more months of deployment, then try to slow down, take care of yourself, and look for people you can vent to and cry with. Other milspouses are great for this! Even if you aren’t close to base, you can still get support online. Anticipate the challenging cycle of deployment, but remember that it is not forever,and that you can get through this!
- When you look back, you will be amazed at what you accomplished! Anyone who has ever completed a marathon has bragging rights for life. Maybe they put that 26.2 sticker on their car. Maybe they frame their medal. Whatever they do, that marathon is now part of their identity, and has helped shaped who they are. Deployments don’t award medals to the spouses who stay on the homefront, but I sometimes think they should. Spouses learn so much from a deployment, and accomplish amazing things on their own. They take care of the car, the house, the pets, and all the kids. They send thoughtful letters and care packages to support their military loved ones. Some people have huge milestones like planning a wedding, having a baby, or earning a degree during deployment. All these things should be celebrated. No, they are not as dangerous and as medal-worthy as combat, I understand that. But I think milspouses should recognize their own accomplishments. Even if you just make yourself a brag wall with Post-Its, you will realize that you have been transformed into a stronger, more capable, more independent spouse. Even if you only ever complete 1 deployment, you are still part of an elite club, and have bragging rights for life.
So you see, a deployment and a marathon are really quite similar. I’m not saying that if you complete one, then you can automatically do the other. But you know, after this deployment (our 6th!), I just might feel strong and crazy enough to start training for a marathon! Which do you think is harder– Marathon/ Deployment? Or have you completed both?