The day included 14 hours of running across a vast section of South America’s Andes mountains, which stretch along the continent’s western side. We dealt with high altitude terrain, extreme changes in elevation and, because we were below the equator in February, intense heat. Just as we reached a state of pure exhaustion, Francesca and I noticed an odd creature soaring high above us. The Andean condor! We immediately came to a sliding halt, scattering scree down the steep trail. We stopped, silently standing in place, and gazed up in amazement. Once again, our effort and enduring suffering had been rewarded.
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I’m often asked how long Francesca and I have been a couple. “Couple” is a nice way for the person asking to say: I’ve heard you’re not married, and I’m not sure how to describe your relationship, so I’ll just refer to you as a couple. People seem perplexed by my answer. “I’m not sure, give me a minute to think about it”. Silently, they think, don’t you care? Don’t you keep up with your anniversary? My response, as strange as it may seem, fits our relationship perfectly.
As with all couples, we have a story about how we met. Many stories include a bar, mutual friends or, more commonly these days, the a website algorithm. Our story began by a chance encounter on the trail and me being a total klutz.
As I rounded the sharp 45-degree turn on the single track trail, I barely caught a glimpse of the obstacle before I felt the impact. My total lack of awareness sent me full speed into another trail runner. Luckily, we were both fine. I immediately noticed I’d collided with a very attractive girl, with deep brown eyes and beautiful dark curly hair. I used the opportunity to both apologize profusely and introduce myself. As we dusted ourselves off, we began to chat and the conversation quickly turned to our mutual love of the mountains and the pure joy of moving through them on foot.
This uncommon meeting led to a life that has taken us around the globe together to accomplish great feats of running. We’re often asked why we run so far, in such remote places. The response, although somewhat basic, sums it up it perfectly: because we can.
Our mutual love for the big mountains and numerous endeavors of endurance has made our relationship as solid as the granite we run upon. That last sentence may sound corny, but it’s true.
Francesca and I have chosen a life together based on our mutual passion for many things. These passions drive not only our relationship but also pure joy for the time we have on this planet. As we start another trip around the sun, I encourage all couples to reflect on why their relationship endures and to make sure their trip stays on its path.
And yes, I do know how long Francesca and I have been together. But it’s not the number of years that count: it’s the journey.
James Russell Gill III (Gill) is a professional ultra-endurance runner and owner and CEO of Bad to the Bone Sports. Together, Gill and Francesca have turned passion into a lifestyle and can always be found on top of a mountain searching for the next challenge.