From Long-Distance Running to Long-Distance Love

Anthony Bristol Tran likes to imagine how he might have met Sean Michael Theriault. His alternate version tells of a kinetic encounter: Dr. Tran, a serious runner, sees a dashing, hazel-eyed man go past him during a marathon. Their eyes catch. A gaze is held just a moment too long. And then, just like that, those hazels disappear up the track.

“A little white boy passing me and I try to catch up with him because he’s cute,” Dr. Tran said. “Isn’t that more exciting than the real story?”

Perhaps. But it isn’t too far off.

It’s true that Dr. Tran (left), 54, a neurodiagnostician at Metropolitan Neurology Group in Houston, and Mr. Theriault, 48, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin, were connected by running — though their meeting didn’t really happen mid-stride.

The year was 2002. Dr. Tran was preparing to run the Boston Marathon. He was nervous.

“Anthony was anxious about the logistics of the start line and the course and stuff like that,” Mr. Theriault recalled. “And so a mutual friend suggested that he get in touch with me.”

Mr. Theriault had run the marathon some years before. He suggested to Dr. Tran that they spend a weekend training together. Mr. Theriault lived in Austin; Dr. Tran lived in Houston, about a 2-hour-45-minute drive away. Dr. Tran accepted, and showed up on Mr. Theriault’s doorstep.

They spent that weekend running, Mr. Theriault offering Dr. Tran advice on getting through the Boston Marathon.

There were elevated heart rates during their training weekend — not just from running.

“As soon as I saw Anthony, I was smitten,” Mr. Theriault said.

But that weekend, the sport was the focus.

“Anthony got back in his car on Sunday afternoon and I didn’t know if I’d ever seen him again,” Mr. Theriault said.

Dr. Tran went on to run the Boston Marathon. They kept in touch. A decision was made: They would try long distance.

For years after, Mr. Theriault and Dr. Tran stuck to a schedule: four nights together, three nights apart. The structure, they agreed, gave them time to pursue their professional goals when they were apart and to focus on their relationship when they were together. It also came in handy when they clashed, giving them time to recalibrate.

“By the next time we see each other again, whatever was driving us nuts from three days before is gone,” Mr. Theriault said.

Dr. Tran proposed in 2005. They started wearing rings. They continued their long-distance setup. When, in 2015, a Supreme Court ruling made same-sex marriage a right nationwide, they declined to get legally married.

Things changed this year. The pandemic forced a moratorium on their long-distance setup. Dr. Tran’s father died of the coronavirus in June. In July, his brother got the virus and spent time in the hospital. Dr. Tran, in his work as a clinician, saw patients plugged into ventilators. He worried about hospital visitation policies if he or Mr. Theriault got seriously ill.

When he raised the idea of getting legally married over dinner with Mr. Theriault, it was an easy sell: Mr. Theriault had the same thought that morning, during a run. They made a decision quickly. (Mr. Theriault: “The conversation was the equivalent of, ‘Hey, should we have this bottle of cab or this bottle of syrah?”)

Mr. Theriault and Dr. Tran were married Aug. 29 at River Oaks Park in Houston. The wedding was officiated by Kathleen Hawk, a friend of the couple who became a Universal Life minister for the occasion.

The next morning, Mr. Theriault and Dr. Tran laced up their shoes and headed out of the house to run. When they travel together, they run with each other — they’ve run half-marathons in some 80 countries — but when they’re in Texas, they prefer solo runs.

“We start out at about the same time,” Dr. Tran said. “And then he heads north, and I head south.”