Tell Me Tuesday: How to Run with a Spouse

Exhibit A: not Grant and me. (Though would pay money to see him in those plaid shorties!)

So Grant and I have run together twice, as far as I can remember.

The first time was circa 2002, and the biggest memory I have of the run is that I was annoyed. Annoyed he didn't talk with me the way my girlfriends did, annoyed he was barely breathing and I was huffing and puffing, annoyed that it wasn't the isn't-life-grand-and-aren't-we-great-together moment I wanted it to be. He, of course, saw nothing wrong with the run. Thought it was immensely enjoyable, actually.

Exhibit B: Not Grant and me. (We're not movie stars, like Natalie P. and Benjamin M.)

Fast forward about ten years. The second time was on Valentine's Day (note the irony!) in Austin for a half-marathon. It was our first trip (read: one night alone) away together in five years or so. We didn't talk strategy, pre-race: all he knew is that I was gunning for sub 1:50, and all I knew is that he could run that pace easily. So he voluntarily "paced" me for a few miles.

Grant's version of pacing: running about 15 steps in front of me, and then would slowing down until I caught up, and then taking off again. Again, none of that chitchat I'd always imagined we'd have--or at least those "you can do it!" words I'd expect when going for a challenging PR. Around mile 3, I tried to keep calm. "I love you," I blurted as he slowed down to moonwalk back to me, "but I don't want to see you anymore right now." And off he went. Guess what? He had a great race, and it took me until mile 10, at least, to get over him--and myself.

Needless to say, we probably won't try another rendezvous for at least another 10 years, if that. That's not to say that running with a spouse is impossible, but it's like teaching your kids a sport: The situation has the potential to blow up if you don't apply the right dose of love and motivation. If I were to try it again, here's how I'd do it:
  • Before you head out, make a plan. In other words, do that thing that marriage counselors advise: communicate. How far are you going? What kind of run are you planning on doing: easy, moderate, tempo, hard? Who is setting the pace? Pushing the stroller? Pushing the stroller up all hills? Are you bringing music? Will there be any racing each other involved?

    Exhibit C: Not Grant and me. I've never had a blonde ponytail.
  • Let's back up to who is setting the pace question. Men have this irritating hormone called testosterone that allows them to go faster than us with less effort than we estrogen-addled women. And, as many of you know, their jet-pack hormone allows them to leap off the couch and run faster than us, even if you've been training for a marathon for months. They get to run fast, we get to bleed. (Feels fair to me, right?)
  • In other words, unless your husband is truly a new, new runner that has no ego at all, agree that you will set the pace. If need be, use this simple comparison chart:
    If your effort is...
    His effort will be...
    Easy Easy
    Moderate Easy
    Tempo Easy
    Hard Easy-ish This side of easy
    Lungs.are.burning. One step above easy Moderate


  • If running side by side feels like it could cause a rift too big to leap over, go to a track and do a speed workout. You begin your intervals 45 seconds, say, after he starts his so there's no racing and no bragging rights at stake. (See: testosterone.)
  • Or make it a two-part date: the first part, you get sweaty alone. You do an out-and-back run at your own paces (each run for 30 minutes or whatever, then turn and head back to the car) and then you go grab an easy dinner where you enjoy each other's company. And then your combined endorphins will prompt you to get sweaty together. (And everybody wins!)

    Exhibit D: Not Grant and me. But good color combo for Valentine's Day.
  • Don't cop a 'tude. This is mostly aimed at us chicks. Okay, really it's for me, and I'm hoping some of you might act the same way around your spouse. When things get hard physically, I can get really whiny and difficult. I would never act that way around a friend, but my husband has seen me in birth and other really raw situations and he's never backed down. So he's a safe shoulder to whine on when my legs are tired or a hill feels too long. (And yes, as a near 40-year-woman, it embarrasses me to admit this.)
  • When it comes to delicate subjects, tread lightly. Probably not the time to discuss your tricky ovulation cycle or the family budget or your mother-in-law's latest chide. When in doubt, ask yourself: What would Grant do? Then say nothing and just enjoy the run.

Grant and I might be the exception, rather than the rule. I know there are plenty of couples out there that use joint runs as date nights and other times to grow closer together, not father apart. So now you tell us: What guidelines do you use when you run with your spouse?

91 responses to “Tell Me Tuesday: How to Run with a Spouse

  1. Wow, just read this as I’m meeting my husband after work for a hill workout on the trails…I’m nervous because I’ve never done a hill workout (doing the 13.1 challenge) and don’t like being on the trails near dusk by myself. He is a 3 time BQ and the effort comparisons are spot on!
    Lucky for me we are able to run together pretty well, at least when he is nursing an injury.

  2. Do I run with my spouse? No way. Do I run with friend’s spouses? Absolutely. I like being able to hear a male perspective during those inevitable “work things out while you’re running” conversations. If I were to run with my spouse I’d definitely follow your idea!

  3. Quote from husband: “I will run with you but I won’t talk to you”.

    Oooook. Then what good is that?! In 17 years of marriage, we have run twice together…for the reason of the quote above. He is only going for calorie burn and looks at running as a burden. I see running as a good-for-you therapy, sole sister session. Neither the twain shall meet.

  4. I can so relate to this story. My hubby will say “let’s run together” , he means lets leave home at the same time and I will be 1/2 mile ahead of you. I told him that when he has a slow run he needs to stay next to me to stay slow….Yeah right, that won’t happen.
    My question is why do they have to turn everything into a competition, even an easy slow long training run?

  5. I had to train my husband how to run with me. Rule #1. As you approach a corner or split in the path say out loud which way you plan to go instead of veering and nudging the other person to follow you. Such a simple courtesy. #2. If your paces vary greatly, which they probably do, make your hubby run 1 or 2 steps behind you. That way you are truly setting the pace and not getting sucked into a faster and faster pace. #3. Be sure you are carrying the house key. That way if you suddenly realize he was planning to run several miles more than you, you can politely bail on the second half of his run.

    My husband and I run together regularly. He gets me out the door when I’m feeling sluggish and pushes the stroller most of the time. Once we have our route planned we both put on our headphones and run in peace.

  6. I am so with you. I had a similar experience in a 10K once trying to keep up with my husband. I got a side stitch and then I was so mad at myself that it took me the whole race to get over it. The next time we ran the same half marathon I told him, I’m not even going to try to keep up with you. And I had the best race. I told myself…if he wants to slow down, fine, but I’m not going to worry about it and enjoy myself. BTW…I got my 13.1 sweatshirt today…I love it!!

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