Dimity rewinds a few years to remember why running with your partner isn't always ideal.
If your marriage is anything like mine, date nights are few and far between. While I know all reasons to make them a priority, our current reality is this: We spend most of our weekday evenings shuffling kids to activities so time is tight, and our budget can be tighter.
Which leaves running together, right? We’re both runners, so a few miles together fresh air, quality time and endorphins in one free, accessible package. What’s not to love?
Um, me running with my husband, Grant.
We have run together twice in our 20+ years of marriage. The first time was about 17 years ago. We were on a trail in Santa Fe, and I mostly remember being 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.
We waited for about another decade to try it again. The 2012 Austin Half-Marathon fell on Valentine’s Day (the irony!). We didn't talk strategy, pre-race. All he knew is that I was gunning for a 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 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 an “atta girl!” 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."
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, I’ve learned my lesson. We’re compatible in many ways, but running is not one of them. That's not to say that logging miles with a partner 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 are some tips I’d follow:
Before you head out, make a plan. In other words, do that thing that marriage counselors advise: Communicate.
Questions to be asked/discussed: How far are you/we going? What kind of run are you/we 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?
Let's back up to who is setting the pace question. If your partner is male, men have this irritating hormone called testosterone that allows them to go faster with less effort than those of us who must wear sports bras. And, as might know, said male hormone usually 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 monthly. (Um, almost fair?)
In other words, unless your partner is truly a new, new runner that has no ego at all, agree that you will set the pace.
If need be, show him simple comparison chart:
|If your effort is...||His effort will be...|
|Legs.are.falling.off.||This side of easy|
|Lungs.are.burning.||One step above easy|
Once you’ve settled on a pace setter, update your expectations about the social level of the run. You can usually hear two (chatting, laughing) women coming from half of a mile away. Meanwhile, I’ve passed packs of male runners, and my music was louder than all the collective noise coming from them. Unless your partner is crazy talkative, you are likely going to have a run that filled with more silence than conversation.
If the conversation does start to flow, keep your heart rate low and good vibes flowing by treading lightly on delicate subjects. Probably not the time to discuss your tricky ovulation cycle or the family budget or your mother-in-law's latest chide.
If running side by side feels like it could cause a rift too big to leap over, here are two options:
First, go to a track and get it done there. If you opt to do a speed workout, begin your intervals 45 seconds, say, after he starts his so there's no racing and no bragging rights at stake.
Or make it a two-part date: the first part, you get sweaty alone. Do an out-and-back run at your own paces for, say, 45 minutes, then 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!)
Finally, compliment copiously on the whole situation. Who doesn’t like to hear their partner tell you, “Your glutes look awesome in those capris?” Be sure to return the favor.
Grant and I completed a version of the last tip in 2014, to celebrate our 14th anniversary; we took a road trip to Steamboat to run the half-marathon. We grabbed our bibs, then a carb-heavy dinner. The next morning, we snapped a few pics at the starting line, kissed each other good luck, and I watched his skinny ankles (which I adore, btw) take off within seconds of the gun going off.
Not surprisingly, he was waiting for me at the finish; I was dashing in to get in just under two hours. "You finished so strong," he said, giving me a hug while simultaneously allowing me to collapse in his arms.
Then we chatted (a generous term) about our races, and walked back to the car, hand-in-hand.