I fell in love with running because of the freedom I felt it gave me. Looking at a distant ridge line and being able to imagine myself gliding over its marvelously simple silhouette is to me like watching a romantic movie screen through my mind. A quiet paved road at the onset of daybreak, just me and my playlist gliding through the neighborhood leaves me feeling more fulfilled than any number of dates, hookups or flings I’ve been on combined.
So what happens when your partner is a runner too? What happens when your partner is a better runner than you? How do you mix your steamy love affair with your actual love affair?
What makes being in a relationship difficult when your partner shares in the same hobby as you, is that you both do it differently. Sure, in my personal life, my boyfriend is a trail runner as well so it makes prioritizing vacations, life events, and even training inherently less complicated because we both understand what the other needs.
But how do you balance the task of adjusting to each other’s needs on a run when both of your needs are different? When his regular pace is a touch faster than my own, who’s responsibility is it to make the adjustment so that when we do run together, we do so without protestations on either end of, “you’re going too fast!,” versus the annoying linger of constantly running a few strides behind or ahead.
So yes, running with a partner can be difficult, but I’m here to say, it doesn’t have to be.
Before I share a few of my tips, let me first be the one to clarify that I am an extremely sensitive runner. I don’t always mean to be so raw, but admittedly, I’m easily aggravated! My biggest pet peeve while running is feeling like someone’s waiting for me.
I’d rather forego the entire run than be a few strides behind for the entirety of the adventure. On a similar but different note, I also despise when whoever it is that I’m running with runs directly off my shoulder. I like my space!
Now you may be thinking that having a faster partner, friend or spouse is a tremendous way for somone to get more fit. Sure, I agree that it definitely drives me to run stronger some of the time. But there are still some days (and if I’m being honest, it’s most days) when I don’t want to worry about pace at all. And running with a partner is a constant reminder that the pace isn’t your own. The pace of a group run is a mutually agreed upon cadence that you either get with, or get dropped from.
It’s easy to succumb to unwarranted arguments on the trail stemming from someone going too slow or someone going too fast. Additionally, in my case, having distance OCD and feeling a compulsive need to be running a specific number of miles without feeling like you want to rip your partner’s head off if it’s any shorter is another source of an unwarranted trail quarreling.
Fear not, I am working on that sensitivity.
Tips For Running With a Partner
Tip #1: Communicate. Before you set out for a run, talk to your partner. Voice to them what aggravates you, what motivates you, what you like and what you don’t like about running together. If it’s pace, perhaps you don’t run together as often and do so only on a day where you are both on a recovery run and pace really doesn’t matter (for the faster spouse). Whatever it is that you’re holding inside, let it out! Make time to voice your needs! Running is like a therapy, so why not treat it as such.
Set some rules if you feel like you both need them. For example, Elan despises when I run with my phone. I do it for safety purposes and sometimes someone texts me and I feel compelled to reply. I learned the hard way that this something I should avoid doing in the future if I want to maintain a happy relationship. But I understand it bugs him, so I don’t do it. Likewise, he knows how much I hate when he runs just one stride ahead, or one stride behind. Either you’re in front or behind, give me space, man!
Tip #2: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Make a plan before the run. Map out where you’re going or how long you’re going for so that when you’re out there, both parties involved don’t feel surprised or vulnerable if it’s a bit longer or shorter than anticipated. If you’re both on the same page going into the run, chances are you’ll both be able to solve problems that arise during. None of that can happen though if there is tension going in. Which brings me to tip #3.
Tip #3: Never start a run angry. My boyfriend and I have gone on a few runs where we have gotten angry with one another, and let me tell you, it’s awkward. Nobody has time for that. If you haven’t resolved an argument before you get out, maybe opt for a separate run to clear your head so that upon arrival back at home, you both feel ready to talk it out and figure out solution.
A few months ago, Elan and I decided to go for a bike ride. To preface the story, let me set the record straight in saying I was feeling emotionally vulnerable because I hadn’t run in weeks (due to hip surgery) and felt drastically out of shape. On top of feeling less fit, I was just getting into biking and was a total beginner.
We bickered before setting out because I wanted to do an extreme all day ride (mind you, the most I had ever ridden was 20 miles) while he was being totally rational in thinking that for our first ride together probably shouldn’t be a century (100 miles around Mt. Diablo or something as enormous).
Begrudgingly, I settled on some middle distance but was still feeling pretty smug about it. My psyche thrives off of reverse psychology, so if you tell me I shouldn’t do something, I automatically feel compelled to at least try.
In the middle of the ride, after only putting a band-aid on the situation, I made some off-handed and bratty remark that promptly resulted in Elan speeding up so much I couldn’t keep up with him. As you can imagine, we both felt pretty low and it took us apologizing on the side of the road, miles from our house, to end the ride on a high note. And thankfully, we actually did have a terrific ride and forgot about our bantering by the time we got back and unclipped.
Needless to say however, the discomfort of arguing in the middle of what was meant to be a cathartic and endorphin inducing experience was muddled because we couldn’t get our sh&t together before leaving the house.
I know plenty of couples who can’t run together for various reasons. Be it their paces are too different, their schedules aren’t in sync or their combined running ethos just don’t jive; running with someone you love (if not done properly) can take the love out of running.
My best and most given advice would be to talk more than you think. If things don’t feel right on a run, keeping it bottled up will only do more harm than good. The more you communicate, the less you hold on to thoughts that will eventually become repressed and will transpire into things or circumstances off the trail. Be gentle with your partner and they’ll be gentle with you. Your distance OCD isn’t stupid! Running fast isn’t a sin!
If you find that running together isn’t the bees knees, make stretching together a time to bond, or portion time to go for a hike or a bike ride together at the end of the day or as a part of a recovery day. Maybe you each plan out separate routes and plan to end together at the beach, enjoying being active and enjoying being together.