Love and Running for the Long Haul

Tips for running with your spouse

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 even 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, that’s what.

We have run together twice in our 17+ years of marriage. The first time was about 15 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 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. And thought it was immensely enjoyable, actually.

We waited for about another decade to try again. The 2012 Austin Half-Marathon fell on Valentine’s Day (the irony!). We didn’t talk strategy, pre-race. All he knew was that I was gunning for a sub-1:50, and all I knew was that he could run that pace easily. So he voluntarily “paced” me for a few miles.

READ MORE: How to Get (and Keep) Your Family Fit

Grant’s version of pacing was 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.

READ MORE: Mastering the Mind Body Equation in Running

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:

Make a Plan

Ideally this happens before you head out the door. In other words, do that thing that marriage counselors advise: Communicate.

Discussion Points to Consider

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?

Pace Matters

Let’s back up to the who is setting the pace question. Men have this irritating hormone called testosterone that allows them to go faster with less effort than most of us who must wear sports bras. And, as you might know, said male hormone often allows them to leap off the couch and run faster than us, even if we’ve been training for a marathon for months.

In other words, unless your partner is truly a new runner or is able to completely set aside his ego, agree that you will set the pace.

If need be, show him simple comparison chart:

If your effort is… His effort will be…
Easy Super easy
Moderate Easy
Tempo Easy
Hard Easy-ish
Legs.Are.Falling.Off. This side of easy
Lungs.Are.Burning. One step above easy
Must.Puke.Now. Moderate

Have Realistic Expectations

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. And that’s okay! If the conversation does start to flow, keep your heart rate low and good vibes going by treading lightly on delicate subjects. It’s probably not the time to discuss the family budget or your mother-in-law’s latest chide.

READ MORE: When in Doubt, Run the Race for You

It’s Not a Race

If running side by side feels like it could cause a rift too big to leap over, go to a track. Opt for a speed workout, beginning intervals 45 seconds apart from each other, so there’s no racing and no bragging rights at stake.

Get Creative

If striding side-by-side feels stressful, make it a two-part date. Do an out-and-back run at your own paces for, say, 45 minutes, and then grab an easy dinner where you enjoy each other’s company. Afterwards, maybe your combined endorphins will prompt you to get sweaty together. (And everybody wins!)

The author and her husband before the start of Colorado’s Steamboat Springs Half Marathon. Photo courtesy of Dimity McDowell

Flattery Wins

Finally, compliment copiously on the whole situation. Who doesn’t like to hear their partner say, “Your glutes look awesome in those capris?” Return the favor.

Grant and I combined the last two tips in 2014, to celebrate our 14th anniversary; we took a road trip to Steamboat Springs, Colo., to run a halfmarathon. 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 then 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 as I dashed in just under the two-hour mark. “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.

READ MORE: Sex in the Wild On a Trail Run

Dimity McDowell

Dimity McDowell is a writer, runner, triathlete and co-founder and CEO of Another Mother Runner. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children and the family dog.