How to Be a Happy, Running Couple

My boyfriend will be the first to admit he thought he’d never date another runner, let alone a runner in the same run club. Before we got together three years ago, he viewed mixing hobbies and a mutual community as a recipe for disaster. Running was his escape—and if he ran with his partner, he couldn’t use running to escape relationship turmoil.

He wasn’t alone. While plenty of couples indulge in runcations and date nights on the trails, most prefer to keep their running and romantic lives separate. Fifty-eight percent of runners polled by Runner’s World said they never train with their romantic partner while only six percent of runners said that they enjoy training and racing together.

University of North Carolina School of Social Work professor Dennis Orthner says that running together often opens new avenues for communication and intimacy. We’re more likely to slow down, get to know each other and most importantly, take the time to listen. It sounds to me like pavement pounding is the poor man’s couples therapy.

But then why can mixing love, partnership and running be so complicated? And why are so many people reluctant to share their sport with their partner? After all, you’re doing the thing you love with the one you love.

Conflicts can arise from fundamental gender differences and communication breakdowns that can start before the first shoelace is even tied. But with a little planning, patience and communication, running together doesn’t have to be a burden on your relationship. It can instead be a celebration of time spent together, embracing each others company and pushing yourselves, together.

But there are three things that you mind when running with your spouse.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Perfect love matches are rarely also perfect pace matches. Trying to stick together when you’re both running uncomfortably is bound to cause tension. Before Ryan and I head out for a run, we align our training intentions for the day. For us, that usually means prioritizing quality time together over pace pushing and fitness gains. Occasionally we’ll agree on what we like to call “no f-ing around pace,” which essentially means moving consistently without any photo opts, but it’s never at the cost of frustration and resentment.

Don’t Race

In some cases, it’s okay to have the speedier partner set the pace. In fact, that sense of working together to achieve a goal can be fulfilling and having someone faster to push you through a tough workout is only going to result in fitness gains. Still, it’s never wise to try to outrun your partner just for the sake of it. There is a time and place for competition. Jetting off without taking your partner into account will lead to resentment that can undermine the relationship. There are plenty of opportunities to scratch that competitive itch, and abandoning your partner is never worth the PR.

Support Each Other

Whether you run in opposite directions or stride for stride, the most important thing is teamwork and understanding. Planning the run, reflecting on it and talking about it afterwards makes it more of a joint activity whether you’re sharing the miles or not.

Sharing the sport means there’s no need to explain cutting a night out short for an early start. No need to justify mysterious smells, salty kisses, absurd amounts of laundry or the necessity of evening foot rubs. If you share running with your partner, you share the highs of races gone well, and they can take away some of the burden when you’re sidelined by injury.