Is a Life Partner a Good Training Partner?

by Jedd Ferris

About a year ago my wife Megan and I decided we would semi-seriously take up running—together. Last year we successfully finished our first 10-miler, and this year we’ve decided to join the throngs of autumn runners for a crack at 13.1, also known as a half-marathon. From the beginning we’ve looked at running as a joint venture. We’re not disillusioned by the fact that neither of us could ever be more than middle-of-the-packers, so at this point in our lives we’re really just in it for the health benefits, a sense of accomplishment, and the occasional cool t-shirt. Our goal has been and still remains to finish new distances as a team.

There are many easily identifiable advantages to training with your spouse. First and foremost is the accountability factor. When one of us doesn’t feel like going out for a scheduled run, the other one is always right there to insist. In later miles, if one of us is starting to slow down, the other knows just what to say in the way of encouraging words.

While this may sound sappy, the reality isn’t always quite so sweet. Ideally we would finish each and every run frolicking hand-in-hand with big smiles on our faces, while the victorious melodies of the Chariots of Fire theme song blare in the background of our heads. Not so.

All successful marriages require some form of compromise. I don’t care if the two most compatible people on the planet wind up together. At some point there’s going to be some sacrificial give and take—from the hugely asinine, like struggling to admit that it is unreasonable to spend $2,000 on a second bike (that would be me), all the way down to the little idiosyncrasies that have naturally developed to ensure harmony in daily home life. Unfortunately when it comes to running, making sacrifices isn’t always easy.

For instance, Megan is not too fond of spitting. When we’re walking down the street together on the way to breakfast, I am certainly happy to suppress my manly urges out of respect. But when we’re running, and I start inhaling pollen spores and pollutants abundant in the steamy Southern air, my lungs have a tendency to become little phlegm factories. As a result, I am often forced to hock a few loogies on the sidewalk, while my wife quietly stews in disgust.

And that’s not even the worst of it when it comes to bodily malfunctions. When I rev up my engine for more than three miles, let’s just say my gas tank becomes a little overactive. To avoid being forced to sleep on the couch, I drop back and release the hounds far enough away from her range of smell. If I had a random training partner, I would probably just keep pace, let loose, and say,” Pardon me, Bob, it must have been the chili.”

Maybe slowing down to fart doesn’t make me a martyr, but I definitely endure my share of inconveniences. Megan is an early riser. She likes to get a lot of our running out of the way in the morning. For her to get to work on time, that usually means heading out the door by 5:45am. I, on the other hand, have a nightly regimen of watching the Daily Show, followed by a little Sportscenter, which doesn’t put me in bed before midnight. Naturally I don’t hold back in letting her know that running before six not only sucks, but getting less than six hours of sleep undermines my health and well being.

Then there can be the mutual frustrations. As even-handed runners, occasionally one of us will have a better day than the other. Because of our partnership pact, we’ve agreed to stick together, even if one of us feels like we could push ahead. We’ve both admitted that running together isn’t always easy. Why should I have to hold back when I need to spit? Why should she have to run in the evenings because I can’t get my butt out of bed? Why should one of us give up a PR because the other has a cramp?

In reality the answer to these questions is simple: neither of us would be running at all without the other. People trying to get in shape or lose weight start running all the time, and the majority of them don’t make it past a few weeks at best. We have been going strong for more than a year, and we’re not only still running, but our distances are only getting longer. Running, for us, is not just a vehicle for self-improvement. It’s also a way for us to accomplish something together. Despite the difficulties, for that reason, as training partners, we will never let each other down. Now that was sappy. •