I am no expert in relationships, but I am a competition-oriented runner in a relationship with another runner, and as the years go by and my husband and I go in and out of training cycles, I’ve noticed a few patterns.
The way I see it, the relationship dynamic between pair of runners depends greatly on where each runner is in her/his training. It’s sort of like the states of matter: as the molecules of an object react to different temperatures, the object passes through the various states of matter (solid, liquid, gas, etc.). Similarly, as the training of two runners increases and decreases in intensity, so will their relationship fluctuate through different states.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll presume that you Salty Readers are like me and most often the competitive runner in each scenario.
If we reduce our partners to their “runner-ness,” a competitive runner can pair up with 1) one who runs competitively, 2) one who runs solely for fun or exercise 3) one who doesn’t run. Types of runners are really more like states of matter (solid, liquid, gas) than absolute genres in that most of us fluctuate between the different states. And I propose that if you or your runner/mate changes state, so too will the relationship.
My husband (heretofore known as “the Tuna”) and I both started running before we starting driving and met through overlapping circles of runners. Running is embedded in our souls. I prefer to be in the competitive state of running. My husband, on the other hand, can cycle through the states three times a year. As his state fluctuates, the state of our relationship transitions from one state to another.
In the competitive duo, both members are competitive runners. This means both members are running to get faster, and each is focused on his/her individual goals. Pro-runner Lauren Fleshman and her pro-triathlete husband Jesse Thomas are an example of a competitive duo.
The great thing about a relationship in this state is that both members get it. He gets why you wake up at 5 AM on a Saturday. You get why he spent $120 on new running shoes. And he gets why you fall asleep at the dinner table at least once a week. Because he’s right there with you. You are both often exhausted, hangry (when hunger turns to anger), and a wee bit selfish.
The Tuna and I function pretty well when we’re both on the same page. Stories of epic tempos and effortless intervals fill our conversation as we eat french bread pizza for dinner. Again. At 8:30 PM. From opposite sides of the coffee table. In the midst of a hamstring-stretch. It is crazy-town at our house when we are both training competitively, but we love it.
The key to our success in this state of the running relationship is turn-taking. When the Tuna and I are both training for PR’s or standards (qualifying for another race), we run different races. I’ll run Chicago, and a week later, he’ll run Columbus. We haven’t ever both raced the same (big) race, because after gritting through a PR (or an implosion) at any distance, in any relationship state, the first thing we want at the finish line is to see the other person. And after tracking and chasing and cheering galore, the spectator-half wants the same thing; to celebrate or to pick up the pieces. One of us has been known to sneak into “restricted” finishing areas and sneak out of medical tents because it is just that important.
Competitive + Recreational Pair
The relationship morphs into the state of the competitive + recreational pair when one runner is running competitively and the other is running recreationally. In our case, this occurs when the Tuna enters one of his Brett Favre-esque “retirements.“ At these times, I like to pretend we can relate to Kara and Adam Goucher.
This state is all about balance and sharing in the competitive runner’s goal. The recreational runner understands the runner’s high. He/she supports the competitive runner at races or easy days, even on warm ups and cool downs. But while the competitive runner is out logging miles, the recreational runner has to pick up some of the relationship slack. And the chores. And the childcare. And the post-workout blow-up counseling sessions.
The Tuna and I function well, maybe even the best, in this state. We can go for easy runs together and he will pace me in a workout without too much effort, all while taking care of housekeeping and making sure we only eat french-bread pizza once a week.
Competitive + Non-Runner Twosome
In the competitive + non-runner twosome, one member is running competitively and the other is not a runner. Famous Competitive+ Non-Runner Twosomes include Bernard Lagat and wife Gladys Tom or Fawn Dorr and her partner.
In this relationship state, the non-runner might not understand the kooky runner obsessions but they know 5AM runs are part of the routine and $100 shoes are part of the budget. The competitive runner is spending a lot of his/her free time pounding pavement which means a lot of time without the non-runner.
The Tuna and I are most challenged in this state. This state really comes down to sacrifice. When we’re both training for competition, we are both goal-oriented. When I’m training competitively and the Tuna’s running recreationally, he is active in the process of helping me reach my goal. So when one of us is training competitively and the other is not running, the non-runner becomes the number one fan. From dinner to dry cleaning. From road-trips for races to personal baggage claim/drop off, to scenarios like this:
What’s that? Your hands are cold? You didn’t pack gloves? Well, let me give you mine. My hands? Don’t be silly. I won’t be cold. I’ll keep my hands in my pockets as I chase you around the course. You need warm hands more than I do.
That scenario pretty much sums up the sacrifices of the non-runner when in this relationship state. Since the state is so one-sided, the Tuna and I really do best by remembering that this state is only temporary and we’ll be back to our goal-oriented, goal-sharing state in no time.
Shortly after my first OTQ attempt in Chicago in 2011, I was exchanging emails with a teammate about speculation regarding the 2016 standard. As I consulted the Tuna about another four years of chasing standards, this is what he had to say:
How does your training affect your relationship with your significant other (or friends, household, etc.)? What state do you prefer to be in?