The Spouse as Running Coach: How to Make it Work

pasted_image_at_2016_03_30_06_17_pm_720We’ve all been warned don’t mix business with family or friendships! Dual relationships can lead to some messy situations, but sometimes mixing roles is unavoidable or happens anyway. Maybe your landlord happens to be your father, your sister is your boss, your teammate is your massage therapist, or maybe you’re dating your landscaper and are training partners with your hairdresser. 

Balancing these different roles is something I know well, because, for over ten years now, and for the foreseeable future, my husband has also been my running coach.  

Our dual relationship began because I honestly felt my husband was the best fit to be my coach. We both trained under some of the same coaches, had similar philosophies about training, and we shared similar strengths: both benefiting from high mileage and long aerobic intervals. He had seen many of my successes in running so he knew what worked. Additionally, he had a big hand in my qualifying for my first Olympic Marathon Trials in June of 2003, so I knew he could help me accomplish my running goals.

Having my husband as my coach has not always been smooth sailing, but we have learned how to balance the coach/athlete relationship with the husband/wife one over the years. Here are few of the things I’ve found to be helpful to make our dual relationship work.

No training-talk right before going to bed.

In case there is any disagreement on goal paces, goal races, or training in general, we simply don’t talk about it before bed. It’s not worth getting mad at each other right before trying to go to sleep. No one wants to miss out on a precious hour or two of z’s, especially now that there are two little ones in the house that are likely to steal them from us anyway. That’s not good for anyone.

No way to fake it.

Since I see my husband many times on a daily basis and usually within minutes of walking in the door from a run, he can see exactly how I’m doing, whether I’m full of energy or death warmed over. I can’t go hide and update my online training log or send him an email with my workout times and say “I felt good” even though I felt terrible. This can be a good thing too, because I can’t hide when the rest of my life is challenging; he sees my day-to-day activities and life stresses first hand, so he knows what I’m dealing with at any given moment and can adjust my training accordingly.

Built-in training partner.

With kids we can’t take advantage of this one as often, but every once in a while we get to run and sometimes even workout together. I like when this happens; we mesh well when he joins me on my workouts. He gets instantaneous reads on how I am doing throughout a segment, which allows us to adjust the workout on the fly if needed. I also like when he can join me for workouts because I feel that he can then have a better sense of where my fitness is, which helps with planning subsequent workouts and goal races.   

Rolling with the punches. 

Because I live with my coach and we usually have many other things to discuss throughout a day other than running, we don’t always have my training planned out very far in advance. Most times I get my workouts with less than 24 hours notice. I’ve gotten used to this and I think it’s actually been good for me because I don’t overly focus on or stress out about an upcoming workout. I just know to be mentally prepared for something challenging. The whole roll-with-the-punches mindset has been helpful in racing situations too, particularly ones where obstacles pop up, like a port-a-potty stop in the middle of an OTQ attempt. My husband would probably say that I’ve gotten better with this approach since having kids. I agree; parenting seems to involve rolling with the punches … a lot.

Celebrating successes and moving on from failures.  

With my husband as my coach, it makes the successes that much more rewarding and exciting. We accomplish goals as a team. On the flip side, I find it easier to move on from the failures (after a short time to be down and feel sorry for myself, of course) because I have so many other wonderful things to focus my attention on, two of the most important being our children. Plus, I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer around him, at least not for more than a couple of hours. We’ve also gotten pretty good at being able to discuss a failure, why it happened, and what to work on to improve on it without hurting anyone’s feelings. 

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After we get back from the track it’s back to co-coaching these cuties.

Remember which hat you’re wearing.

One last caveat for anyone looking to have their significant other coach them: remember to compartmentalize! If I get mad at my husband/coach for cutting my workout short or giving me less mileage than I liked, then I am mad only at my coach. I have to remember I am not mad at my husband. This is where I really have to be mindful of separating the two relationships. Having those boundaries clearly established goes a long way in keeping each relationship in good working order.

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Obviously, having your spouse as your coach may not be the ideal set-up for everyone, but for me it has been a good fit. Because we have been working together for so long, and I have really learned and enjoyed his coaching style, I am at a point where I could conceivably coach myself. However, I like having my husband hold me accountable or put the reigns on me when needed.

Have you ever had a significant other or someone else close to you coach you? How did you make it work? Any downsides?

I'm a licensed massage therapist with a background in biochemistry and also a mother of two. I'm usually training for marathons, but right now focusing on some shorter distances to change things up. I write mostly about health and science as they relate to running as well as being part of a running family.

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8 comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this! It’s really interesting to read how you guys manage the situation. I can’t imagine I’d be very pleasant for my husband to coach ;)

  2. I love that you and Mr. Poppy make it work. I’m sure it helps that he’s an experienced coach too, so he also knows how trainees are so he probably is far less likely to take your negative feelings, etc. personally. I’m sure it helps to have a lot of experience in each role, so he knows which hat he’s wearing too.

    My husband (back when he was my boyfriend) coached me for my first half and full marathon. He trained me from a fitness jogger to a 3:25 for my first. Not bad! Looking back I’ve had several coaches and he was the best one because he really understood me and my strengths and weaknesses. He didn’t have some philosophy he was trying to prove worked and his coaching of me was about my success as an athlete and not his success as a coach. The problem was I was so new and when I realized I might have some potential to run way faster than I ever thought possible I became curious and started to research training philosophies and then started questioning him and wanting to push harder than he thought I should and, ever not a fan of conflict, he backed away and has since refused to coach me. But he still did workouts with me a lot back in the day and that was awesome! And even now that he’s a grumpy old ex-runner (more or less) he still gives great advice. I’d love for him to coach me again!

    1. Yes, I think he is good in this role because of his own running experiences and because he has six older sisters, so he knows how to work well with women. He coaches somewhere around 15 athletes at the moment and what I think works well with his coaching is the individual approach vs the philosophy pushing you mentioned. He really takes each person’s daily life into consideration when creating training plans and obviously he knows my life very well. Also, he is a super nice guy and that makes working with him as a coach rather enjoyable.

          1. Ha, please. All those years of him coaching me were just so he was prepared for the army of ladies he’s coaching now. If he can handle me, he can handle anyone. ;)