In response to a recent Guardian article which suggested running with your significant other was a nightmare, here’s why (and how) running with your other half can benefit your fitness AND strengthen your relationship.
Run at chatting pace
If you and your partner usually travel at different speeds, agree in advance to take it slow and run at a pace comfortable to you both. The ideal running speed is one where you can both still chat on the move.
Every run doesn’t need to be an intense training session and there are benefits to taking it easy. Using this time to talk through your respective days or make plans for the future can help you both unwind. Time spent talking and simply enjoying running together will outweigh the benefits of a high-intensity training session.
‘My husband and I spent years running together as a lovely way to catch up and chat without the usual interruptions of day to day life,’ says Dr Josephine Perry, sport psychology consultant from performanceinmind.co.uk
‘We used to really like running together when we went on holiday as it meant we can explore far more but in a way we still felt safe. We can't run together as much now as we have a one-year-old, but she loves going in the buggy and they both like to sprint past me at parkrun after saying they'd be taking it easy!’
‘There are no issues of competitiveness - my husband is far far faster than me,’ adds Perry. ‘But he trains for ultra races and I train for much shorter ones so he doesn't mind running at my slower speed. We actually do help each other when we run. I'm trained in sport psychology and he's trained as a coach so we can get the benefits of each other's experience to become better athletes.’
During the winter months it can be hard to maintain training momentum, which is where the invaluable support of a partner steps in. ‘One of the benefits of training with your partner is the ability to encourage each other gently out on those duvet days when getting out onto the streets or the park is not the most obvious option,’ says Gary Bloom, Clinical psychotherapist (BACP) from clickfortherapy.com
‘It’s important (especially if you haven’t trained for a while) to go slowly at first, accepting that your partner might be fitter/less fit than yourself,’ adds Bloom. ‘It’s key to go at the pace of the slowest runner.’
‘But the psychological benefits of training together will include a greater feeling of joint achievement and also a sense that each of you really cares about the progress of each other,’ explains Bloom. ‘Running can be a very lonely business and having someone who cares for you alongside you provides a huge incentive to get out the door.’
With work and family commitments, popping out for a quick run isn’t always that simple and often involves juggling schedules, recruiting a babysitter or taking turns. If you do get the opportunity to run together, acknowledge the benefits of just 30 minutes of exercise and consider it precious time. This way you will savour that time spent together irrespective of the training intensity, and appreciate how important it is for you and your family to keep active.
Before you head out the door, take a moment to discuss what running and exercise means to you as a family and you will appreciate this time together all the more.
For some couples, a bit of healthy competition with your significant other will motivate you to push yourself further, but for others it can create animosity. Not sure if you can hack it? The solution is simple. Discuss your goals in advance and tailor your exercise session to suit you both.
If one of you is training for an Ironman and the other finds 5K a challenge, you’re going to struggle. So talk about what you hope to gain from running together. If it’s to push each other to succeed, great! But if you just fancy a gentle run to discuss garden maintenance, that’s OK too. Set your objectives in advance so everyone is aware of the agenda and there are no nasty surprises. Then if one of you still can’t resist zooming off, they have to do the washing up!
Be a cheerleader
If you can’t fit in a run together or your training schedules just don’t match up, you can still benefit from supporting each other. Being in a relationship is all about supporting your other half, so what better way to show you care than to be there for each other when you run too?
Accompany your partner on the Saturday morning parkrun and take it in turns to hold the baby/dog every other week. Or go all out and cheer at a race, with a big sign and a beer waiting at the finish line. If one of you doesn’t run, you can still garner enjoyment out of cheering for your partner and the shared encouragement will strengthen your relationship bonds.
‘The physical effects on the brain while exercising have been well documented,’ explains Bloom. ‘It’s a joke in our profession that if any one of us could bottle what happens to the brain when exercising we would be millionaires! Imagine the positive effects on the relationship with both of you feeling great at the same time? You can also discuss and share your training and running regimes, so it becomes a joint venture.’
Enjoy the ride
Is your partner a more experienced runner than you, or vice versa? The temptation to 'coach' your other half is a common one, but for even the most solid couples this can lead to problems. Unless you are a bona fide fitness coach and your partner explicitly asks you for advice, resist the urge to start relaying fitness wisdom to your beloved or critiquing their gait and just go along for the ride. For new runners, training advice can be construed as condescending when they really just need support and encouragement.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no law about running and no ‘right’ way to do it. You CAN just run for the hell of it and you don't have to sprint like a gazelle or achieve a PB every week to enjoy yourself. The benefits of shared exercise with your partner comes from enjoying each other’s company, fresh air and uninterrupted chat time. So what are you waiting for? Hit the road!