Can Love And Running Co-Exist?

You and your partner both love running and being together. So why doesn’t it go so well when you actually run together?

Jennifer van Allen |

Fifty-eight per cent of runners in a Runner’s World online poll said that they never train with their romantic partner. Another 26 per cent of runners said they train for and go to the same races together – but run at their own paces.

Just six per cent of runners said they train and race in lockstep.

“When romantic partners are intimate in so many functions in their life, whether it’s work, a hobby, or a sport, it can get intense,” says Michael Gervais, PhD, a high performance psychologist. While plenty of couples cherish running as together time, others always go their separate ways.

To be sure, sharing your love of running with the love of your life has plenty of benefits. There’s no need to explain the early start that cuts short a late night out. No need to justify mysterious smells, sweaty kisses, ugly feet, or why a R2 500 shoe expenditure every few months is non-negotiable. And that’s to say nothing of the ease of planning vacations around races and the companionship of someone who can genuinely commiserate when you’re side-lined by injury.

Experts say that learning to nurture and respect your partner beyond his or her role as your beloved – as a runner – can bring you closer. “The great thing about running – like any leisure activity – is that it breaks down the normal patterns of communication and the roles we play,” says Dennis Orthner, a university professor in social work. “That gives you an opportunity to open up new channels of communication and break down the normal barriers to intimacy.”

So why can mixing romance and running be so tough? After all, you’re doing the thing you love with the one you love. All those feel-good hormones are pumping; your body and confidence are getting a boost. Experts say that conflicts can stem from basic gender differences – shaped by nature and nurture – along with communication breakdowns that can start before the first shoelace is tied. But running together doesn’t have to wear down your relationship.

With a little planning, and the same kind of give and take that you exercise off the road, you can both run happily ever after.


Some of the potential for problems comes from differences in basic brain chemistry, says Shawn Talbott, PhD, a nutritional biochemist who has finished more than 100 marathons and triathlons. “When men and women compete, they have totally different hormone production, and they’re going in completely opposite directions.”

Even at rest, men have about 10 times more testosterone than women. Testosterone helps guys be more driven, competitive, goal-oriented, and focused. During competition – or even just a training run – testosterone gets elevated even higher.

In women, on the other hand, competition prompts the production of oxytocin, the so-called ‘cuddling’ hormone associated with nurturing, collaboration, empathy, and trust; it’s the same hormone that promotes bonding between moms and newborns, and between two people who are falling in love.

This can be further reinforced by socialisation, says John Gray, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. “Men get benefits from staying focused on one thing and accomplishing that task,” he says. “Women get more benefits from talking and sharing.”


Many conflicts arise from the fact that even a perfect love match is rarely also a perfect pace match. And trying to stick together when you’re both running uncomfortably is bound to cause tension.

This is why it’s so important to decide – before you go – why you’re running together. Is it for fun together time? Or is it just a convenient way to get in a workout?

“If the purpose is to run as a couple and strengthen the relationship, you have to set aside your own competitive goals and focus on the other person’s needs,” says Orthner. “If the other person is doing the same thing, you’ll bring home something that will have spin-offs in lots of positive ways.”

That said, if you run together at the slower person’s pace, it’s important to give each other permission to develop individually. That will help prevent resentment on either end. “There have to be times when you can be more competitive, and free to develop your own skills,” Orthner says.


Another key to mixing running and romance is being able to read one another’s signals— and silence – when you’re on the road. “So often men complain that women ask too many questions, and women complain that men don’t ask enough,” says Gray. That can come up a lot on the road, particularly when the going gets tough.

Constantly asking, “Are you okay?” – out of concern and care – can send the opposite message to the other (male) person. “Asking ‘How are you doing?’ is questioning that he’s doing okay,” Gray says. “You’re implying that he needs help and can’t do it himself.” That means it’s especially important to draw on your knowledge of the person off the road.


No matter whether you run in opposite directions or side by side, the most important thing, experts say, is teamwork. Planning the run, reflecting on it, and talking about how you feel about it makes it more like a joint activity, says Orthner. “There has to be an interaction,” says Orthner. “It really requires a feeling of partnership.” And that can happen even if you’re not running together.


Whether you run together often or only occasionally, it’s never a wise move to try to outrun your partner. “In competitive situations, each person is out to have his own needs met, and isn’t taking the other person into account,” says Orthner. “That can undermine the health of the relationship.”

Click here to find out the 7 Keys to a Healthy Running Relationship.

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