Many runners are in a relationship where they are the only one pursuing the sport. Obviously, partners in a relationship can have divergent interests, that either predate the relationship or developed over time. This is a good thing, as everyone needs their own “thing”, and their time to themselves. Plus, running is a hobby that consumes a lot of time, and it can be difficult to balance with other needs like childcare – though hopefully you are doing your fair share of more of the work and supporting your partner’s own hobbies.
However, given the great physical and mental health benefits of running, which you are hopefully humbly putting on display through your fitness and good demeanor, it’s probably far more likely that your significant other (for simplicity, let’s just assume it is a spouse, and more specifically a wife, since Mrs. Predawn Runner has just started running) will develop an interest in running than in, say, golf or poker (especially poker). Or perhaps she just wants to have something more in common, something to talk about, or another way to spend time together.
As we all know, it can be a bit intimidating to take up running, especially under the eyes of someone a bit more experienced. The dropout rate for new runners can be pretty high, because – let’s face it – running hurts. The odds of success increase if one is self-motivated to take up running, so applying pressure to do so can be counterproductive. You need to let your spouse come to the decision on her own. This can take some time, so you need to stay patient and just continue to set the good example.
If your spouse does eventually catch the bug and want to take up running, there are four ways you can help her establish the habit and get it to the point where it becomes sustaining:
- Give space – Just as you did before they took up running, you need to give your spouse the space and permission to make their own choices – to set their own goals and to make mistakes along the way.
- Give support – This support has to take many forms. First, you need to provide her the opportunity and time to run, even if this means cutting back on your own training for a short time. Every minute your spouse runs at this point is far more valuable than any minute you could possibly run. And make no judgment, only encouragement – celebrate every accomplishment they want to celebrate, and never overwhelm it with your own story. Take a backseat in every way possible.
- Offer no unsolicited advice – Let your spouse ask for advice when they are ready to receive it, and answer the question you are asked and not much more. Every runner is different and what worked for you won’t work for her. Any unrequested advice you give may well turn out to be either wrong or resented at this point, and the more complex the advice, the greater the risk. Obviously, set this aside if they are on the way to hurting themselves (taking on too much too soon, running through an injury, getting really bad advice from elsewhere, etc.), but even then be careful and proceed through asking your own questions to help her come to her own realizations.
- Sit out their first race – be a fan – It may be tempting to want to run in a race together, and if she wants to do so, then by all means say yes. But err on the side of being a supporter for that first race. Make the goofy sign, take the kids with you, be a photographer or water provider. Again, her first race is far more important than any race you could run at this time, so help set your spouse up for success.
As your spouse begins to develop as a runner, it is helpful to always keep a few other thoughts in mind:
- Your spouse is not you – she may always have different motivations for running and will always have a different baseline. You may never have truly been a “beginner” runner and faced those kinds of challenges, so keep an open mind to her thoughts and experiences and avoid brushing anything off as inconsequential. What may seem like an easy barrier to you may be the difference between continuing or abandoning this pursuit.
- Your spouse may need a different coach – don’t be offended if your significant other wants advice from someone other than you. This may make them feel less pressured or, on the flip side, more committed to their training. And your experiences may not relate well to their needs – again, if you have no (or long-ago) experience as a beginner, it can be tough to avoid prescribing too much, too soon. A coach specializing in their needs and background may do a far better job at keeping them progressing injury-free.
- It could be some time – if ever – before you start running together – if your hope is that you will be able to enjoy running together, your spouse may have different interests. Let her drive this and set the goal if you do run together, however. It can be intimidating for a newer runner to run with someone more experienced, so let her set the pace and assure her that however she wants to run works for you. Don’t be offended if she chooses to run with other friends, as this may be her way of establishing her own time to herself or a support system. The best way you can continue to offer support is to provide the time and space needed.
While you may ultimately continue to pursue different paths in your running, you’ll at least enjoy the fact that your spouse will undoubtedly have a newly found respect for your habit, and you’ll have one more element in your relationship in which you can share the joy.