Seven Ways to Support Your Significant Other’s Interest in Running

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Photo Credit: FUN RUN by Flickr user whologwhy, used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo Credit: FUN RUN by Flickr user whologwhy, used under a Creative Commons license.

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.

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  • Flaming June

    My husband laughed when I read this to him, because he could have written this post! Now I am the one dragging him out of bed at 5am! When he complains, I remind him that this is what he prayed so many years for!!

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks June – I hope my wife is never the one dragging me out of the bed in the morning!

  • Claudio

    Hi Greg, in my case it was the opposite.
    It was my girlfriend (now wife and mother) that was the runner in the house and every so
    often she would ask if I wanted to join her for a short (1.7 mi) loop around
    the neighborhood. 4.5 years ago I decide to join her on a beautiful Saturday
    morning in the fall, half way thru I almost collapsed, had to seat on a bench, catch my breath and take the shortcut back home, she came along to make sure I would make it
    back home okay. I don’t think I went more that 3/4 miles that day. Needless to
    say I was embarrassed and decide to do something about it. With her help and
    support I started to run. In the fall 2009 I ran my first marathon and in 2010 I
    ran my second marathon with my girlfriend and I BQ for Boston. In 2011 and ran
    it. I ran Boston 2012 and I was signed up for Boston 2013, but I did not go
    because our daughter was born premature. This fall I’ll be running a marathon (10th)
    during our family vacation, later a century bike ride, my second JFK-50 miler
    and if my wife allows it I’ll put my name on the Western State 100. All thanks
    to my wonderful wife!

    BTW, since our daughter was born I’ve become a Predawn runner. Thanks, Greg for
    all the tips, support and guidance you’ve posted on the subject.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks for sharing your journey Claudio, and what a trip it’s been! That’s an amazing amount of progress and it goes to show what one can do with a bit of willpower. And I would point out that you are supporting the key point of this post, which is that you had to come to the decision to start running and set your goals yourself – it sounds like your wife has been very supportive without having to push you into things. Good luck in your 10th marathon and everything else in front of you.

  • Doug H.

    Fun post, Greg! My fiancee has recently decided that she wants to try out this whole running thing. She is a yoga teacher, so active and strong, but decided running along quiet trails sounded like fun.

    We’ve had a good time so far! We’ll run together for a mile or two before she heads back and I keep going. I think the no unsolicited advice is what has kept it fun for us. She hasn’t asked for much advice, and as long as I keep my mouth shut, she wants to keep going out!

    Good luck to your wife!

  • Greg Strosaker

    Glad your fiancee has taken up running Doug, sounds like it has been a natural fit for her and that you are doing the right thing by avoiding offering the unsolicited advice that is oh-so-tempting to provide.

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