We’ve all heard the rumours about marriages being destroyed by Ironman(TM) training. I’m sure there is some truth to them, considering the kind of commitment such pursuits demand, even though my personal experience cannot be blamed on that.
What I have witnessed first hand, however, is how difficult relationships can be when one partner exercises a lot and the other one doesn’t at all. That has certainly lead to divorce. Let’s face it, such differences in lifestyle and outlook on health are hard to reconcile, although not impossible.
What is less obvious is that even if two life partners do exercise regularly, even intensely, training together as a couple can still put a lot of strain on the relationship.
Yet there are few greater joys in life than being able to train as a couple. I am convinced it makes for a stronger relationship. So let me provide a few tips, based on my own experience and anecdotal evidence, on how to overcome the main pitfalls of exercising with your significant other.
Pitfall 1: One of the two is a lot faster than the other.
This is typically the case with running and cycling, and never applies to yoga (about which there is still a pitfall). Let’s face it, very few couples are evenly matched when it comes to speed.
But you can always do your long training sessions together, at the slower person’s speed. Yes, this is good for the faster person, too. Actually, the faster person might develop more endurance than previously enjoyed. Try it.
You can’t do tempo work as a speed-mismatched couple, but intervals are great opportunities. I’m a big fan of running slow together, then going fast for a while and coming back together during recovery. For additional kicks, go slow together, then fast for a time at the slower person’s fast speed, and then separately for a time at the faster person’s fast speed while the slower just jogs along. Then join again for recovery at a slow speed. Call it “interval ladders”; it’s very intense, especially if you do long intervals.
The pool is also a good place to train together, but careful of the slippery slope to yoga-like situations…
Pitfall 2: One of the two does a lot more exercise/training than the other.
This is where understanding is key. Understanding on the part of the person training less: a large amount of exercise often fulfills a need for personal achievement that has nothing to do with the couple. But also understanding on the part of the person training more: you still need to pull your weight around the house, buddy, even if you are tired. And you need to take your partner out on a date once in a while, even if it is beyond your bed time!
As I said, the key is understanding.
Pitfall 3: Both want to do an Ironman.
This one is more about sharing. Imagine you are both keeners, and intense on the training. You already have a great advantage in that you are sharing a commitment to a sport and philosophy of life. Perhaps you can both do the same event; I’ve seen folks get engaged at the finish lines of some races. Good for you!
But perhaps you need a different kind of sharing. For instance, while you can talk about the feelings of the preparation and racing, it is important that you let each other feel things differently as well, to each have a personal experience. Furthermore, the needs of each athlete, especially for such long events, are different, so one size does not fit all, and you each need some alone training.
So, by all means, do train together for long runs and long bike rides (see Pitfall 1), but also train on your own, because you need it. I strongly recommend the “alternate years” approach whereby each of you takes turn doing an Ironman. This also helps with Pitfall 2, and becomes mandatory with Pitfall 4.
Pitfall 4: Children
This is all about sharing. Sharing the load, sharing the responsibility, sharing the lack of sleep when the kids are young. But it is also about sharing your passion for exercise with the kids.
Nowadays, there are so many good strollers and buggies you can take the kids in while out on a run or bike ride. Careful with swimming though. But the point is: get equipped, and share!
However, you’ll likely need to tone it down; go for shorter outings, not go as fast, etc. And perhaps get a less competitive bike on which you can install the additional gear. But it is all worth it. And you could probably use a bit of a break from being an endurance nut.
The best advice here is: enjoy it! They grow up so fast. And then, use the “alternate year” approach and even the “alternate days” to give each other a break from chores by going out on your own for a more intense session. Or just a nap.
Pitfall 5: Bitching
It is bound to happen at some point: when the going gets tough, the toughs get going, but sometimes there is bitching involved as well.
This is where communication is key. The bitching part of the couple must remember to say that the bitching is not directed at the significant other, and the significant other must not respond too much; simply nod and otherwise show compassion. It helps to sprinkle some “I love you” in there as well. For instance, while running or cycling (not applicable to swimming, somehow):
“I really hate this f$&@ing rain. Are we there yet? And I love you!”
To which the other replies, carefully:
“I know how you feel, and I love you too.” (After a pause, smiling gently.) “It is all the fault of the meteorologists, but it could happen during the race we are training for. And I love you!”
In case you have not caught on yet, always use “and” before “I love you.” Trust me. And deflecting responsibility does not hurt, either.
This, by the way, is also valid advice for traffic jams and standing in a crowd for last-minute X-mas shopping. Always find a way to blame meteorologists; they are used to it.
Pitfall 6: Yoga
This is probably the most dangerous pitfall of them all. The way it typically goes is: one person is into yoga, the other is into endurance sports. And then you try to meet somewhere in the middle.
While yoga is good for you as an endurance nut, and yoga nuts could use more cardio in their lives, there is a big problem that is bound to lead to arguments: the outfits. In particular, people striking all sorts of interesting poses and sweating in skimpy outfits. One of the two is bound to stare a little too much, and/or make a comment, and then the next thing you know you are having an argument.
It is not worth it. Just stay away. Let the person doing yoga have yoga, and the endurance nut have endurance.
Pitfall 7: Snooze and Snuggle
This is the most tricky, in my experience. You are so comfortable in bed that getting up and training becomes difficult. So you snooze and snuggle together. And don’t train as much as you are supposed to.
Keep in mind that recovery is important when you train hard. But you still need to get up and train. Thus the conflict.
I have no solution for this one, so if you do, I’d like to hear from you…
Pictures from Pixabay.
Finding a place to run a tempo loop (for example Jamaica Pond or the Reservoir in Brookline is great for tempo because you can keep an eye for each other.
Training use time instead of distance is also super useful because you can start and end together!
Good points! There are more tricks to training together, and perhaps I’ll get around to those later; I digressed due to funny thoughts about other aspects…
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