How Running with My Boyfriend Changed the Way I Think About Exercise
I was treating life like an endless marathon of delayed gratification that never came.
When I was 7, my dad started preparing my brother and me for our elementary school's annual 5K. He'd drive us to the high school track and time us as we circled it, critiquing our strides, arm motions, and dwindling paces toward the end.
When I won second place in my first run, I cried. I watched my brother throw up as he crossed the finish line and deemed myself lazy for failing to reach that point of utter exhaustion.
Years later, my brother would win college crew competitions by rowing until he vomited, and I'd collapse on the tennis court after taking to an extreme my dad's advice to "be tough," assuming it would be weak to stop. But I also went on to graduate from college with a 4.0 GPA and become a successful professional writer.
Running took a backseat until later in my 20s when I moved in with my boyfriend and we established post-work jogs around our neighborhood. But, here's the thing: He drove me insane because he would always stop when he got tired. Wasn't the whole point of exercise to push your body's limits? I'd run ahead then circle back to meet him-God forbid my feet actually stopped moving. (This kind of all-or-nothing mentality is actually not the best running technique either. Learn more about why you should train for total exercise time, not for speed or distance.)
I started to notice these mentality differences in our lifestyle habits, too. When we would work from home together, he'd retreat to the couch when he needed a break, and I'd grow furious. What was he thinking? Didn't he know these needless breaks would just prolong his workday?
One day, he tried to rope me into a cuddle during his couch time. "I try not to take breaks because then I get work done faster," I said.
"I try to take breaks because then I enjoy life more," he shot back.
Admittedly, my first thought was what is that going to get you? But then I said to myself, enjoying life-what a concept.
My version of enjoying life had always been pushing hard to get work (or workouts) done faster to have more free time afterward-like my dad taught me. But, if I'm being honest, I'd just use that "free" time to do more work. Figuratively (and sometimes literally) while my boyfriend did sprint intervals, I was over there running a marathon of delayed gratification that never came.
During a run one weekend afternoon, I grew so frustrated with his stopping-and-going that I asked, "What are you hoping to gain from taking breaks?"
"I don't know," he shrugged. "What are you hoping to gain from running nonstop?"
"Exercise," I said. A more honest answer would've been: The need to throw up or collapse. The sense of accomplishment that comes along with that.
My not-so-subtle coaching was pointless, and I saw that. He wasn't training for anything. He was just trying to enjoy the spring sunshine-and I was ruining his enjoyment. (Related: Running Helped Me Finally Beat My Postpartum Depression)
Maybe my self-directed inner critic had grown so hyperactive, I couldn't turn it off around others. Or maybe, telling my partner to approach work, exercise, and life the same way I did was an effort to reassure myself that my approach was valid. But was I really validating myself, or was I validating my dad?
That's when it hit me: The discipline, hard work, and ability to push past the point when you want to stop that my dad instilled in me had gotten me far in my career, but these virtues weren't serving me on my runs. They were making me uptight and obsessive during what was supposed to be a break from the pressures of my workday; a time to relax and clear my head.
While I'm glad my dad taught me that pushing yourself pays off, I've since learned that there are many different definitions of a reward. Exercise is not a success when it's making you physically ill for no purpose. Collapsing doesn't mean you gave more than the person next to you. And that kind of strict mentality doesn't really allow you to enjoy life and enjoy movement.
So I decided to stop turning our running dates into another race training session. I would adopt my boyfriend's style: pausing at the flea market for fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, lingering underneath a tree for some shade, and picking up ice cream cones on the way home. (Related: What I Learned About Setting Fitness Goals After Running My First 5K)
When we returned from our first leisurely run, I apologized to him for my drill-sergeant attitude, telling stories of my short-lived childhood running career. "I think I'm becoming my father," I said.
"So, I get a free trainer," he joked. "That's nice."
"Yeah." I thought about it. "I guess I did, too."