One woman shares how running with her now-husband has strengthened their performance and their relationship over the years.

By Karla Bruning
July 03, 2019
Karla Bruning

When Phil and I met, we were both training for the New York City Marathon. It was my second marathon and his first. More than a decade later, we ran our 11th marathon as a team at the Prague Marathon in the Czech Republic. We've run 75 races together, 15 of them literally side-by-side. Over time, we moved in together, adopted a dog, got married, and had a baby. We've been through phases where one of us trained hard for a race and the other didn't.

Ultimately, we live by the adage, "couples who play together stay together," and I think this mentality has strengthened our performance and our relationship. Here are a few lessons we learned as a two-runner household over the years and across many, many miles.

Train together.

I've been consistent as a runner for more than a decade partly because I live with another runner. He's not just my husband, he's my accountability buddy. We joined a running team, went to team workouts, hit the park on weekends, and signed up for races together. That has made running easy for each other. "Go for a run," Phil would say, taking our daughter in the early months after her birth when she lived as a barnacle attached to my boob. (More on that here: Training Through My First Year of Motherhood Made Me a Better a Runner)

Now, with my more flexible work schedule, I try to run during the week so that he can run twice on weekends while I take care of the baby. We've helped each other stay active, accommodating schedules, giving encouragement and running together whenever the opportunity strikes. He's much faster. But if he's game for an easy run and we have a sitter, we're out the door.

Race together.

Twenty percent of our joint races have been side-by-side, stride-for-stride. We jogged some as fun runs. He paced me to personal bests (or attempts) at others. When I ran the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon while five months pregnant, he insisted on running it with me. When he finally earned his coveted Boston Marathon qualifier—crushing his age group standard by eight minutes—he asked me to get a bib and run it with him. He wanted to savor it together. Little did we know the 2018 race would see a full-blown Nor'easter. We both agreed that alone it would have been miserable. Together, it was an epic adventure. (Related: What I Learned from Running 20 Disney Races)

Set boundaries.

Like many running buddies (in a relationship or otherwise), we needed some guidelines if we were going to be successful. One big issue for us: mid-run chatter. We have very different motivational styles. So we've fine-tuned our mid-run talk. He's learned not to take it personally when I snap, "Stop. Talking," between breaths during hard efforts. And I've learned to try a kinder tone: "Can't. Talk." If we race together, we discuss beforehand our goals, mantras, and what we think we'll need from each other mid-run—time, pace and form checks; motivational talk; distraction chatter; silence; or something else. (Related: Why Having a Fitness Buddy Is the Best Thing Ever)

Play tag.

Running has become a two-person sport now that we have a child. Every run needs an assist. One person babysits, one person runs. We take turns, tagging in and out. We do it so much that we thought it might be fun to race that way. At the Prague Marathon in Czech Republic—our first baby-free trip two years after she was born—we signed up for the race's 2RUN two-person relay. We each ran half of the marathon, trading a team slap bracelet at the exchange point. It was a surprisingly fun way to race together—as teammates running in tandem. We set a goal for the marathon overall and ended up smashing it, largely because we didn't want to let the other down. It was the most fun we'd had together (and apart) in recent memory. (Related: 10 Fit Celeb Couples Who Make Working Out Together a Priority)

Be a coach.

As cohabitants, we each have a sounding board sitting next to us on the sofa. While we individually take charge of our training plans and strategies, we also turn to each other for advice and an outside perspective. He jokingly calls me "Coach No Run," because I'm likely to recommend rest when he's sick, working hard or teetering on the edge of injury; whereas he's more likely to push through. We know enough (or perhaps, learned enough) to give advice only when solicited. But because of that, we lean on each other's strengths and expertise to inform our own training. (Related: 4 Ways to Choose the Best Workout Buddy for Your Fitness Squad)

Cheer them on.

Yes, running is most fun when we're both in the same headspace—pushing hard and chasing goals…or not. But it's still fulfilling when we're on different pages. He nailed his big Boston qualifier race when I was seven months pregnant. I watched him wistfully, but proudly, as he trained. Come race day, I bopped around the course with a sign and cowbell in tow, screaming myself hoarse. "It's your turn," he told me post-pregnancy as I clawed my way back to fitness with a big goal in mind. He cheered me on with our baby strapped to him at race after race. When I nailed my lifetime half-marathon goal a year later, he was there, practically ugly crying by my side. Simply, we show up for each other. When I think of every running victory I've had, Phil has been there—usually snapping a photo of me at the finish.

Wear a costume.

Not much else shouts "we're together!" like a team costume on race day. We've run numerous Disney races dressed as Cinderella and Prince Charming, Jasmine and Aladdin, Ariel and Eric, Rey and Chewbacca, even Lady and the Tramp. But we've also paced as pirates at the Bermuda Triangle Challenge and twinned in our running team shirts at low-key events. Getting geared up together helps create a unified mindset: us against the clock, us against the world. Sure, his friends tease him about it, but he's a fully willing participant in our race day duds. It keeps us young and serves as a reminder not to take ourselves or a race too seriously.

Celebrate together.

We've all seen it or heard about it: the race day proposal. Phil intended to take a knee at the nighttime finish of Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon. I am a colossal Disney fan and it was my first Disney race. But he ditched his plan at the last minute and proposed at the post-race party when I could actually breathe. #Phew. No shade to the alternative. Phil just realized it wasn't for us. Instead, he waited until we were alone, medals and wine in hand, at the lovely Fez House in Epcot's Morocco Pavilion. I was genuinely shocked. When we went to the real Morocco eight years later, we recreated our engagement pic over and over and snapped the shot again at Epcot with our daughter this year.

Keep it up.

Keeping our running relationship through each phase of our lives hasn't always been easy. But it binds us in a way that's separate from life as mom and dad. I think it ties us to those 20-something kids we were when we met; when we had all the time—and energy—in the world. And almost a dozen years into our relationship, every chance to connect counts. So we've continued to make it a priority. Running is a big knot in our family ties. We're just two runners sweating it out together—in life and on the road.


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