“In classical mechanics, the two-body problem is to determine the motion of two point particles that interact only with each other”. In academia, the two-body problem (career) refers to “the difficulty of both spouses obtaining jobs at the same university or within a reasonable commuting distance from each other”. So what is the two-body problem for runners . . . other than the motion of two people that interact only with each other?
When both partners are runners and compete and train together, there are a number of dilemmas that can develop. In this post, I will address the challenges and triumphs of having two runners that run and train to compete in the same ultra/endurance events. Let’s start with the frivolous:
1.) With both partners intensely training for ultramarathons, the level of laundry that is produced and needs to be completed each day is astronomical. And don’t get me started on the water bill associated with long hot showers/baths.
2.) The cost, that equates to two sets of EVERYTHING. Two sets of fancy shoes, wool composite socks, hydration packs, tech shirts, moisture wicking shirts, race entries, goo, gels, hats, sunglasses, liters of sunscreen . . . the list is infinite.
3.) The chores get away. Nobody likes chores. No matter how many blisters I have, I will always prefer a run to mowing the lawn or cleaning the bathroom. My husband is the same . . . the lawn sometimes gets scary and we may have misplaced one of our dogs last summer.
Now let’s dig a bit deeper. How does running and training affect the marriage/relationship? I think if both halves have the right mind-set, then the value add of sharing racing and training can be enormous. But if either partner loses focus on the relationship, then things can become dicey.
First, the good:
4.) Running together can produce endorphins, which leads to arousal, which is definitely good for a relationship.
5.) Sharing a victory or a tough race builds memories and teamwork for us, particularly on challenging races where the possibility of failure, injury, or getting lost is very real. We have had races where we work together to stay on course, help an injured runner, or just plain survive the nastiness of blackberry thorns, muddy ATV-shredded hills, and cold, dark night runs. Those are the races we always remember the most fondly.
6.) We bear witness to the essence of our partner. Susan Sarandon’s character in Shall We Dance states, “We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.” Running allows us to bear witness to both the greatest triumphs and failures of our partner. I have DNF’d while my husband has run the greatest race of his career. We have shared bruised ribs, debilitating blisters, chaffing of parts unspeakable, dry heaving, and conquering races that have tested our limits as people and runners. In these moments of triumph and spectacular failure, I know my husband and he knows me. We know each other at our most glorious and most unlikable. So be assured, when life throws us curve balls of sickness or lost jobs, debt or despair, we know how the other will react, and that we will handle whatever comes our way with dogged determination. That knowledge of the solidity and resilience of our relationship is a gift.
The not so good:
7.) Competition. A little bit of spousal competition is good. It breeds more focus and determination and training, which leads to subsequent excellence. But too much competition and things can turn ugly. In a marriage, to compete with your spouse is to know that by you succeeding, your spouse is failing. In racing or in life, I never want my spouse to fail. When he fails, we fail.
8.) Misguided expectation. When couples don’t set reasonable expectations for a race or training run, there can be resentment. If one person expects the other to stay with them no matter what . . . and they get dumped halfway into a run, it can get ugly. My husband and I always try to set reasonable expectations. If my husband is running well, I want him to drop my like I’m hot and run. I want him to run without consideration of how I will feel without him. I want him to run his race. I also want him to give me the same freedom to run unencumbered and without obligation when I hit my stride. By letting my spouse run the race he has in them that day, we allow ourselves the ability to be our best.