Relationships: When a Run is Not About Running

When a run is not really about running, but about relationships

By Angela Noel

September 4, 2018

I’m not especially good at running. In fact, I’ve mostly hated it for the vast majority of my life. As a teen, I joined the cross-country team and hated it. In my twenties I ran mostly to impress a boy–still pretty much hating it. In my thirties I had my son and developed a back problem–virtually no running at all then. But, something changed in my thirty-ninth year. That something’s name was Paul.

Never Say Never

Paul and I had been dating for a little over a year then. I had already declared to him that despite his history in marathons and triathlons and persistence in believing that running was “fun” I would NEVER be interested in running. “I just want you to know,” I’d said, “because I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea.” Paul had shrugged. As long as we still had an intersection of interests, the running thing wasn’t a big deal.

Not long after my declaration, a colleague at work mentioned the only thing that helped her back pain was running. Hmmm, I thought, could that be true? One weekend when Paul was out of town, I went for a run around the lake near my house. I jogged the three miles at a steady ten or eleven-minute pace. I didn’t hate it. It also hadn’t hurt my back. In fact, the motion seemed to loosen it up a bit. I texted the news to Paul. I wanted him to be proud of me. He was.

Over the next few months I bought new running shoes with help from The Running Room, a specialized running store. Paul came along to provide moral support and helpful tips. I began to run once or twice a week. Still slowly, but enjoyably.

Then I hurt myself.

Making Friends with my Butt

As I gradually ramped up my distance, I started to notice pain in my left hip. A battery of tests later revealed a hairline fracture and torn ligaments, a fact that seemed to explain, at least in part, why I struggled so much with a hike up Mt. Democrat, one of Colorado’s “Fourteeners.”

I rested, did physical therapy, and took advantage of instruction in how to run with better body mechanics. My therapist recorded me running on a treadmill and showed me where things looked off. Essentially, my gluteus medias was (and is) my enemy. Along with building strength, I also needed to increase my stride cadence.

I focused on flexing the right muscles in the right sequence, and striking the  ground more frequently. Under my breath as I ran I’d repeat, “my butt is my engine.” Yes, I did get some weird looks.

Learning my Lesson

The following summer I signed up to run a trail Ragnar. While training, and because I’m mean to my body sometimes, I pushed too hard. After six miles in the heat one day, I quit early. Angry at myself for giving in, I decided to do some high-knees for a hundred yards on my way home. My body rebelled. A few weeks before the Ragnar I knew I’d hurt something in my groin. My back was also bothering me more than normal. I ran the race, but I did it in pain.

Soon, I was back to physical therapy. If they had frequent flyer rewards at the clinic, I’d surely be a platinum member.

Now, a year later, I’m still running. My husband and friends Dan and Jayme (compatriots in both the Colorado adventure and the Ragnar) signed up for a marathon. I did not.  It’s too many miles for my body. This fact made me sad.

As Paul trains for the race, I worry he’s leaving me behind.


Over the last two years we’ve run together regularly. After developing better form, I actually run faster. Not fast, but faster. He slows down enough and I speed up enough such that we comfortably chug along for three, four, even six or seven miles together. Our running life is a good metaphor for our relationship–each of us adjusting one way or the other to strike a balance that works for us both. But as he trains for the marathon I cannot compete.

A recent event brought more than a chance to run. As part of his training program, Paul needed to run thirteen miles. Because it’s difficult to plan long routes for running these types of distances, Paul tries to take advantage of planned events. He happened upon a half marathon that also featured a 5K. “We could do it together,” he said, hopefully.

With reluctance, conscious of my inferiority in only being capable of running a 5K in comparison to his half marathon, I agreed. Though it would mean an early morning, I still craved the togetherness and teamwork of taking on a challenge together–albeit in different degrees of relative difficulty.

Race Day

On race day we boarded separate busses to arrive at our respective starting points.

When my race started at a few seconds past seven-forty in the morning, I found myself, as always happens, passing some people and watching others pass me. Many young girls my son’s age and younger ran with their families or with a buddy. Two girls in tutus ran side by side. I began to both relax and breathe hard.

Running is a funny mix of pressure coupled with release. As my body works hard, my brain runs free. Many plot points in stories I’ve written or complex work dilemmas find resolution as my brain loosens and my muscles tighten.

I crossed the finish line tired but smiling. One of the young girls had whipped past me at the last second. Her small body seemed to fly, feet connecting with the ground in the same way a butterfly’s wings pound air. I knew I’d run a good race. Maybe a personal best. I grabbed an orange and some water and stood along the trail, cheering other runners as they passed.

Running is not always about the run. Relationships are not a competition
I’m proud of my race and a little (a lot) sweaty in high humidity.

Paul was likely on mile six or seven by the time I went to the car to change clothes and grab his backpack, thinking he’d want his towel and provisions when he finished the race.I pulled on my new, goofy-looking free socks, and made my way back to the course, finding a comfortable spot near the end to watch and wait.

Two hours in from the starting gun, I knew Paul would be along soon. A sprightly woman, clearly a runner of many years, stood near me. She’d finished the half marathon in under an hour and forty-five minutes. Waiting for her grown daughter to arrive at the finish line she told me the course had been difficult–really hilly.

“Are you a runner?” she asked me.

“Um. I ran the 5K today,” I replied.

“So, you’re a runner then,” she affirmed.

Just then, I spotted Paul making his way towards me. I clapped my hands and cheered for him, and this lovely woman did the same, though she had been a stranger just the moment before.

Running is not always about running, sometimes it's about relationships
Paul tries to hydrate after a punishing half-marathon.

He looked tired. I don’t think he even recognized me. But after I found him in the small crowd near the finish line, he smiled,  clearly happy to see me.

It had been a tough one. We chatted and I helped him stretch his calves. The heat and high humidity took a toll on everyone. A gentleman nearby us needed a medic, passing out gently as he leaned against a tree.

“I had a great race,” I told Paul. Bashfully, I said, “I might even have been in the top five in my age category.” I wasn’t sure if I believed it, but I thought it was JUST possible. On our way out, I checked in at the awards table.

“Not surprisingly,” I told Paul with a smile, “I am not in the top five.”

He smiled back. We both knew it didn’t really matter.

On the way home, I checked the website for the race stats–just to see.

No, I hadn’t made the top five. But I had done pretty well. My time was better than any I’d had before. My split pace was blazing fast by any of my previous standards.

What Running Means to Me

Later, Paul and I went to a party hosted by his boss. As I talked with the wife of one of his colleagues, I heard Paul mention the race to one of his co-workers. “It was tough,” he said. “But Angie did great. She finished seventh in her age group of over a hundred people.”

I stopped talking mid-sentence, distracted by the pride in my husband’s voice as he spoke of me.

And it was then that I got it. This running thing isn’t about competing or about who’s capable of more miles or a faster time. It’s about community and connection. It’s about affinity with others as part of a shared experience. Just as the sprightly woman affirmed my membership in the running community, so too had my husband affirmed my membership in OUR community. He can run farther and faster than me. But, that doesn’t mean he’ll run AWAY from me.

I realized my insecurity had nothing at all to do with what he can do and what I can’t. It was a fear about feeling left behind. But he’s not going anywhere. He’s staying right by my side.

Running and relationships
We’d run seven miles together earlier in the day before posing for this picture in Austin, Texas.

Your turn: What is a good metaphor for your relationship? Have you ever felt insecure about your spouse’s interest in something you aren’t as good at? 

Are you a runner? How does running impact your life?


Author: Angela Noel

On a quest to become a better human, I write about parenting, leadership, and personal development. I tell my stories so you can find your own.

27 thoughts on “Relationships: When a Run is Not About Running”

  1. Love this! I think I’m a runner. I’m doing my first half marathon on Sunday and I’m running with my husband. We’ve trained together/ He is taller fitter and faster than me but like you two we kind of compromise for speed and meet in the middle.

    1. Oh my gosh! A half marathon is fantastic. Good for you. And good luck to you in the race. Have you run together throughout your relationship or is it a new thing you started recently?

  2. Fabulous read Angela! I’m so pleased for you in realising these facts about running and togetherness. It’s hard work but you’re going great and best of all you know your limits! I’ll be trying to get back into running in the next few months, I aim for 5kms and am pleased if I can do more than that. All the best to you.

    1. Good for you Deb. I love the 5K length. We did three this summer and I enjoyed all of them for different reasons. Do you think you’re going to run a race this year?

  3. Angela – I’m not a runner at all but I enjoy walking and biking. I tend to do these solo – for ‘me’ time. My husband and I excel at very different things and I find it is how we complement one another – so it hasn’t been a source for competition. That said, we don’t tend to be extremely physically active (which lends more to competition) so perhaps that is why. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    1. Hi! I love the “me” time aspect too. Since Paul’s been training for his marathon we haven’t had the chance to run together. I find that when I’m on my own and my body is doing its thing, my mind runs free. Do you work through problems when you’re out walking or biking or do you focus just on enjoying the outdoors?

  4. Ah, running. My favorite topic… I’m glad your new friend affirmed your 5K as running. So often at longer events, people dismiss the 5Kers, even though 5Ks have been some of the toughest races I’ve run (all distances are hard because you adjust your speed to nail whatever you’re running). It’s interesting that for you, running is about community. For me it’s about solitude. All my runs are completely alone on wooded trails. Even in trail races, once the gun goes off, I hardly see anyone). Do you foam roll? As an aging runner and a spouse of a massage therapist, almost all aches and pains come from tight muscles, especially the IT band.

    1. I do own a foam roller, but I don’t use it very much. I probably should. I have to do some press-ups every few hours to keep my back in alignment. Oh how I wish bodies didn’t break down over time!
      I do like the solitary time when I run too, but the community aspect at races is kind of wonderful. I love trail running but haven’t done much of that lately. I should get out there in the fall–less bugs more fall colors.

  5. Congratulations on not only your awesome finish, but on building a wonderful relationship with your husband. I like that you are both so supportive of each other, and I love that Paul speaks so kindly of you – you overhearing this is just the cherry on top. A beautiful and heartwarming story, Angela.

    1. Though I know it’s not about the race results, it did feel good to know my husband was proud of me. I know Paul is competitive with himself, he’s been very supportive of anything I want to try. Next up on our list is downhill skiing. Paul fell in love with it last year and I think I’m ready to try it again. Do you guys downhill ski? (I know you’re a fan of cross country skiing.)

      1. I’ve been downhill skiing twice in my life, but loved it each time! I bet you’ll thoroughly enjoy yourself. 🙂

  6. Congrats to you and Paul! Well done all around. I’m not a runner but a very dedicated hiker of “large hills.” Hiking for me is about mental health as much as physical health. Nothing like a strenuous 12 mile hike to work through things in my brain… or sometimes to just clear my brain and troubles. And even when hiking by myself, stopping to chat with regulars to catch up, or with strangers to share experiences, means I never really hike alone. Injuries are part of the deal, but fortunately I’ve never been helicoptered out! I have physical scars but many mental and emotional ones are gone, or maybe prevented in the first place.

    1. What a beautiful way to put that! I love your last sentence. And I fully agree with you. Those who would seek to be solitary can be, those that want connection will find it. And the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I can be wholly alone with my thoughts and yet still appreciate that all other runners/hikers/bikers are still a part of my “team.” We share a love of something, and that’s enough.
      I’m looking forward to getting more hiking in before the snow flies! I do love to think about you hiking your large hills and enjoying the air and landscape around you. It’s a lovely thought.

  7. Angela – I am fortunate not to have any real problems to work through at this point in my life – my children are all doing well, my husband and I are doing well, I work for myself…I mostly enjoy the outdoors, listening to music, or thinking through some of my writing works-in-progress (business book, reflections book, and novel).

    1. It’s great to hear that life is treating you well. I think of plot points and ways to express things in my next essay as “problems” I’m working through. Perhaps I should think of them as little knots that need unravelling.

  8. Loved this post, Angie. Great read. I used to love running. I was a terrible sprinter, but (and even if I do say so myself) excellent at long distance. I could just keep running & running. When I think about it, I must’ve been so fit. Alas, things went wrong with my body too and I had to give up. I’ve also been told I’ll never be able to run again. I miss it. I miss exhausting myself in that way. I love going into my own little world when running. It was quite meditative for me. You have done so bloody well. Despite issues with your back. You must be so proud of yourself. No wonder Paul is. What a lovely partnership the two of you have. I don’t get insecure about Andrew being better at something than me. It’s weird. Everything I’m good at, he’s rubbish at and vice versa- everything he excels at, I’m terrible at. So I think I’ve just resigned to the things we bring to the relationship. Everything he’s good at, I have no desire to do and I know it’s the same for him with the things I’m good at. It works well for us & we’re happy with it.

    1. There is something about that exhaustion that is a drug in and of itself. Like a long day, well worked. Though sometimes I get that sense of satisfaction from parenting too, when the lights finally go out and I know my kiddo is safely asleep.
      It’s awesome that you and Andrew have such a perfect yin/yang thing going! Together, you’re like super human! 🙂

  9. What a fab post Angela – I love the fact that you declared to Paul that you would never be a runner and yet here you are!! For me I use my neighbours “running machine” or rather “walking machine” as I call it, only to be told “Mum, it is a treadmill and most people run on it!” Not me – walking does me just fine, but you can run for both of us Angela! I have shared on my regular feature Monday Magic Inspiring Blogs for You on PainPalsBlog, Claire x

    1. Thanks, Jean! Even on a non-race day when a runner I don’t know smiles and waves it’s such a nice feeling. A solitary run or walk is also nice, but there’s just something about knowing we share a connection with other people even if its as brief as a smile.

  10. I used to play competitive tennis and played at a 4.0 level. Breast cancer was a setback. I started playing nine months later and then had a partial knee replacement that took a long time to heal. I played once again but was in pain. Finally, I hired a personal trainer and got my left leg back in shape.

    While I slowed down in tennis, my husband started playing three days a week. I could play now but I’m not pushing it. I still have a long life ahead of me and don’t want any more surgery. We have other things in common like our love for family, the outdoors, and travel. It’s all good. I’m glad to be here!

    1. Isn’t it interesting how a long relationship will ebb and flow? I’ve heard a few stories where a wife or a husband will actively discourage her or his partner out of jealousy. That’s not a great way to keep being in a relationship. Clearly that isn’t the case with you guys. It’s all about finding the intersections of interests and going with the flow!

      1. We’ve been married for 30 years, almost 31, but really haven’t been through that many lows. We are each others super fans and truly love each other, unconditionally. I probably worked hard to impress him for about a year after we were married. Lol!

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