Some people like the freedom of running alone. Others need the accountability of going with a friend. Some prefer the motivation of a group. And then there are those who are lucky enough to be able to run with their partner. When you run long distance, Partner Running is often seen as a great way to spend time with each other and share the lifestyle. Because it’s just that; a lifestyle. I often get asked, “When do you get to spend time together if you train so much?” In previous relationships, this was a real issue. Previous partners just didn’t get it. It was a struggle. A balancing act. But this is not an issue in my life as it stands. I am one of the lucky ones.
Now I couldn’t imagine anything else. Apart from convenience, training with my partner has been beneficial in so many ways. It has challenged me. Exposed me to technical terrain that I would otherwise never have considered. It has taken me to the most amazing places around the world, places I’m sure I would have missed out on otherwise. Running with my partner has pushed me up the steepest mountains to the BEST views; and it has taught me patience. We have a joint understanding when it comes to routine, holidays, and the daily grind.
Take a look at the wonderful ‘Couple on the Run’, Andrew and Sue O’Brien, to see where this can take you. They state the benefits include ‘sharing the motivation to get things started, the commitment to regularity and enjoying quality time together. All leading to greater understandings, shared goals, and ultimately lessons in life.’ After running an epic eight marathons in eight countries in eight weeks together in 2008, I can personally vouch that they are still going strong; you will find them running around together somewhere in the world at least every weekend!
Don’t get me wrong, partner running also has its challenges. Partners are not always matched in pace and goals. Things change. What happens when one gets injured? I have witnessed those who become bitter, unable to live that lifestyle all of a sudden: yet the partner still needs to train. What happens when a partner travels a lot for work? We become complacent and are suddenly left lonely, not confident to train alone, attempting to squeeze our training runs into someone else’s lifestyle.
But what about racing together? This is something my partner and I had never done. We had been in a few of the same races, different strengths and weaknesses contributing to the end result, but never had we actually run a race together. The Himalayan 100 was the perfect introduction for us. Yet we didn’t know it until we started. A few kilometers into Stage #1 we still hadn’t even decided if we would even run together! Unlike us, lots of the other competitors had decided well ahead time. From thirty-seven starters, there were nine couples, the majority of whom ran each of the five stages together.
This 100 mile stage race on the Indian/Nepalese border was such a great experience and one best shared with a friend. From the Indian hospitality to the stunning views, the relentless climbs, and the race director’s bubble of grandeur – we loved it. Aside from journalistic roles, we entered for enjoyment, to explore another part of the world, and to enjoy an active holiday together. After a very full-on 2015 racing calendar there were no underlying competitive goals this time around.
It was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the event, and we were the first ever couple to win both male and female categories. We certainly didn’t come close to any records, and that’s the way we liked it; the win was just a bonus! We made the most of the journey together. We took the time to soak in the atmosphere, the views of Kanchenjunga and Everest, and took a million photos! We waved hello to the farmers and the soldiers along the way. The race director had recruited them to keep an eye on us and they seemed genuinely excited to take notes and be a part of something other than the daily guard. Most importantly, we used each other’s strengths to endure the tougher times.
We climbed 2000 metres on the first day only to find ourselves in the middle of a snow storm. We started in the quaint town of Maneybhanjang, surrounded by the village people who’d come out to cheer us on. A local band played the bagpipes and school kids dressed in their finest clothes took turns placing traditional scarves around our necks. We all giggled that we would need to run with these; we didn’t need the extra weight!
The atmosphere was all so exciting, it gave us goosebumps to be a part of an event that’s so important to this community. The race started downhill … for a couple of hundred meters. And then up, up, into the clouds we went. It was tough and I was thankful for all the hiking I had been doing recently! By the time we made it to the finish line, I was colder than I’d ever been in my life. There was no hot shower waiting either! With fingers numb and painful, it was up to Tegz to help me undress, redress, and get warm. We reminded each other to go through our daily recovery routine, and this turned out to be a really key factor in our success, others succumbing to the challenges of multi-day running within a developing country.
We made it to 3600m+ on day one and slept in the shadow of Kanchenjunga. We ran out from this point for the next two days and discovered that altitude is a bitch! I had been to Everest base camp in the past (5300m+) but never had I ‘run’ at altitude. We stuck together, motivating each other, trying to maintain a strong hiking pace on the hills, and took turns deciding when we’d start running again. When we finally got to some downhill the ‘cobbleboulders,’ as we liked to call them, helped to keep things interesting! Despite rumors of bears and tigers, I always felt safe with Tegz by my side.
Partner running. It has its positives, it has its negatives, but it certainly makes for great holidays! For us it came fairly naturally but it was so exciting to watch the other couples cross the finish line together, their country’s flag flying behind them. A sense of achievement shared with each other; one that only they understand. An experience like this forms an extra bond, one created not only by the race itself, but also the journey to get there.
Story by Kellie Emmerson