Love Advice from the Non-Runner Significant Other
How these couples manage running when one of them isn’t a runner
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Runners love runners, and while runners often date and marry other runners, some runners date non-runners who despise running.
My fiancé is the latter. Running isn’t for her. It isn’t for everyone. A large part of me wishes we could share the miles and time together, and she wishes we could actually spend a Saturday morning together instead of me going on a long run only to come back, eat, and nap.
There’s give and take in any relationship, but with any passion comes sacrifice. We see the passion on display everyday, but little do we hear about the sacrifice, the unfiltered thoughts of those who might not share the same affinity for run culture.
This Valentine’s Day, we give them the mic. To my fiancé, and to anyone else in similar situations, I hope you feel seen today.
Forty Years and 200+ Hundred Milers
If anyone can understand the grind and sacrifice of supporting an ultrarunner, it’s Martha Ettinghausen. Her husband, Ed, 60, has logged more than two hundred 100-plus milers since his first in 2009—one of three people ever to hit that milestone.
For the vast majority of those races, the couple from Murieta, California, has done it all stride for stride. Martha was crew chief, sacrificing weekends, birthdays, and Mother’s Days for her runner. It also included nights at home waiting to eat dinner until late hours, delayed romantic evenings on vacation due to Ed being “lost in the moment” of a run, and endless time and money poured into the sport.
“It really has cost us a fortune,” Martha said. “There’s so much sacrifice, if you want to call it that, that was given up for Ed to pursue his dream. I look at the time and money spent over the years. Sometimes I say, ‘This could be our new car,’ or, ‘This could be an amazing vacation.’ Really, it’s kind of a selfish hobby, but so is any hobby.”
But that’s not what Martha takes away from Ed’s passion. It has taken years to find balance, and also to recognize that you can be supportive without having to attend every race like she did at first. Now, she goes when she wants to.
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“For the first 19 years of marriage, I don’t think we spent one night apart,” Martha said. “That was a lot of time together. We did everything together, and I like that connection, but in order to find my own life outside of it while he’s off doing his thing, I had to learn to do my own thing. He’s pursuing his passion; I can pursue mine also.”
This has taken various forms: Saturday morning walks with her friends, starting her own business, not waiting to eat meals, even walking 104 miles herself last April at Beyond Limits in California. A big reason she pursued most of these passions was Ed’s inspiration.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned from Ed doing ultras is going in with a positive mindset and believing you can do it,” Martha said. “Never be negative or allow doubt. That carries into every aspect of life. Don’t take it so seriously. Watching Ed, I’m like, “You know what? I can do anything.’”
These are lessons learned from 40 years of marriage and 14 years of ultras. While it has its pros and cons and still requires conversations and compromises from both, Martha said the best advice she has for a non-runner significant other is letting each other know what makes the other happy and working toward those goals.
“I would never ask him not to run because that would be like taking his soul away,” Martha said. “It’s about finding a balance, about what’s going to make both people happy. It’s sitting down and asking, ‘Can we satisfy the runner’s desires and passion with the partner’s desires and passions?’”
We Don’t Talk About Trail Running
When you love something, you want to share it with those you love. Take running. Runners love sharing their goals, training, miles, tales from run group, what the pros are doing, what they read, listened to, or saw about running, *insert endless examples here.*
If you paused at any point during that and sighed, you’ve likely been on the receiving end of a runner, and Stephen Ettinger, 33, wants you to know something:
“I’ve gotten the impression that it’s a widespread problem among ultrarunners,” he said. “Corrine and I have this anecdote that, at some point, I was like, ‘You have to find some other people in the trail running community to talk about this stuff. Find an outlet. Talk about trail running with them because I can’t listen to you talk about trail running all the time. It’s driving me bonkers.’”
He’s (mostly) kidding, but he’s not wrong. If you put a quarter in a runner’s jukebox, that song will play in its entirety. His wife, pro runner Corrine Malcolm, was guilty of it, and she heard that feedback. She’s now a podcaster, author, editor-in-chief of FreeTrail, race announcer, Pro Trail Runners Association board member, and various other trail adjacent projects.
Ettinger gets his ultra stories in moderation now, and, with someone who lives and breathes the sport, he knows how important it is for her. It’s a lot, but it’s a healthy outlet runner’s need, especially as Malcolm faced injuries in recent years.
“An injured runner is an unhappy runner,” Ettinger said. “It’s super frustrating for them, and it’s hard to be the partner of someone who’s frustrated because you don’t want them to be sad and bummed out. How can you not when you can’t do the thing you love? Like anyone, they need an outlet.”
Ettinger has found his own outlet in recent years. It wasn’t something he expected after retiring from professional mountain biking and going to medical school and doing his residency in San Francisco. But when the trails in the city weren’t as accessible to bikes as running was, he ran with it.
Before that, the couple split up at trailheads to bike and run. Going together, he says, brought them closer. They understand that Ettinger could spend that time reviewing charts and Malcolm could be going faster to train.
He’s not sure why, but he said he might even sign up for an ultra this summer.
“It’s not my most favorite thing, but I do enjoy it,” Ettinger said. His parting advice: “Never expect 10 toe nails. Expect weird tan lines, and make sure to give your dog a break from running every now and then.”
Balancing ‘Me Time’ and ‘Us Time’
Char Ozanic, 46, of Grand Junction, Colorado, is not a fan of running. She recalled bad experiences with the required elementary school mile. When asked if she’d ever run a race again now, she said, “I’m giggling so much it hurts. No.”
Ultrarunning found its way into her life through her husband, Matt, 48. They have two boys, and when they moved out, running filled his rediscovered free time as a work destresser.
“By the time the boys left, we had already been in the schedule mode of practices, dinners, and booked weekends so we fell back into that rhythm again quickly,” Char said. “But, instead of the boys, it was Matt.”
There were mixed feelings initially. Matt had found a passion, but it involved hours they could otherwise spend together or visiting their boys. If this was going to be their life, compromises were a must. Mostly, they had to prioritize scheduling things they wanted or needed around, and not over, those of the other.
“We had a lot of sit-downs,” Char said. “You can’t get your feelings hurt about every moment you’re expecting to get [with your partner] because I also have a life of my own. It’s our schedule. It belongs to both of us. You just need to be mindful of each other.”
Part of the adjustment was significant amounts of “me time,” Char said. Matt usually does two 100 milers a year. This year, one is the Moab 240. Many nights after work and long-run weekends add up fast for Matt.
“You have to genuinely be okay with being by yourself,” Char said. “I go see movies by myself all the time, especially movies Matt might hate, or have a spa day. I do a lot of mental health stuff when he’s trekking some big miles.”
Sometimes it can be tough to find time together, especially in big mileage weeks. Char said that sometimes that means combining “me time” with “us time.”
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“If I’m craving more us time, I’ll go to the trail with him and aid him along the way,” she said. “I get my ‘me time’ and I get time with him. Other times, I like kicking him out the door to read a good book. It’s all about balance.”
This is also the case for races. Char has only missed one ever for Matt. Travel, she says, is her favorite perk. “It brings us to so many places,” Char said. “He’ll sign up for a race in, like, Beaver Canyon, Utah. I’ve never heard of it. Then we go and it’s so beautiful. When he’s racing, I can go on these small hikes and venture out to do what I want, too. I Google things I can try.”
His best advice for anyone dating a distance runner: “Always have snacks around. Easy to grab. Runners can go from wanting a snack to ragingly starving quickly. Trust me. Snacks.”
Never Run to Impress
Who hasn’t done something to impress a person they’re dating? Justin Charboneau, 33, can relate. When he started dating his now-wife, Brittany, 34, in 2016, she was qualifying for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with sites on going pro.
So, Justin did what any love-struck person would do in that situation: sign up for a half marathon. He completed it, plus some other races and triathlons, too. It wasn’t his thing, but he kept up the charade because he thought Brittany wanted him to run.
But in 2022, they had…the talk.
“I started a cookie company in 2019 and running stopped,” he said. “I still do Peloton and cycling now, but I kept running sometimes, and it got to a point where Brit’s like, ‘Do you like running?’ I said no. She was like, ‘You don’t have to be a runner.’ It was a huge weight off my shoulders.”
Though he doesn’t run anymore, Justin admires the work Brit, and other runners, put in to complete these long distances. He experienced running firsthand, and he wasn’t a fan, but what Brittany does inspires him. At the same time, it can be a challenge. Being Denver-based with most friends from the running community, running can dominate the conversation and the attention.
“I’ve felt a little bit not heard or lonely because Brit does so much,” he said. “There were times early on when it felt like Brit was doing all these awesome things and everyone’s telling me my wife is so amazing. I got to a point where I’m like, ‘What can I do to get some attention?’ Eventually, I stepped back and realized that this is us. It’s our life. Everything either of us do is for both of us. She inspires me, and it makes me excited to celebrate with her and be her support system.”
That same friend group has no judgments since Justin stopped running. He joins them for “Fun Club” after runs and he’s heartily welcomed, he said. The only other challenge, Justin says, is working around a runner’s schedule. Brit goes to bed early and Justin is a social night owl, so compromising is a must.
“Being social after work fills my bucket. Sometimes, that’s completely opposite of what Brit needs during training,” Justin said. “It’s an interesting thing to navigate because we still want to spend time together, so how can we find those things that fill both our buckets? It’s a challenge, but definitely doable.”
Finally, his best advice for anyone dating a distance runner: “Always have snacks around. Easy to grab. Runners can go from wanting a snack to ragingly starving quickly. Trust me. Snacks.”
Young Love on the Trails
We conclude with our youngest couple: Heidi Strickler, 33, and Hannah Gordon, 38, of Seattle, Washington, an 11-month-old relationship between two passionate outdoor lovers. Strickler is more the runner of the two, competing in ultras and spending days in the mountains. Gordon enjoys a three- to six-mile run here and there, but is more of an outdoor generalist with passions for hiking, biking, and rock climbing.
Together, they find love on and off the trails.
“I view our relationship as three relationships: Heidi with herself, me with myself, and us,” Gordon said. “I think we’re pretty aligned. We both have interests in certain things and would like to pursue those, and also share them. But that doesn’t mean the other person needs to be 100 percent in it.”
Each part of that trio requires intentionality and attention, Gordon adds. When she goes on her adventures, or Strickler goes on hers, they both return fulfilled in their passion and, in turn, better versions for their partners.
“I almost wonder if there’s an independence level in both parties that works well for people who are partnered, with ultrarunning or some big passion,” Gordon said.
At the same time, scheduling becomes intentional, too. Planning their passions is as important as planning to be together. For example, Tuesdays are set aside for just them. Outside of that, they work around friends, work, and being outside, to spend time together. Through communicating ahead of time, they make it work. One thing they haven’t experienced yet, Gordon and Strickler said, was a big training block for Strickler.
“I see the potential conflict depending on how many races per year are being trained for if that gets in the way of what we’re hoping for intentional time together,” Gordon said. “I think I could see that would be something we would just need to talk about. I think it’s still solvable.”
Additionally, Gordon says that having someone with inner drive to do things like ultras is attractive.
“Watching Heidi, I see such joy and exuberance when she comes back from the mountain,” she added. “For me as a partner, I am very thankful that I am with somebody who finds so much joy in the activity that she’s born to do. I can see the joy on her face when she comes back and brings in the mud and she’s just smiling and beaming that she got to get so dirty and run 30 miles in the cold – which makes no logical sense to me.”