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Trail runners do romance a little differently: less candlelight and heart-shaped truffles, more mud and hastily ingested sugars.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, we asked several trail-running couples to relate their most memorable running dates. Here’s what they had to say, from mid-run marriage proposals to first-date lightning storms.
Katie DeSplinter and Dom Grossman
Katie DeSplinter and Dom Grossman started dating in 2009. “Our first date will always be memorable,” says Katie, “because it was my first ultramarathon, my first trip to Yosemite and my first time being tricked into a romantic weekend getaway with someone I had no idea considered us romantically involved.
“Apparently Dom thought we were already dating (we weren’t!), and he conveniently only invited people he knew wouldn’t come,” she continues.
“Back in 2009,” says Dom, “I couldn’t find a girl that I liked that was willing to indulge in a single day of long-distance trail running, let alone two back-to-back days.
“Yet there were Katie and I at tree line below Half Dome, waiting out a lightning storm to go up and finish off a 50-mile weekend of runs.”
Katie: “It either all worked out or I’m still experiencing a new and unfathomable level of trickery, because we’re getting married this May.”
Jon and Linh Shark
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Jon and Linh Shark have been married for 15 years, and running for about 10 of them.
“It’s a balancing act to find time for each other, with each of us pursuing professional careers while raising three children,” says Jon. “Between work and the kids, our trail-running dates are the only time where the two of us are able to spend quality time together.”
The farther they ran, the more time they could spend together, and so the Sharks gravitated toward ultras. To date, they’ve completed six 100-milers as a couple, running together from start to finish.
“Our most memorable run date was the 2015 Bear 100,” says Jon. That race, a mountain ultra on the Utah-Idaho border with 22,000 feet of elevation gain, happened to end on Linh’s birthday.
“Along the course of the run, we made about five new friends,” says Jon. “At midnight, I corralled them all up and we sang happy birthday to Linh as we climbed up one of the toughest climbs of the course half asleep.”
He adds, “It was a fun date indeed.”
Sage Canaday and Sandi Nypaver
In the fall of 2012, Sage Canaday was passing through Buena Vista, Colorado, with a friend. His friend asked a local runner named Sandi Nypaver to show them some local trails.
“To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t too attracted to Sage until I met him in person,” says Sandi. “He had some odd YouTube videos, like a rant about yappy dogs (Sage actually loves dogs) and another on foil nipple guards.”
But Sage made a much better impression when they actually met, and soon invited Sandi to go for a run in Leadville, a small mountain town between Buena Vista and his home in Boulder.
On a sunny November day—warm enough for shorts—they ran by Turquoise Lake. “The run went by quickly—no awkward silences,” says Sage, adding, “I’m still not sure if that was because I was selfishly doing most of the talking or that we were just really hitting it off—I’d like to think the latter!”
After the run, they sat by the lake and ate chocolate-covered cherries Sage had brought.
“It was honestly a beautiful moment in time,” says Sandi (who, chocolate-dipped fruit notwithstanding, had not yet entirely realized it was a date). “It’s hard to get better scenery than a lake with snow-capped mountains surrounding it.” Sandi remembers the conversation even more fondly; among other things, they talked about unhappy memories, the beauty of the mountains and their shared sense of service.
Unlike Sandi, Sage hadn’t brought a change of clothes: “I was stuck in my old smelly running clothes and flimsy jacket for the rest of the day. I felt like such a slob!” Still, they went to an arts-and-crafts show, then coffee, dinner—where Sage, a craft-beer fan, was impressed by Sandi’s choice of beverage—and dessert.
At some point, Sage “nervously” reached for her hand (“I was lucky it was getting cold by then, as surely my palm would’ve been quite sweaty under normal circumstances!”), and Sandi, now equally nervous, knew for sure that she was indeed on a date.
“All in all,” says Sage, “what was initially proposed as a simple ‘run together’ ended up being a full-day, six-plus-hour date. This was over three years ago. We’ve been together ever since.”
“This ‘first date’ led us to a winter of driving back and forth from Buena Vista to Boulder or vice versa every weekend, sometimes in brutal conditions,” says Sandi. “It’s been one big adventure ever since.”
Sam Robinson and Caitlin Smith
California Bay Area
Sam Robinson and Caitlin Smith met in 2010, through a 20-mile run in Redwood Park in Oakland. The previous year, Caitlin had won the high-profile North Face 50-mile in California, among other races. “I don’t recall much, other than that I was a bit star-struck,” says Sam, a strong runner in his own right. “Her reputation in the ultramarathon world somewhat preceded her.”
Sam and Caitlin still live close to the park, and often train there. “It is probably my favorite place to be in the world,” says Sam. “There is a beautiful grove of redwoods that have nestled along the southwestern face of the major canyon that the park covers.” Both he and Caitlin sport tattoos of redwood branches. “Indeed,” he says, “one might define our relationship as a ménage à trois with the East Bay regional park system.”
Sam says there’s no one run with Caitlin he’d single out. (“We’ve had more running dates than are probably healthy for a relationship!”) Rather, it’s the overall experience of being with another person who understands the “innumerable lows” of competitive running.
Each gets to share in the other’s successes, too. Last fall, Sam and Caitlin raced at the U.S. 50K Trail Championships. Sam dropped out after a “pretty physically miserable day”—but got to see Caitlin win her first championships. He says, “I recall thinking later that day, ‘I’ve never been happier after having dropped out of a race.’”
“One of the interesting things I’ve discovered from being in a long relationship,” he adds, “is how much better life is when you learn to expand your everyday concerns beyond your own personal ambitions.”
Kim and Justin Lottig
Currently on the road
After living for years in Hawaii, Kim and Justin Lottig have been on the road for the last six months, introducing their 5-year-old twins to trail running in the most spectacular fashion possible: “Yosemite, Redwoods, Rainier, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain and Manassas Battlefield National Parks,” says Kim. “They even completed their first four-mile trail race in Kansas City, Missouri.”
Like all parents of young kids, the Lottigs need a “date night” now and then. Of course, they prefer to make it a date morning, logging five to 20 miles before breakfast. (In Hawaii, says Kim, “we first had to find a babysitter with enough desire to make money that she would get up to be at our house as early as 4 a.m.”)
The Lottigs’ road trip has brought them to New Jersey, for now. Recently, a relative watched the kids while Kim and Justin got out for a 10-mile run.
Three miles in, they came to a particularly wide stream crossing. “A quick look upstream and downstream showed that there was no better option than to just walk across,” says Kim. Justin gave her a piggy-back ride. “Him sacrificing his feet for mine is a perfect example of who my husband is.”
Liana Heitin and Jonathan Loewus-Deitch
A few Februaries ago, Jonathan invited Liana on a 30-mile run. They had been dating for about three weeks. Liana had never run longer than a marathon, and even that had been a while.
The goal was to tag 20 of the 40 boundary stones that mark the original city limits of Washington, D.C. “The stones, which look a bit like grave markers, were placed in 1791 and make a perfect diamond around the city,” Liana says. “Some are in people’s front yards, some are off trails and one is in a guy’s garage.”
They began in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the top of the diamond, and headed southeast. “It was an adventure, as runs with Jonathan always are,” Liana says. “We knocked on a few doors to ask if we could see the stones in people’s yards. At one point we played Frogger across a four-lane highway.” Cold and hungry, they stopped just short of the southernmost stone, located by a lighthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.
Two years later, Jonathan and Liana started a run from the same point in Maryland, this time tackling the prettier 26-mile-long western half of the diamond. Close friends were joining them on and off during the run. Twenty miles in, snow began falling. As they approached the lighthouse, Liana saw her parents and a crowd of friends, cheering off to the side. (They’d even brought her dog.)
As they stood in muddy, icy, six-inch-deep water by the final boundary stone, Jonathan proposed. Then he and Liana met their family and friends, who were waiting with champagne.