One Partner Runs the Marathon — and the Other Does Everything Else

Shamyla Khan-Malik was working from home on the Upper West Side last week when her husband came back from an almost two-hour run. “He wanted to talk about his run, to show me the stats, how far he ran, what was his pace, all the splits, his heart rate through the splits, and the elevation and how that impacted the heart rate,” said Ms. Khan-Malik, laughing. “I was doing something a bit more important,” she added. “Like work.”

It’s an experience that has become way too familiar.

Since her husband of seven years started running marathons in the fall of 2020 — he has run two marathons and seven half-marathons in the last two years; his next is New York City on Nov. 5 — his training has taken over the household.

More often than not, it’s the topic of conversation. “He loves to talk about his routes,” said Ms. Khan-Malik, 34, who is a technology consultant. “We live near Central Park, so he has many options. He’ll say, ‘Should I do the loop in Central Park or go to Morningside Heights or go to Riverside and run along the river?’”

She sometimes makes two dinners: what she wants and what he needs for nourishment. “He will have pasta, and at the beginning I joined in, but now I have to make something separate for myself, because you can’t eat all those carbs if you aren’t running,” she said. After dinner he usually moans about whatever muscle hurts that day, she said.

Her husband is running so much — and then is so exhausted afterward — that there is less time for fun. “Date nights and hanging out with friends are now scheduled around his training schedule,” she said.

Ms. Khan-Malik is proud of her husband and understands the mental and physical health benefits his running provides.

“I just think there needs to be an acknowledgment that there are sacrifices the spouse makes,” she said. “I think we should start a support group. Who else are we going to rant to?” (Her husband has agreed to make the upcoming New York City Marathon his last, at least for a while.)

Feeling the Burn

It’s marathon season — in addition to New York, the Berlin Marathon was Sept. 24 and the Chicago Marathon is Oct. 8 — which means participants all over the world are sticking to strict training schedules (four to five runs a week including a long one that is over 10 miles) and diets (carb loading, no greasy food or alcohol). But it’s not just runners feeling the burn. People in relationships with runners also find themselves adjusting their lives as they contend with absent, spent or otherwise obsessed partners.

Some runners are adjusting their routines to better accommodate their loved ones. Others, who are single, have given up on dating altogether.

“Being a partner of a marathon runner, you do feel like you are also in training,” said Cara Gutierrez, 34, a founder of a public relations agency who lives in Williamsburg.

Her husband has been training for marathons on and off for the past 10 years. For her, it’s his one-track running-obsessed mind that has posed particular challenges. “Running is his passion, so when we are out to dinner with friends it turns into talk about his stats on Strava and some new running shoes he got, and how many gels he needs to buy,” she said. “After about five minutes I am a bit like, ‘OK honey, we had this conversation yesterday.’” She was happy when her husband joined a running club so he could have an outlet.

Overall she tries to remind herself of the benefits running gives her partner. “I do think without running he might go slightly mad, and mental health is very important,” she said.

Indeed, running has been proved again and again to reduce anxiety and depression — even creating a high not dissimilar from cannabis — especially useful, perhaps, at such an unsettling time in the world.

“My husband was marathon training, and he was exhausted all day,” said Cliff Fleiser, 38, who works in fashion marketing and lives in New York City. “It took up a lot of his time.”

But Mr. Fleiser dealt with the sacrifice by remembering what a huge challenge his partner was undertaking with the Berlin Marathon. “It was honestly so inspiring to see him try to do this,” he said. “Especially after his long runs I knew how hard it was, so I was like whatever food he wants to eat, whatever television shows he wants to watch, he gets to make those decisions.”

Honey, I Left the Kids

For couples with children, the logistics of marathon training can be even more complicated.

Jesse Davis, 36, who works at a climate tech company and lives on the Upper West Side, has been taking on more child care duties (his children are three and 18 months), while his wife trains for the New York City Marathon. “It’s a time commitment. She is basically working out five days a week and does these really long runs on Saturday mornings,” he said.

But he feels it’s worth it. “She set this personal goal, and I think it’s important for adults to have goals and push their bodies and brains to the limit so I’m all for it,” he said.

He also said his wife makes a point to take the children after she gets back from her runs. “Then I go and have my time,” he said. “She definitely makes up for it.”

Tenley Shirley, 34, who works in marketing and lives in Westchester, has two children, both under the age of three. So when her husband told her he was going to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon, a task which requires running other races under a certain time, her first thought was, “What is going to be the impact on me and my family, and how will we adjust?’” she said.

In order to not impose on his family, Ms. Shirley’s husband decided to wake up at 5 a.m. on weekdays, when he does his shorter runs, to get them in before the children wake up. On weekends, when he has to do a long run, he gets up as early as 3:30 or 4 a.m. “It’s pitch black at that time, so he goes to the local high school and runs until the sun rises, and it’s bright enough to run on the street,” she said.

She’s grateful that her husband has chosen to do that, but it still takes another toll on their lives. “He is in bed by 8 p.m., asleep because he’s exhausted,” she said.

Runners who are single can find it difficult to juggle new relationships or dating with marathon training.

Jason Kuperberg, 27, who lives on the Upper West Side and is a tech entrepreneur, has been running marathons since he started college. He has noticed that when he is training, he has little time to date. “If I’m training I need to be sleeping, and I run 60 or 70 plus miles a week, which is a lot of hours,” he said.

“I also ease off alcohol, and we know in New York City dating revolves around that,” he said.

So this year he decided to take a break from running marathons (he still runs a few days a week for health and general fitness) and focus on his love life instead. “I am going on a date about once a week now,” he said.

Alyssa Brognano, 32, who lives on the Upper East Side, and works in beauty public relations, has been unwilling to forgo dating while training for the marathon. She’s gone on two dates from apps, and on both of them, marathon talk ended up filling the silence. “When the guy asked me what I was into, I told him, and that’s where the conversation pivoted,” she said. “Both times it never went back.”

She hasn’t given up: She feels running might be a good way to establish a connection with someone. “I put something in my Hinge profile about wanting to go on a running date,” she said. “No one has taken me up on it yet, but I think it would be a really good second date.”

Back to top button