Last Updated on January 30, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
I’m sure you are wondering if you just opened an adventure/athlete blog or the latest issue of Cosmo magazine. I’ll admit, just typing the title to this post made me laugh; I am a professional in exercise and sport science, not relationship advice. Alas, in the last few years as a member of the Spartan Chicked tribe, I have seen the topic of racing with your boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance/husband/significant other come up time and time again, so I felt compelled to write about it.
When I met my boyfriend Geoff, he was a competitive cyclist and adventure racer. He scoffed at the notion of an obstacle race, thinking they were just a silly excuse for non athletes to roll around in the mud and drink beer. Regardless, at some point in the new relationship phase where you can still sucker each other into doing things with just a smile, I convinced him to join me for the 2012 New England Spartan Sprint. Much to his surprise, he loved it, admitted he was wrong about OCR, and we have raced countless obstacle races together since. And it has been an amazing bonding experience for us as a couple: has seen me at my worst and at my best out on the course. There is no greater feeling than having the person you love by your side to cheer you on through a difficult course, or high five you when you successfully complete an obstacle that you thought you couldn’t do. But even though our finishers photos are always full of accomplished, loving smiles, the road to get to the finish line isn’t always lined with romance and affection.
Yes, racing with your significant other can be an amazing experience…but it can also be a disaster if you approach race day with unrealistic expectations. Here is my advice on how to race with your significant other, brought to you by trial and error, laughter, dirty looks, high fives, a few misplaced sarcastic remarks, and a lot of unconditional love.
1) Make your individual race day goals clear BEFORE the race.
Decide if you are going race together or if you are going to push to achieve your individual goals, and then stick with that decision. If one half of a couple has a less than stellar day on the course so the other half leaves their partner in the dust even though they had initially planned to stick together, chances are good feelings might get hurt. Alternatively, if one person really wants to push for a personal record, and the other is holding them back, tension could arise. As with all situations in every relationship: communication is key. Don’t say things just to say them, or say what you think the other person wants to hear; make your intentions clear before the race, and be fine with sticking to those decisions. And remember, it’s OK to have different goals and to NOT race with one another.
2) Love is patient.
If you choose to race together, chances are really good that you and your partner will have varying strengths and weaknesses. I excel at balance obstacles like the log hop and traverse wall, while Geoff is hit or miss with completing those. Geoff has never missed a spear toss, whereas I can’t seem to hit the broad side of a barn, never mind a hay bale. In both situations, one of us ends up doing burpees while the other stands around waiting. This is a great opportunity to cheer your partner on as they complete their penalty, or even lovingly mock them that you succeeded and they didn’t; but it’s not the time to roll your eyes and remind your partner that they are slowing you down.
Further, there are some obstacles that I could most certainly complete faster with help from Geoff, but I don’t want to, I want to try them on my own. Sure this might add time to our official finish, but the accomplishment and effort is more important to me.
Refer to point #1 above: if you choose to race together, accept that the race is now a joint effort.
3) Watch your words.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m exhausted, hungry, hot and/or freezing cold, I get cranky. And there’s this saying about how we often hurt the ones we are closest too…well, it’s true. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve dished out some snark and snapped at Geoff on the course, something I would never do to a complete stranger out there. (I promise I didn’t meant it!) Now, when I feel the classic race “bonk” getting the best of my emotions, I take a deep breath and remember that it’s not him that’s bothering me, it’s the low blood sugar and elevated heart rate messing with me.
4) Let it go.
Tough situations sometimes bring out the worst in people. See #2 above. If your significant other snaps at you, let it go. Chances are good it was exhaustion talking, and you can’t let it ruin your race as well. If it really hurts you, bring it up after the race.
5) No time for jealousy.
Here’s the thing ladies: I don’t know about you, but I can’t get over a 12 foot wall without a boost from someone. If I’m racing alone, there’s a 50% chance that the “someone” who is going to help me over the wall is going to be a random guy. We are OCR athletes, we help each other out. Now, if I’m at the top of a 12 foot wall and I see that there are 2 or 3 other women in line behind me also needing a boost, I’m certainly not going to get jealous that my boyfriend offers a hand. He’s not checking her out, he’s not flirting, he’s being a good sport and a polite man. This of course can work the other way around, I’ve certainly helped boost guys up and over walls before. These races are about teamwork, camaraderie, and accomplishing amazing feats, they are not a time for jealousy.
6) Have fun.
Can you think of a better date than rolling under barbed wire through rocks and mud? I can’t.
Special thanks to Geoff for his patience, love, and constant encouragement to face my fears and push harder every day.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.