Should I Train With My Boyfriend?

Q  Should I train with my boyfriend? I just recently started running about six weeks ago and now my boyfriend says he wants to join me. My concern is that I will be too slow for him and, truthfully, I have been enjoying this time to myself! Should we train together? Am I being selfish? – TRACY


A  This sounds like a trick question and one that really has no right or wrong answer. Some couples find running together works well, others not so much. But, truly, it’s a great question because it brings up several very important issues.

First, there is nothing wrong with carving out some alone time! We could all use more of that and running is good way to do it. Try shifting your perspective on running as “selfish” behaviour to this: Running improves your health and fitness; improved health and fitness makes you better able to serve others. Family, friends, employers, and the community benefit from your improved health and fitness level; therefore, running can be viewed as an act of selflessness.

Next, while deciding whether or not you and your boyfriend would make good running partners, consider the many physiological differences between men and women, besides the obvious ones. Men and women do not compete against one another in sports for a reason, actually many reasons, because these physical differences play a huge role in sports performance.

One physiological difference of primary importance to running, is our cardio-respiratory system. Cardio-respiratory fitness or, aerobic fitness, is measured by our maximum oxygen consumption, also known as VO2 max. V stands for volume, O2 represents oxygen, and max is for maximum amount. So, VO2 max represents the maximum amount of oxygen a body can transport and use during exercise. This capacity is regarded by many as the single best indicator of fitness.

There are many factors that affect one’s VO2 max, genetics tops the list, but gender is another important factor and pertains directly to your question. As one might expect, elite endurance athletes have very high VO2 max levels. No surprise there! As evidenced by their rapid race paces, they are capable of processing lots of oxygen very quickly.

In general, women tend to have lower VO2 max values than men. Why? On average, men are larger than women and maximum oxygen consumption is in part related to body size. Other factors include heart size. Women’s hearts are typically smaller then men’s because the heart is scaled to body proportion. Women also have a tendency to have lower blood haemoglobin content than men and haemoglobin transports oxygen.

This does not mean that all women are slower than all men; we know that is absolutely not the case! There are many women with very high VO2 max values, and those values can be higher than some male values but, it is these differences in VO2 max that may help you answer your own question. Most likely, your VO2 max and your boyfriend’s VO2 max are not the same; therefore, your training paces will not be the same either. For effective training, runners need to train at the appropriate intensity for them in order to reap the associated health benefits and to attain peak performance levels.

Whatever one’s VO2 max, training intensities are typically prescribed to be in the range of 60-90 per cent of that max value. When we are pushing the limits of our max, like at 90 per cent and up, we are very uncomfortable, breathing very hard, and cannot speak. This intensity may be appropriate on the track for short intervals or at the end of a 5K for a finish line sprint but, we cannot sustain that intensity level for very long. Most of our training is done at a more comfortable level, in the 60 to 75 per cent range. We can carry on a conversation while running at this intensity level. Given the probable differences in your VO2 max levels, your training intensity levels will be different too and that means what may be a very comfortable training pace for one of you, is likely to be uncomfortable for the other; hence, running together comfortably can be difficult. Some couples use this difference to their advantage and intentionally plan runs to meet their needs: a recovery run for one and a tempo run for the other.

My suggestion is this: Compromise and get the best of both worlds. Training “together” doesn’t necessarily mean running side-by-side or doing every single run together. After you “wow” him with your knowledge on VO2 max and training intensities, I suggest that you try some runs together and see how your paces match up. You may enjoy it more than you think, and, if he is faster, maybe running with him one day week for speed work can even help your training. If you find it doesn’t work well, then you both understand why based on physiology and avoid hurt feelings. I would also suggest checking out training groups or running clubs in your area and see if there are any local training programs you can both join. Attending group runs together, but actually running with others of similar pace as you, might be the ideal option.

The offer to run together signals interest and support of your new routine. Everyone needs support and positive reinforcement when making healthy lifestyle changes. Adopting running together may help keep you both on track with training and make it easier to adopt other healthy behaviours like nutrition and cross-training. If running together doesn’t work well for either one of you, I suggest taking a yoga class together to complement your running. – SUSAN

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