My Mr, in this photograph, is posed by a model, but the element that is furthest from reality is that we’re running next to each other. One of the reasons I chose my beloved as a running partner was that we live on a river on which he also works (yes, the Thames). I pictured myself picking him up from work, jogging up and down like Paula Radcliffe while he changed into his plimsolls, then us running up to the National Theatre, maybe, talking about sunsets and Caryl Churchill, having a pint, walking back, living the fitness dream.
I think of myself as running quite a lot and him as running not at all; but he goes bouldering and is taller, while I have a generous spirit. These things should have put us at about the same pace.
That was error number one. We were not the same pace. He took off as if he was running away from someone and didn’t stop until he had escaped them completely. That someone was me. I cannot begin to describe how annoying this was.
Before I run with him again, I speak to an athlete, Charlotte Arter, who runs for Wales and is an ambassador for Saucony, a US company that makes running gear. Put simply, she says you should choose a partner because they match your pace, not because you want to talk to them about 80s dramaturgs. “If you’re running in a group, you can have a bit of pace variation, and the people at the front will be motivating. But if it’s two of you, that’s just… ” “Annoying?” “Could be.”
I’m faster with music, so I float that idea, but Arter says she would never put her headphones on while running with someone. It defeats the point, which is to get so engrossed socially that you forget you’re running. She tells me something only an athlete could know – which is that, often, how tired you think you are bears no relation to how tired your body actually is. Once you’ve hauled yourself out the front door, you may find you do some of your best running.
That’s half the purpose of an exercise partner: to add a layer of guilt to the upbeat self‑talk you resort to when you really don’t feel like it. Mr Z, meanwhile, doesn’t care whether I have headphones on or not because he is miles away; he could be on a train and out of London before I caught up with him.
“Do you think it’s men?” I ask Arter. “Do you think they just make terrible running partners?” “No,” she says firmly. “I don’t think gender comes into it at all.” She adds that she doesn’t run with her boyfriend because he’s more of a cyclist. Such an opaque put-down, but I’ll take it: we can’t run together any more, unfortunately, because you are more of a cyclist.
When I eventually catch up with my beloved, I ask him what he thought about running together. He says he thought it was the opposite of a walk. Couples who really get on go for a walk together; couples who don’t, go running.
What I learned
If your speeds are evenly matched, try chasing each other for short bursts – a minute-on, a minute-off