Irene was very attractive—model-type looks with dark brown eyes, long black hair, long legs, and strong facial features that hinted at her Native American heritage. She went to the gym almost every day and liked to run. When I met her, she was training for a half marathon. So it seemed like she was a good match for me.
But then the question came. “Will you run with me?” she asked one night over dinner. Normally, I would be fine with running with my girlfriend, but Irene always ran before work at 4:30 in the morning. I’ve been a runner since I was 11 years old, running six days per week, every week, and the number of times I’ve run at 4:30 a.m. I can count on one hand. Despite being conceived first thing in the morning under the direction of my mother’s body temperature, I’ve never been a morning person, much less a morning runner.
So I wasn’t thrilled about my girlfriend asking me to run with her so early, especially when she was a lot slower than me. How was I going to say no without hurting her feelings? After I tried to come up with a few excuses to not run with her, she went online to a dating website to search for another guy who would, and announced it on Facebook, knowing I would see it. She found someone in less time than it takes a Kenyan to run a marathon, and she broke up with me to be with him. Our relationship lasted only 2½ months. After three months with her new guy, whom she declared on social media as her “twin soul,” she moved in with him. After another three months, she moved out and broke up with him after he got lazy and stopped running. I guess he wasn’t her twin soul after all.
Looking back on the time I dated Irene, I know I disappointed her, and I feel bad about that. She wanted her boyfriend to be her running partner, and she knew that running is my “thing.” She was right—running is my thing, but the problem is that I don’t want anyone to mess with it. It’s a rare day that I let someone in my running life. Why would I want to run with others when I can be by myself to think and create? And so I almost always run alone. I’ve never been much of a people person anyway. I’m an introvert by nature, perhaps who Alan Sillitoe had in mind when he wrote about the loneliness of the long-distance runner. But a person can take only so much loneliness.
And then there was Lisa, a tall figure skating coach with short black hair and sparkly green eyes whom I met in the exercise physiology lab when I was working on my PhD. She wasn’t a runner when I met her, but through my own passion for running, she said I inspired her to run. It made me feel good to inspire someone.
I’ve also dated women who didn’t run at all, like Erica. Erica was one of those women who didn’t understand why I had to run every day. One night, after spending all day with her, I subtlety nudged her out of my apartment at midnight so I could go for a run that I hadn’t had time to do earlier because we were together all day. I admit that was a little rude. We dated for only a month.
Looking back on the women I’ve dated, I suppose I was lucky to have a few girlfriends who understood my running, short-term as those relationships were. As a runner, it’s not easy to find a woman. Many women don’t understand the runner’s obsession. Some might say I’m addicted to running. Some wonder what I’m running away from because, they say, I must be running away from something. It’s funny how non-runners see the obsession as running away from something, like the alcoholic who drinks to run away from his problems. I need a woman who sees what I’m running toward.
A woman who dates a runner needs to know that running always comes first. I can be a great boyfriend and dote on her only after I have fed my passion by running. Until I run, I feel like there is unfinished business to the day. It’s hard for a lot of women to understand that.
People assume that I’m looking for someone who runs. Every time I go out with a woman who doesn’t run, she apologizes to me that she’s not a runner. It’s annoying. I usually respond by joking that being a runner is not a requirement, that I’m an equal opportunity dater. Truth is, I thought I didn’t really care if she’s a runner or not, as long as she’s fit and likes to work out. But she needs to understand the lifestyle of a runner—the carb cravings, the counting of weekly running mileage, the multiple trips to the bathroom before an interval workout or race, the intense desire to find out who I really am.
What bothers many people about runners is our almost arrogant attitude that we are somehow better than everyone else because we run and that by running we are somehow fulfilling some grand destiny. Runners have an obsession with running that rivals most other obsessions, perhaps because runners truly believe that they are running toward who they want to be, toward some panacea. For me, and I suspect for many other runners, running narrows the gap between who I am and who I can be, between my reality and my aspirations.
I want a woman who is curious about it all. I want a woman who asks me how I started running as a kid, why I run, what it means to me. I want a woman who comes to watch my races. I want a woman who understands why running gives me a big heart, not just literally from all the training, but also figuratively. So I continue to navigate the dating waters as a runner, trying to find a woman with the right balance of running enough to be fit but not so much that she’s too competitive. I never really have been interested in dating a serious competitive runner. And I certainly don’t want to date a runner who’s faster than me, lest my insecurities of not being as fast as I want to be are made visible.
At 43 and never married or engaged, the thought of growing old alone has become a more common thought than it once was. I’ve searched for a girlfriend everywhere one searches for a girlfriend these days—online dating websites, speed dating events, set-ups through friends, coffee shops, even Facebook. I don’t go to the gym because I’m always running outside. If I did go to the gym and hit on a woman, I would probably embarrass myself in my skimpy running shorts and small biceps, talking about my next race or about how she should manipulate her workouts around her menstrual cycle. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been told I’m quirky. Most fit women who work out choose a man with strong pecs and biceps over strong calves and hip flexors. A man’s upper body gets all the attention.
Somewhere out there is a woman who likes a big heart and strong calves and hip flexors and likes to run. Just not at 4:30 in the morning.