Forcing a new boyfriend to run a marathon with you doesn’t seem too romantic. But, what if I told you that I did it—and it actually made my relationship stronger?
My boyfriend, Dupi, and I started dating when we were both fresh out of college. At the time he was regularly racking up 100-hour work weeks. That meant our time together was limited to Saturday mornings, if we were lucky. And going to the gym was the lowest priority on his to-do list. The furthest he would run was from the subway to his desk every morning.
But I, as a lifelong runner, could sense that Dupi had the qualities of a marathoner—dedication, persistence, and the urge to continually improve oneself—even if his body wasn’t physically capable yet. So, unbeknownst to him, I signed us both up for the New York City Marathon that fall.
That was in 2015.
Over the five months that we spent training for the marathon, we learned so many important lessons—lessons all couples should learn together. From pushing through the painful moments to celebrating the rewarding ones, Dupi and I built a strong foundation for our relationship by challenging each other to be better.
1. We connected during long training runs.
Running 20 miles with another person leaves room for only one thing: conversation (and shortness of breath). But a well-known trick for making sure your pace is steady and manageable is actually talking while you run. If you can’t, your pace probably isn’t sustainable. So we talked.
Since Dupi and I were both living fast-paced lives working in New York City, we looked forward to catching up during our long training runs each Saturday. We knew not to say a word before mile 3, but after that, no topic was off limits. During those long runs, we got to know each other on a deeper level than we would have over a meal—or even a glass of wine.
We asked each other everything from, “What was your childhood like?” to “What’s better: Doritos or Cheetos?” We talked about our passions and dreams. And, we laughed—a lot.
2. We committed to a cause bigger than ourselves.
In the beginning of any relationship, it’s easy to be flaky. Who hasn’t canceled plans at the last minute? But a marathon is going to happen regardless of how many miles you logged (or how much you carbo-loaded).
Dupi and I learned quickly that we had to show up not just for ourselves, but for each other. Our excuses wouldn’t cut it. A silly fight couldn’t prevent us from training. Working to achieve a big goal together, especially at the start of our relationship, taught us that commitment was key.
3. We learned how to motivate each other at our lowest points.
There were plenty of times that both Dupi and I wanted to quit. We pushed each other through injuries and heat waves. We encouraged each other to run during vacations and lazy mornings.
Figuring out what tricks and tactics motivate your partner through their lowest of lows takes some couples an entire lifetime to figure out. But running a marathon together forces you both to look each other in the eye and ask: What gets you excited when you don’t even want to smile?
Dupi and I also learned how to be strong when the other was feeling down. During the marathon, I started suffering from the effects of overhydration. Even though Dupi’s legs felt like Jell-o, his positive energy was the only reason that I finished the race.
4. We became passionate about being active—together.
This may seem obvious, but couples who share goals and passions are happier.
Through training for this marathon, Dupi and I realized that spending our free time being active together made us feel happier, healthier and more connected than Netflix ever would. After we crossed that finish line, we continued to seek out more ways to be active every day and achieve big goals together.
Since the time that we completed the NYC Marathon in 2015, we’ve accomplished a variety of other big goals of ours—everything from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to riding our bikes through the boroughs of NYC. And no matter what the activity, our relationship has come out a bit stronger each time.
Although running a marathon might seem impossible—and getting your significant other to join might feel like a laughable concept—working toward any big goal together has a similar impact. So start small. You don’t need to climb a mountain or run 26 miles to challenge each other to be better together. And who knows? Little by little, that marathon might start to seem less daunting.
This article was originally published on mindbodygreen.