The Similarities Between Running and Dating — Plus Four Ways to Fall in Love (with Running)

The Similarities Between Running and Dating — Plus Four Ways to Fall in Love (with Running)

Judi Ketteler
by Judi Ketteler
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The Similarities Between Running and Dating — Plus Four Ways to Fall in Love (with Running)

In many ways, running and being in a long-term relationship are a lot alike. There are good times and bad, ups and downs and bumps in the road (sometimes literally). Running and relationships have another thing in common: Sometimes, you fall in love and stay in love, and other times, it just doesn’t stick. So, how does one go about making a love connection with running that lasts?

When you meet someone new and feel those initial stirrings of love, that’s your body releasing a cocktail of natural chemicals associated with pleasure — including dopamine and endorphins. You have these chemicals to thank for those feelings of intense happiness and mild obsession.

Researchers have been working to figure out the relationship between these chemicals and exercise. Almost 10 years ago, German researchers reported that the “runner’s high” is a real thing after they confirmed through imaging techniques that distance runners’ brains do, in fact, release endorphins when they run. Recently, researchers have been looking at brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein your brain makes that improves both mood and cognitive function. A study from last year confirmed that mice produce more BDNF when they run on tiny treadmills, and it’s thought to be the same in humans.

So, the chemistry is on your side. But, as most of us have experienced at one time or another, good chemistry alone cannot always sustain love. Here are four tips for keeping the flame alive:


“In my experience, a person falls in love gradually with running, or any type of exercise for that matter, when they focus on consistency as being the number 1 goal,” says exercise physiologist and author Tom Holland, a triathlete, conditioning coach and founder of TeamHolland. “It’s not how far, or how fast, or how long you do the exercise that counts. Success comes from focusing on the frequency of engaging in that exercise.”

In other words, if you expect big changes right away, either in attitude or in physique, you might be disappointed and miss your chance at love. Better to play the long game. “Give yourself permission to make mistakes, to go slowly, to do it on your terms — for yourself, no one else,” Holland says.


In a relationship, it’s common to bond more after you’ve faced a challenge together. Bring that idea to your running. You and running (or any exercise) are in it together. “It’s all about building self-efficacy, or situational confidence. It might be as simple as working up to running three miles without stopping,” Holland says. When you take on a challenge and succeed, it helps solidify your budding relationship with running.



You’ve heard the phrase: It hurts so good. After getting into running, you start to crave the discomfort that once seemed like a deal breaker. “Know that running (and exercise) has the exact opposite effects of alcohol and overeating: Those things feel really good at first, then quickly make you feel progressively worse over time,” Holland says. By contrast, an exercise like running may be painful when you start, but it feels better and better the longer you engage in it. “Embrace the fact that the worse it feels at the start, the better you will feel at the finish,” he says.


It’s important to be kind and supportive to the people you love — and to yourself — when you exercise. It starts with how you talk about yourself and your running routine. “Eliminate the words ‘just’ and ‘only’ when it comes to exercise, as in, ‘I only ran a mile today’ or ‘I just did two push-ups,’” Holland advises. “Realize that every single workout matters, they all add up.”

Hopefully, they add up to a long and fruitful relationship with running.


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About the Author

Judi Ketteler
Judi Ketteler

Judi is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer. She’s been running for more than 20 years, and has a particular soft spot for doing half-marathons. Her work has appeared in outlets such as The New York Times, Runner’s World, Women’s Health and Good Housekeeping. Find her at or @judiketteler on Twitter


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