A Partner Running Story: Sue and Andrew O’Brien
Posted by Jenn F. on Friday, May 25th, 2012
Today we have an amazing interview with Sue and Andrew O’Brien, also known as Couple on the Run. Together they have run close to 100 marathons, including at one time eight marathons in eight countries in eight weeks! They have lots of great advice for runners, from how to keep your feet healthy to how to prepare for a marathon in a distant location. So let’s get going!
Healing Feet: You train so much and run so many races–how do you keep yourself healthy? How do you handle injuries when/if they happen?
Sue and Andrew O’Brien: We are very clear on what matters most and it guides everything else we do. Running is great for our relationship, our fitness and enables us to do everything else we want to do in life. For this reason we see ourselves running together in our 70s and are dedicated to sustainable running.
We are happy to go a little slower than we could to avoid injury. Our key strategies include:
- Always wearing good shoes that are fitted by running specialists
- Running 4 times a week and rarely more than 2 days in a row
- Cross training – with indoor cycling and core strength to focus
- Compression tights for recovery
- Walking only for at least two days after a marathon
- Healthy eating all year round not just in the lead up to a race.
- Incorporating short walk breaks in long runs – Jeff Galloway is a mentor and this approach helps recovery, avoid injury and enables us to run at the same pace all day rather than slowing down in the later stages of a race.
- Andrew has arthritis in his right hip and was told never to run again (65 marathons ago). This makes speed work difficult and track work is out of the question so we are careful to monitor all training activities to avoid injury. If we are worried about it we don’t do it and look for alternatives.
When injured we rely on our long term physiotherapist and podiatrists. We value water running and indoor cycle as great cross training if we can’t run. We work hard on recovery and don’t rush back too soon – another week makes big difference and avoids a relapse.
Healing Feet: We’re all about keeping runners’ feet safe and happy here. Do you have any foot care secrets? What do you look for in shoes?
- Develop a good relationship with a podiatrist who understands running and sport
- Visit your podiatrist for a check up at least once a year and at the first sign of problem
- Have your shoes fitted by a run store specialist in consultation with your podiatrist
- If your shoes are working well stay with the same model (we are both on 30+ pairs of same shoes)
- Change shoes regularly
- Use your running shoes only for running
- Find the brand of sock that works for you and stick to it
- Put body glide on feet and toes before long distance events
- At the first sign of a blister check and adjust socks – you might avoid the problem
We often hear of people who buy the most expensive or the cheapest shoes and they keep changing to meet their “spending” criteria. This is a big mistake. Start with the shoe that fits you regardless of where it fits in the price range – then find the cheapest supplier of your shoe.
HF: You’ve run marathons all over the world. What was your best experience? What was your worst??
SAOB: Such a tough question.
It is hard to go past The 87km Comrades Marathon from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. The history, friendly crowds and difficulty combine to make it memorable. For the marathon distance we enjoy them all and appreciate the effort by organisers, volunteers and spectators.
The new Bali Marathon is a gem of a race for family and friends with the marathon, half marathon and 10km event. We love the Honolulu Marathon and have run it 6 times whilst Chicago (our 1st and 50th) and Paris (Sue’s 40th and 50th birthdays) are other favourites.
We don’t think we have a worst – we have enjoyed them all in one way or another. From 100 runners in Ross, Tasmania to 40,000 in London and New York they are all different and to be enjoyed.
Our toughest was the Swiss Alps Marathon as Andrew ran with a bad stress fracture and found the hills very painful. We want to go back and run the Alps fully fit.
HF: What advice would you give to people who are travelling outside of their home area to run a marathon? What’s the best way to prepare for a big trip AND a big race?
- Carry your run shoes and vital equipment on the plane so they can’t get lost.
- Work on you hydration on the plane and in the lead up to the race.
- Adopt local time zone for sleeping immediately (stay awake until early evening on day one)
- Plan tourist time after the race to save your legs beforehand.
- Take your race supplies with you and declare them at customs when you arrive.
- Be careful with food and local beverages before your race.
- Involve family and friends in planning activities and schedule at least one special activity for each person (If non-runners can support you in the race then you can visit their museum, theme park, shopping centre, restaurant or whatever it is they want to do.)
HF: What advice would you have for two people who are each experienced solo runners who are now thinking about training together?
SAOB: Running together can add a whole new dimension to running. It can improve speed, make going longer easier and add to the enjoyment. Many runners worry they will miss the opportunity to “run alone and enjoy their thinking time”. By running with a partner once or twice a week you can maintain your time alone however the best partnerships are comfortable being together in silence and combine the personal thinking with the benefits of training with a partner.
There are a few things we suggest:
1. Each person should be clear on their running goals and preferences including the reason they are thinking of running with a partner.
2. Have a very honest conversation on how you will run together including:
- shared and individual goals,
- likes and dislikes,
- how you will measure success,
- how to solve problems,
- roles; and,
- the logistics of when, where and how often.
3. It is ok to modify your goals to form shared goals but don’t compromise or take on the other persons goals if they are not compatible with your own. As an example it can work if one person wants to run the New York Marathon and the other Chicago and you both agree to run New York. It is much less likely to work if one person wants to run a half marathon and the other a 100km ultra.
4. Start running together for a trial period and decide in advance how you will review your progress. This makes it easier to discontinue if you are not happy but more importantly it will set you on a course of regularly reviewing how you are going.
5. Some of the key issues to resolve are:
- Will you do all your running together or just some training sessions?
- Will one of you be “the coach or leader” or will you work it out together?
- If you are different speeds which sessions will you do together and which alone? (Track work and easy runs are good together when you are different speeds)
- Will you talk while running or run in silence?
- What happens when one of you can’t make it?
- What upsets you? Share this before you start so you can deal with it before it becomes a problem and hard to talk about.
HF: How about a couple that is new to running but decide they’re going to dive into it together?
SAOB: The steps outlined above for running with a partner apply for all partner running activities. For a couple wanting to start running together to improve their relationship and fitness we suggest they consider the following:
Decide no matter what you will stick together and succeed together. View your individual success as the success of the partnership. When you do this you are free from the urge to go it alone and enable yourself to find solutions to all other challenges.
To make it work:
- Go as fast as the slowest person
- Stay positive and learn to encourage one another
- Focus on individual strengths to make your partnership better
- Share problems and solve them together
- Spend your run time talking about what matters.
HF: What’s the one tip every runner should know?
SAOB: Always keep moving towards your destination – no matter how slowly you will always get there but if you sit on the roadside or the couch you will never make it. – Apply this lesson to everything you do in life.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.