Companions in life and sports: Bracken and Amy Christensen hike through a shallow section of the Virgin River s Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah.
Companions in life and sports: Bracken and Amy Christensen hike through a shallow section of the Virgin River s Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah. "I think it s important to have easy days, fun days and challenging days and have partners that provide you with each, as best you can," Bracken says.
Endurance

In for an ultra marathon of a relationship with your sweetheart? Deb Rubin, a licensed clinical social worker in Boulder (and climber and snowboarder), has some tips for sticking together in sports:

Be allies. "The biggest thing is when couples remember that they are a couple when they're playing together," Rubin said.

Be positive. Use affirming language -- both of you. "Not just women need to hear that they're doing a good job," she said.

Make a plan. "For couples to be able to do a sport together," Rubin said, "they need to discuss before they start, what's the intention of the day?" Agree to a plan and stick with it.

Communicate. "Communicate in a conscious way, meaning speaking from your own experience, taking out the blame and identifying the fear behind the feeling," she said. "On the receiving end is to practice active listening, without thinking about how you'll respond as he or she is talking."

Sing it: Respect. "Your partner deserves the most respect," she said. "And it can be hard to do that, but relationships are hard."

The hiking date was supposed to be easy -- both parties had agreed to walk the dog.

Heather Perkins, of Boulder, even double-checked with her date: Nothing too steep, right?


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He agreed, nothing steep. But after they headed out on Chautauqua's trails, he headed for the stone stairways to Royal Arch. This trail climbs 880 feet over eight-tenths of a mile, according to the city Open Space and Mountain Parks description.

At first, Perkins apologized for being slow.

"But very soon into it, I couldn't say anything, because he was running ahead with the dog."

He ran to the arch and back down past her, saying it was easier on his knees to run. But Perkins continued up.


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"He ran, I hiked, he waited and then waited some more," she said. "I wasn't about to turn back without reaching the top just because this was his idea of 'not too steep.'"

"He didn't even warn me to bring water. We haven't spoken since."

She added that it was too bad, because she liked his dog.

Perkins said she's had a number of "laughable" dates like this in Boulder, and she's not alone. Local counselors say they often work with Boulderites who have encountered relationship conflicts in the pursuit of two passions -- love, and love of a sport.

Love, out there, on the rocks, can go from bluebird skies to chinook winds and a snowstorm -- and back again to sunshine.

Jayson Gaddis, a licensed professional counselor in Boulder, said all couples are different, but there's a particular dynamic he's noticed.

"It seems like the common dynamic is the guy is like, 'let's go bouldering, or on a short bike ride,'" Gaddis said. "And he's excited to share his passion with the woman. Usually she goes into it thinking, 'oh cool, that sounds fun.'"

"And they go on the date, and it turns into a shitshow... because even if he's a good teacher, his agenda trumps the date. It's way more important to get to the summit than to drop his agenda."

Gaddis added, "This came up in my own marriage before I got married."

"I ended the day kind of pissed off, because I didn't get my needs met -- I didn't climb hard or ride hard," he said. "She was disappointed, because I dragged her up some crag that was too hard for her."

With this dynamic, said Michele Weiner-Davis, a marriage therapist and director of Boulder's Divorce Busting Center, the slower person can feel unappreciated.

"In a relationship, if you consistently feel less important than the sport, it makes for a rocky time," she said.

Patience

Amy and Bracken Christensen normally play on the trails and crags around Boulder. But not long after they got married, they tricked out a van for camping and embarked on a yearlong road trip -- their "adVANture." The Christensens worked and played their way across the country's singletrack and rock, but at times it was tricky to be limited to one partner for all sports.

Amy and Bracken Christensen seek balance in the rushing Virgin River in the Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah. The Christensens climb, mountain bike and
Amy and Bracken Christensen seek balance in the rushing Virgin River in the Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah. The Christensens climb, mountain bike and trail run together. "I would say our climbing is fairly reflective of our relationship," Amy says. "It's a super strong partnership with respect, and at times a little bit of imbalance one way or another."

Bracken is a more experienced climber. Amy's new to mountain biking, but Bracken grew up riding BMX. In trail running, Bracken is faster, but Amy can go further; she's completed three ultra runs.

On the trip, they climbed often. Amy shed a few tears, but Bracken was always understanding. They've never had a fight at the crag, even though on the adVANture, their psych levels weren't always a perfect match.

"I feel really guilty if I'm not stoked on a climbing day and he's super stoked," she said. "So I'm learning how to honor myself and not climb out of guilt. But finding that balance is really tricky, especially on the road."

For Bracken, being patient rather than frustrated with their differences is a matter of logic.

"It makes sense that I'm going to be there and be supportive while this person is learning," he said. "I mean, people have done that for me, too."

Deb Rubin, a licensed clinical social worker whose specialties are relationships and sexuality, said she works with a lot of people who "play really hard together and people who don't play together at all."

But the couples who successfully play together share things in common, she said. For one, they remember that they're allies out there. They also communicate what their goals are for the day, she said, and don't assume.

"Partners cannot read each other's minds," she said. "I don't care how long they've been together. There's no ESP going on. And their needs are constantly evolving and changing. So have a conversation every time."

Intensity

Judy Freeman is a pro UCI elite mountain biker. Her boyfriend, Tom Torrance, is a cat-1 mountain biker.

In other words, these two will ride your legs into a pulp. And for Freeman, it's her job.

Freeman's pro races are usually short-ish. Torrance likes longer events. Their training doesn't always coincide, and Freeman said sometimes, if she's chasing him, she forgets that.

"Some days I'm stronger than him, some days he's stronger than me," she said. "If I feel like it's a reflection that I'm not riding strong, I'm like, 'that's not right!'" she said with a laugh.

"That's a catch-22 with being competitive," she said. "If you let that seep into being competitive with your friend or your partner, that can be a bad situation."

Gaddis said in outdoor sports, situations can get intense... and that's good for dating.

"We get cold, hungry," in the outdoors, he said. "It's going to be hard for me to stuff my true colors and hide them. So it can be a good situation for a date, because you're going to see more of them."

It happens in established relationships, too.

"When you're out in the elements, people get triggered," Rubin said. "If you're out skiing in the backcountry and you're not being supported, it's going to bring up your fears."

"There's no better mirror than the wilderness."

Balance

Weiner-Davis, director of the Divorce Busting Center, said despite the challenges, there are benefits to time shared outdoors.

"I had one couple... neither were avid skiers, and they consciously decided to do more skiing together," she said. "It can be healing, it can be a remedy. When you're having conflict, one way to work through that is to talk it through, but another way is doing something together where there's no talking."

But you don't have to share everything, Weiner-Davis said. It's OK to have differences.

"Research shows that people who are in long-term, happy marriages are no more similar to one another than people who are divorced," she said. "What sets them apart is the ability to manage differences."

Rubin -- who runs, climbs and snowboards -- said sometimes, it's good to do things separately.

"I actually like to have the autonomy, I like to not do everything with my partner," she said. "But it took us a while to figure that out."

When you come back together the end of the day, she said, "you can share your glories together and still be athletes as individuals."