Ultrarunning’s cutest (and most dangerous) couple fills us in.
At the Gaoligong UTMB race in China, Meredith Edwards and Jason Schlarb join the rest of the elite racers on the first row of the start line for the 55K trail race. The announcer counts them down in English: “Five…Four…” They shake out their legs. “Three…Two…” They flash small smiles at each other, and lean in for a quick kiss. “One!” They start their watches at the same time, and begin the race together.
Edwards and Schlarb are a rare pair in the grueling, lonely, beautiful sport of mountain ultramarathon racing. Two of the top American ultrarunners on the international stage, Meredith, 34, and Jason, 41, have garnered tons of success overseas, which is historically tougher for Americans because of the vast differences in terrain and the larger field size. Since she began racing ultramarathons in 2015, Meredith has earned over 15 top-three finishes, including UTMB in Chamonix in 2016 and UTMB Oman last November. Jason, who’s been racing in the pro ultra scene in 2011, recently won UTMB Ushuaia in Argentina, and finished second in UTMB Oman.
Lesson 1: Run in the same place—even if you’re not the same pace.
Jason: When we’re both racing at the same time a big part of my energy [comes from] wanting to see Meredith have success, do well, and get that reward for all her work, as opposed to me just going up there and individually, selfishly doing what I’m doing.
Meredith: We don’t necessarily run together, because our paces are different, but it’s always great to go run at the same place knowing that we’re both going to do it, so it’s motivating. It honestly made it a lot easier. I had never been in a relationship where someone trained as much as I did before Jason. For the longest time I did all of that by myself. So even if you’re not going the same speed, it’s motivating to know that they’re out there getting through the workout too.
Jason: We spend pretty much every single day together. If we’re both training for the same race, she’s going through the same kind of experiencesI am. Being with another runner, they understand where you’re at. They get it.
Lesson 2: Recognise when you’re tired and hangry and turning into a 5-year-old.
Jason: We run the same races almost exclusively. The only negative with that when we’re running a lot and we’re tired, is we’re both irritable and exhausted at the same time. The nice part is we both want to go to sleep early, but…
Meredith: When you’re emotionally and physically compromised, you can’t always be the best person or partner that you can be. You’re pushing your body to go to a place that it doesn’t want to go. You have to override your brain every day and be like, “No, you’re going to do this.” Imagine a five year old who’s just had to sit in a car for 10 hours and is just completely cranky. That’s like the two of us sometimes, especially after hard pushes. It’s like two five-year-olds arguing with one another.
Jason: We usually put out the fire pretty quickly, because we know why it’s happening most of the time.
Lesson 3: Train like teammates, not rivals.
Jason: If your partner has a fantastic race and wins, and you get a poor placing, the stress that brings to a relationship is huge. Especially when you have two extremely driven, competitive professional athletes. But there is no “He doesn’t understand” or “I can’t talk to her about this” because we can both relate.
Meredith: I think that’s hard in any relationship. For example, when people get promotions and [their partner] isn’t succeeding. It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or not, your relationship is eventually going to be tested in some way. I think we both have an ultra-runner mindset where we just grind it out and keep going. To be ultra runners to begin with, you’re got to be able to mentally handle a race, which in turn helps us mentally handle such an intense relationship.
Jason: We’re not as willing to walk away or quit; that persistence “gene” is a big bonus. You can’t compete with your partner. It sounds simple and dumb, but when you’re competitive and that’s your passion, it takes a long time to come to terms with that and make it healthy, and not get yourself in trouble mentally and physically. The comparison game, or jealousy game, it’s probably the biggest obstacle in any running relationship.
Lesson 4: Understand what works for you may not work for your partner.
Meredith: We got into a really heated debate over carbs. Jason likes to eat low carb, but I tried that diet and it did not work at all for me. My body is different; women’s bodies are so different than men’s. We struggled with that when we first started living together—those little things you have to be mature enough to sort out and come to an understanding like “you’re right, that doesn’t work for me.”
Jason: At the end of the day we’re both doing this and we’re doing it together.
Meredith: And we’d rather have the chance to share that than not have it at all.