By Sam Prakel
November 8, 2023
Being an elite athlete is hard, but sometimes being the partner of one is even harder. Not too many jobs invade your personal life like professional track and field, and if you’re in a relationship with a serious athlete, you probably have a long list of peculiarities that you’ve learned to accept (or at least tolerate) out of love for your little track star. Where you live, what you eat, where you can travel, what you do in your free time… it’s all dictated by this sport. You make countless sacrifices and experience the not-so-glamorous side of what we pros do, and receive none of the praise.
So please take a break from listening to your partner complain about their tight calf for the 1000th time, and – while waiting for them to finish their activation drills – enjoy some well-deserved recognition for supporting the hard-working athletes chasing their dreams.
There are 365 days in a year, but my partner Katie only had two to choose from for our wedding day. That date ended up being October 7th of this year, squeezed between the last race of my season in Riga, Latvia on October 1st, and the start of my fall training on October 16th. A year-round schedule is typical for a pro athlete, but unfortunately, it leaves little time for much off-season.
This year my off-season was even shorter and busier than normal due to the late races and our wedding. Everything paid off though – I won a bronze medal in Riga, and we had a nice wedding the next weekend. Katie deserves all the credit in the wedding planning department and honestly deserves just as much credit for the bronze medal and my success in running over the past six years as I do.
Katie and I met at a track meet in Ireland in 2017, and she immediately got a sense of what life would be like in the years to come. Following the Cork City Sports mile, Katie sat in the stands and waited for me to finish my post-race workout before we could get dinner together at what would be our first date. It was a fitting start to our relationship, but more importantly a life and career-changing moment for me. Katie and I are now partners for life, and she has elevated every aspect of my running career.
Katie is an accomplished runner herself, winning a Big Ten Championship in the steeplechase and an NCAA team title in cross country, so she understands what I do. But I can’t say she particularly enjoys all the side effects that pro-running brings to a relationship. For example, gone are the opportunities for relaxing summer vacations. Instead, Katie chose to use a large portion of her PTO for yet another trip to Eugene, Oregon.
Madeline Brobst / @madelinebrobstphoto
Katie has been incredibly selfless since we first met. In the winter when we vacation with her family in Florida, the first items on the itinerary are what days I have to work out and double, and the rest of the plans fit in the slots when I’m not training. It’s hard to have a true vacation when you’re always on the clock, but Katie brings joy to the constant grind of training.
Running not only dictates our vacations and holidays but also follows us home. Starting with our most basic need, running has been one of the biggest factors influencing our housing. When touring a variety of houses and apartments, we could immediately rule some out simply because there wasn’t a good running route from the doorstep (a challenge in a hilly city like Seattle). Katie sadly watched the hilltop houses and apartments with nice views disappear from Zillow.
As you walk into our apartment, one of the first things you notice is the living room corner dedicated to foam rollers, free weights, and yoga mats. Such clutter takes up valuable space in a small apartment that I’m sure Katie would rather use for plants or something more aesthetic.
Another basic need that gets completely overhauled due to running is food, and no one feels the effects more than Katie. The worst part of it is managing the constant state of “hangry” that I’m in throughout the high mileage weeks leading up to a season. Along with that comes the constant snacking and accidentally eating leftovers in the fridge meant for Katie’s lunch the next day. Through it all, Katie continues to help plan and cook meals and keeps me fueled with her exquisite culinary skills.
Not only does Katie devote much of her time and freedom to my career, but she also dedicates a large chunk of her iPhone storage to “pictures and videos of Sam running.” In today’s modern world, creating content seems to be a requirement of a pro athlete, and almost any documentation of my training is probably thanks to Katie behind the lens (and sometimes on the bike for a 15-mile long run). The slow-mo videos and bursts of photos can quickly eat away at that iCloud storage. And when I get an opportunity to post a photo of the two of us, it gets a fraction of the likes that running pics get. Come on Instagram, show a little appreciation!
The real challenge begins when the season starts and all the traveling takes off. As a pro runner, you’re away every other weekend for racing, a whole month for altitude camp, and another month or so in Europe during the summer. Katie’s commitment to communication and willingness to FaceTime whenever and wherever has kept us close when the distance is far. A nine-hour time difference to Europe can be hard to navigate – I’m waking up when Katie is going to bed, and I’m going to bed during Katie’s lunch. The European circuit is perhaps the hardest time for a significant other of a track athlete – not often can a couple make the trip across the pond together. So on behalf of all the significant others, please, USATF and the hard-working meet directors in the US: keep pushing for high-level domestic competitions. We athletes and our partners will thank you!
So here’s to Katie for letting me “focus on my craft” and supporting me along the way. And to all the other significant others in the track world out there, you are not alone and are so deeply appreciated. The sacrifices you make are sometimes big and sometimes small, but you are always there, simultaneously lifting us up and keeping us grounded. The journey to fitness is a little easier and a lot more fun with someone special by your side.
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Sam Prakel is a professional runner for Adidas, a four-time U.S. champion and a bronze medalist in the mile at the 2023 World Road Running Championships. He boasts personal bests of 3:34.63 for the 1500m and 3:50.94 for the mile.