Joe and Jan Griffin. - Photos by Jamie Lusch

Ties that bind

For some couples, "the ties that bind" refer to the laces on their running shoes. They find that their common interest in physical fitness can also improve emotional fitness.

"We've gotten closer since running. We have this in common, and it has helped our relationship," says Tyrone Raber. The 31-year-old Eagle Point man watched his wife Laura enjoying her daily runs for years before jumping into the fray himself last year. Now he runs 15 to 25 miles a week, and the couple enters many local road races together.

"I sold the fishing boat and four-wheeler. Besides, running's cheaper," says Tyrone. He glances to the side to check Laura's reaction to this statement and smiles. "My goal is to stay healthy. I drive a dump truck for the Jackson County Roads Department, so I sit all day. Running balances that," Tyrone adds.

"Running gives me a break away from the kids. If I don't exercise, I get all wound up," says Laura, who is busy raising a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old. The Rabers take turns watching the children while the other runs — giving new meaning to "passing the baton."

In road races, they're nearly even at the finish line, though Tyrone usually wins the shorter races while Laura wins the longer ones. Tyrone doesn't mind when his wife finishes ahead of him.

"She doesn't rub it in — but she could — so I'm happy. We're cheering each other on rather than competing," he adds.

Jenn Shelton and Erik Skaggs might be the fastest couple in Southern Oregon. Shelton, 25, has racked up victories in the Talent Harvest Festival 10K and the Crater Lake Marathon — where she set a course record — since moving to Ashland last spring. This year, Skaggs, 26, won the Mount Ashland Hill Climb and several other local trail races, as well as the Trans-Rockies 125-mile stage race in Colorado. Both Shelton and Skaggs are nationally ranked ultramarathoners.

Their running lifestyles brought them together a year ago around Halloween when Shelton was living in Bend.

"Erik was freeloading," Shelton says, with her trademark touch of irony. A friend of a friend suggested Erik and his brother stay at her place while they were in town.

"I heard 'some chumps are coming down and they are insanely fast,' " she explains.

Shelton took a five-hour trail run with the Skaggs brothers, and she and Erik still run together, though not all the time.

"She's a morning person, and I like to run in the evenings," says Skaggs.

Even their strengths are different: Skaggs is an aggressive hill climber, while Shelton is a fearless downhill runner. These differences are a source of inspiration and learning for the other, and form a metaphor for their relationship.

While Skaggs is intense and usually focused on the next victory, Shelton lives more in the present, is impulsive and is somewhat of a wild child. They are a case of opposites attract, and running is the glue that holds them together.

Joe Griffin was 28 when he saw an ad for the Pear Blossom run in 1989. The Central Point man enjoyed it so much he encouraged his wife, Jan, to join in. Dubious at first, Jan volunteered at races while cheering Joe on from the sidelines. She started by handing out food and water to runners then graduated to operating the race clock.

Before she knew it, she was a race director, something she still does several times a year. And when injuries have forced her to take a break from racing, volunteering is something she falls back on, which still allows her to socialize with her running friends, of which there are many.

"I'm a runner with a volunteer habit," says Jan. The couple devotes a significant amount of volunteer time to their shared sport: both are officers of Southern Oregon Runners, the state's oldest running club.

"We both know about it, so we can talk about it. It's easy to support something you both enjoy," says Joe. This philosophy finds its way into family vacations. The Griffins often plan vacations around a race or look for a race in an area where they hope to vacation, as they did recently for a trip to a relative's wedding.

A running-related wedding figured into their lives not too long ago. For years, they have been close friends with another running couple. The Griffins' son married the other couple's daughter, and all four runners are now the proud grandparents of the same 1-year-old.

Running can help a relationship in unexpected ways.

"Joe feels good after a run. The endorphins put him in a good mood," says Jan Griffin. "So I can usually get him to vacuum."

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