Lots of reasons to run, but sometimes the better choice is not to run

Posted July 26

Sometimes not doing something is a really good decision.

When I started writing about running, it was for a weekly column titled “Reasons to Run.” Because there are so many reasons to run, the writing possibilities seemed endless. Reducing stress, connecting with nature, staying healthy, deepening friendships, staying sane, working through life’s constant barrage of trials are all excellent reasons to lace up and head out the door for a few miles. A good friend forwarded me a quote recently that said, “The more I run, the less I want to run away.” I’m thinking of making it into a T-shirt.

But there is a dark side to running. The side that does more harm than good. The side that breaks us down rather than building us up. Not every reason is a good reason to run. Here are a few times when running maybe isn’t the answer.

1. Using running as a measuring stick of self-worth. I will admit that not too long ago the line between who I am and what I do got a little blurred. I beat myself up over slowing down, needing more recovery time and not being 30 years old anymore. It’s ridiculous, but I went there. It was hard to stop equating my value with my mile splits.

Realizing that running is an activity not an identity is key to keeping this demon off our shoulders. I am a mother who runs, not a runner who mothers. I am a friend who runs races, not a racer who’s friendly. The core of my being is separate from my activity. Running feeds my soul, eases my mind and brings me peace, but it is not me. I am valuable to my loved ones no matter how fast or slow I run, or even whether I run at all.

2. If you’re injured or might be injured. Running is supposed to make us healthier, but once in a while running hurts us. Pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong, but too often runners brush off pain as just part of the game. “I’ll run through it.” “It will be better tomorrow.” “No pain, no gain.” I have suffered too many injuries to roll the dice anymore. It’s a gamble not worth taking, and the house almost always wins while the players lose. The second I feel something “off” I stop. This requires patience, a trait many of us lack.

3. Because you signed up for a race. Signing up for a race is a great way to set a concrete goal to get you off the couch and on the road. But when I hear runners talk about training the way they talk about having to visit the DMV, I question their decision. If you aren’t feeling the joy, or if you’re injured (see above), what’s the point? Run because you want to, not because you have to. Races are fun, but they’re over relatively quickly. If you hate training, re-evaluate your strategy. Maybe you need to break up with running for a while. Maybe you need more recovery. Maybe life demands running take a back seat.

I actually dropped out of my first Boston Marathon. It was a tough decision, but the right decision. Life had thrown me a curve ball and I forgot to duck and I was too hurt to finish the race healthy. The Boston Marathon had been around for over 100 years and would be there the following year, so I bailed. It cost a little money and Marathon Monday was a little sad, but it made the following year when I did run even sweeter.

4. Punishment. We run for joy, not because we had a double helping of fries last night. Running is a privilege, not a punishment. At least that’s how it should be. Coaches abuse running all the time. My daughter’s basketball coach uses running as a punishment for missed free throws. Ugh. Let’s rewrite the script. I doubt the basketball team will ever jump for joy when they get to run laps, but a little change in attitude goes a long way. Go to any elementary school and watch the kids at recess (not in a creepy way, of course). Notice how many kids are running, then notice the joy on their faces. They aren’t running because they had one too many cupcakes. They are running for fun. Find the fun.

5. Addiction. This may be the most dangerous reason of all. “Running is my drug.” I understand the sentiment, but true running or exercise addiction is as harmful as any other addiction. How do you know you’re addicted and not just passionate? Do you sacrifice time with friends and family regularly so you can run? Do you ignore injuries? Have you lost perspective about what’s important in your life? Do you feel anxious or depressed when you miss a workout?

Most runners run for the love of running, so when we’re injured or busy and miss a run of course we aren’t happy. There are times when it’s necessary to sacrifice some parts of our social life to make sure we are ready for a big race. There are even times when we have to force ourselves to get our run done, and not all of them end on a high note. But when running takes over, we lose. Balance the scales. Make running joyful.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner.


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