Are We Really Crazy? Obsessed? Why Run-shaming is Not Okay

What? We need shoes.
What? We need shoes.

We dedicated runners have probably all heard it before:

You’re crazy. 

Often, though, the comments don’t stop at crazy:

Can’t you just skip a day? You don’t need to run; you’re not fat. Didn’t you already work out today? You’re ob-SESSED!

In response, I often find myself struggling to justify my behavior. “I am on a marathon plan and my schedule says to run X miles today,” or, “I like to eat.” Or I might reply, “Yes, but I did weights. Now I am going for a run.”

I’m talking about run-shaming, which is not the same as expressing concern for those who genuinely suffer from an eating disorder or an unhealthy exercise addiction that interferes with their life. I am talking about shaming people for choosing to be healthy, dedicated runners. Despite how others apparently think it’s just fine, it’s not.

I must admit, before I was a “crazy” runner, I would see a person running in the pouring rain and think to myself, “What an idiot!” Now I’m the “idiot.” Life is funny that way. It taught me to be more understanding and compassionate. You never know when you will be the idiot that you once judged.

I also jokingly say I’m obsessed with running. But it bothers me when people describe someone as “ob-SESSED” with running merely for being dedicated.

From Webster’s:

To obsess:

1. “To preoccupy the mind of (someone) continually, intrusively, and to a troubling extent;” and

2. “To be preoccupied and constantly worrying about something.”

While we dedicated runners might think about running a lot because we love it, it’s not obsession in that true negative sense of the word.

How to Stop Run-Shaming?

As the victims of run-shaming, here are some things we can do to combat the problem.

Be supportive of others who have different hobbies than you.

If someone is a die hard stamp collector, crotchet enthusiast, or old movie aficionado, good for them! Do not bash their hobbies or unfriend them on Facebook because their interests have nothing to do with yours. Everyone has their own passions in life. If those passions make them happy and aren’t hurting anyone or breaking the law, then that is a good thing! Now more than ever, this world needs acceptance, support and love. Let’s lead by example.

Remember to have empathy.

Each person has his or her own story and reasons for why they do the things they do. A person may have battled and overcome a disease and running makes that person feel strong. Someone else may have a hard time socially and book club or crochet class gives them a chance to interact with others. You never know the background reasons for a person’s choices, interests, or what brings them joy.

Be proud of who you are. 

I have encountered situations where I have felt that coworkers judged me or questioned my dedication to the job based on the time I spent running, even though I was always prepared and on time for work. Others said I am antisocial because I rarely went to bars with my coworkers. Unfortunately, some of the people who went out to bars every night would in turn frown upon my regular running habit, mistakenly thinking that I did not have enough work dedication. I can guarantee, I spent much less time running than the aforementioned people spent in bars! At the time, I felt like I had to hide the fact that I was a runner so that people would value me at work. Now I am proud of who I am: I am a musician-runner and occasional drinker!

Respond with dignity, not hostility.

On the flip side, as a classical musician for a living, I am used to unwelcome, downright rude questions such as, “Do you get paid for that?” As with these types of questions, I aim to respond with dignity, not hostility. You do not need to justify yourself to everyone. With running, I generally say something simple, like “This is who I am. Running is like eating, sleeping, or brushing my teeth. Why do I run? I just have to.”

***

Insane and in pain! My obsession has resulted in tremendous personal achievement and even some cash!

For those of you reading this who don’t get the whole running thing, how can you be supportive, rather than shaming? Be happy for us. Say “That is not my chosen hobby but good for you on being disciplined and doing something you enjoy to stay in shape.” The same goes for any hobby or lifestyle. Do not criticize and degrade people for enjoying things that you do not do or understand.

Although many of us are presently runners, we may not always be. Illness, injury or life circumstances may derail our running and we may become non-runners. Many of us will take up other hobbies. Hopefully our running backgrounds will make us better people and more supportive of others, runners and non-runners alike.

I like to remember the old saying; Obsessed is the term the lazy use to describe the dedicated. So, really, if being a dedicated runner makes me crazy and obsessed, so be it!

Have you ever been run-shamed? How did you respond?

I am a dedicated runner and classical musician. I am currently chasing a sub-3 hour marathon (3:00:38 PR). I often feel like the underdog going up against "serious" runners-I took up running after college, I do not have a typical "runner's body type", and I am mostly self-coached. I travel a lot to perform with different orchestras and run when I can, where I can. I love to (over) eat and that is my number one motivation for running! Follow me as I chase my goals!

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27 comments

  1. I think it is always important to remember that when someone makes a comment, to look at it as about THEM, not YOU. In this sort of thing it is definitely true – very often it is about their own feelings of guilt about not being in the shape they want or something similar.

  2. I would respectfully disagree with this article – I was feeling the same some time ago and realized that I was missing several things because of my running obsession. Yes, this is an obsession (as many others exist) and this is valued because it promotes a healthy lifestyle. This is still an obsession and impact our life, either positively or negatively.

    1. I can see your point. I think that Cayenne was really trying to talk about the comments and criticism we as runners take for doing something that is healthy. One could shame or call a drug addict crazy, but there is no health benefit or good thing that comes from something like that. Most people who call runners crazy, act like they are no better than someone who doesn’t sleep in because they get up early to go make a deal or something like that. I think the issue is when people (typically non runners) act like there are no differences between ANY obsession- like all habits are equal.

  3. I agree-an obsession becomes a bad thing when it interferes with your life and causes you to miss out on things you enjoy. I do miss out on a few things (more socializing with friends, sleeping in!) but I feel like I get more in return, so it is worth the trade off. Finding the balance between running/work/family is not easy and if running jeopardizes those things it can definitely be a bad thing.

    1. +3!

      100% agree, we get a lot out of running so sometimes if that means I miss something such as an extra hour of sleep than I am okay with it. Balance is hard, and I think we have all gotten out of hand at times with leaning a little too far to one side or the other with running. I know I certainly have!

  4. I agree that shaming a healthy person who enjoys running is rude. But it’s hard to differentiate between picking on someone who enjoys running vs expressing concern for someone who has an exercise addiction sometimes…I think people who don’t run can’t see the difference.

    1. True…there should be reason for concern if an unhealthy running addiction is obvious….for example if someone is always late for work because they are running, missing their kids baseball games or having running-induced health issues. Otherwise I would hope people would be supportive of someone’s healthy running habit. I know I sometimes risk going too far but keep it in check. I just remember that it is a hobby…I’m not fast enough to make a living off of it! :-)

  5. Interesting read. I started running when I was in high school and looking back that was definitely the time in my life when I received the most “run-shaming” type comments you describe here. I think part of it was because most of my peers hated running and just couldn’t understand why you would want to do that voluntarily (your sport is my sport’s punishment, etc). However, I also think that being new to running and loving it SO much, I tended to talk about it a lot more to people outside of my running circle and that likely prompted a lot of the comments/judgments from non-runners.
    The ironic thing is that most of the people who “run-shamed” me in high school have become runners themselves and post ad-nauseam about their training and racing on social media – this has helped me realize how obsessed I probably came off in high school. I want to roll my eyes at these people sometimes, but really I try to be happy for them that they have finally seen the light and they’re excited about it.
    Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that I think it’s very easy for people to label someone as “obsessed” with running if they talk about it a lot. At the end of the day, if you’re not ashamed of the time and energy you spend running (or talking about running), then you shouldn’t feel “run-shamed” by comments like that. You do you!

    1. I have seen that happen as well…the non-runners who get annoyed about runners talking/posting about it too much then take up runnning and do the same thing! I admit I was the same as a new runner…I talked and posted about it a lot. It was all so exciting, and still is. Now I try to control it better, but not hide it. :-) Salty Running gives me a venue to post about it and not annoy the people who don’t want to hear about running. Love your attitude-be you and be proud!

  6. Tangentially related: I have running friends and I have mom friends, and the venn diagram of those does not overlap, save for my one running mom friend who moved across the country this summer :'( (I found her by literally chasing her down on the playground after spotting her with a toddler my son’s age, a running stroller, and a running shirt.)

    Maybe it’s in my head, but I worry non-running mom friends assume that I’m running to lose the baby weight (not really…I’m working towards a lifelong BQ dream), which is a variant of run-shaming. How do I convince them otherwise? Is it in fact all in my head? And where am I supposed to find another running friend who’ll stroller-run 6 miles with me then chase our kids around the splash pad?

    1. You are running because you love it, I’m assuming! If you were running solely for baby weight loss, there would be nothing wrong with that either. You don’t need to explain yourself to everyone but I would just say how you are working to accomplish your dream (BQ). Working to be your strongest you isn’t the same as running for weight loss. I’m not sure where you are based but in some places they have running mom groups. Also I see women running with strollers at races (I am always super impressed..it is hard enough to run without one!)..you could flag one down and set up a run date. I do this sometimes when I see women around my speed at races. I feel a little awkward but I have made some good friends/training partners that way!

  7. I think the key here is how its done. If someone has legitimate concern for another person’s well being they don’t usually make comments like “you’re crazy!” or “you’re obsessed!” If someone is concerned for another’s welfare, whether or not their assessment is accurate, the appropriate way is to have a serious and considerate discussion with that person. I have a hard time interpreting comments like the ones mentioned as in this article as showing sincere concern.

    1. As others have mentioned, I think the “you’re crazy” comments say more about the person saying them then they do us as the runners. I agree though, if someone had concerns it should be done in a more considerate way.

    2. Exactly! Making negative, shaming comments isn’t an effective or tactful way to express concern and people who make those types of comments generally don’t make them out of concern.

  8. This article came at a great time! While I have plenty of running buddies that understand my so called “obsession” the majority of family and friends don’t get it. I’ve even had people pull away from me because of my running. I’m in no way over the top about it. I’m fairly new to it all, less than 2 years, so understandably I talk about running a lot. It frustrates and saddens me that if I had a different hobby it wouldn’t cause such issues. I’ve just come to accept that this is a part of who I am now and people have to take it or leave it.

    1. +3!!!!!! Lumping everyone under the same umbrella takes away from the help and concern that those who actually need it could be getting. Also adds unnecessary guilt/shaming for those who do have healthy relationship with food/exercise etc.

  9. Thanks for this! My coworkers tell me I’m crazy for running and enjoying it- I think people just don’t understand how it can be enjoyable. When they think of running they remember being forced to run a mile in elementary or high school when they took it out too fast and it felt terrible. If that’s your only experience of course you’re going to hate it. I ran track in middle and high school, but skipped on cross country because my very first and only time going to practice in 10th grade the coach sent me out on a 4-5 mile run (about 3-4 miles longer than any run I had ever done before) with no guidance on pacing (or a warning that I would encounter an entire herd of cows blocking my path), I couldn’t get out of bed the next day I hurt so bad- and I never went back again :(

    I also relate this to my lifetime of being shamed for enjoying, and being good at, math. People fear what they don’t understand and for some reason feel the need to shame those who don’t share that fear or misunderstanding- whether the shaming makes them feel better about their shortcomings or is just a need to have to have something to say is unknown to me! All we can do it keep on doing what we do and love!!

  10. I always felt some shame for being into exercise although in a healthy way–30-45mins at the gym before I started running. It is a daily routine and makes me feel centered. I have taken care to minimize how much I run when others ask me because I don’t want to be judged. Like when someone asks how far did you run I’ll just say something general like around 5miles or little over an hour. I do not like telling people I spent 2hrs on the road at 6am on a Saturday. What I think is interesting is how many people I now see on Facebook who post their workouts or 5am selfies working out on Instagram as a way to be accountable and I would still feel self conscious about being shamed to post such information. We all have different experiences and mine included being shamed for exercising.

    1. Same here! None of my work friends run so I don’t really share that I actually run 4-5 times a week in addition to swimming, and perhaps one bike ride. But I do all that because I have found my closest friends and cheerleaders through running and triathlons!