The Middle of Marathon Training Guilt

imageIf you’re anything like me, the beginning of March means you are now well into your spring marathon training cycle. If you’re anything like me, you’re also beginning to experience those nagging feelings that start to intensify when you’re in the middle of a marathon training cycle.

For once, I’m not referring to nagging feelings of injury; all is smooth sailing on the injury front. [*knocks vigorously on wood*] What’s really starting to eat at me right now is Guilt, yes, with a capital G. Early in the training cycle, it was a faint whisper, but with each passing week the nagging internal monologue grows louder:

Your running is selfish!

Your running is annoying to everyone, especially your family!

You’d be a better mom/wife/employee/friend if you weren’t taking so much time to RUN.

As runners, we are faced with scheduling conflicts and compromise. Sometimes running is inconvenient, and it doesn’t always just inconvenience us. Running can be a huge pain in the butt for everyone who relies on us too.

For me, the guilt becomes overwhelming about halfway through a training cycle. While off-season runs are shorter and less frequent, and therefore more easily re-scheduled, marathon training runs require focus and dedication to squeeze them all in. This means I have less wiggle room in my schedule to work around a kid’s temper tantrum, my husband’s desire to sleep in on a Sunday morning, or spontaneity in general.

A common conversation with my husband sounds a little bit like this:

Mr. Pumpkin: Do we have anything going on this weekend? I’d like to do A, B, and C.

Me: Oh, sure, that would be fine. We don’t have much going on. I just have to run 5 miles on Friday night, Oh, and I have 10 miles to run Sunday. Oh, and I’m meeting so and so for a run on Saturday morning. Can you fit A, B, and C into Sunday evening sometime?

Mr. Pumpkin: Sigh…

And cue Guilt.

In all fairness to my dear husband, he is actually incredibly accommodating. He supports my running and almost always has a delicious meal ready for me when I return home from a long run. Nothing is better following a Saturday morning 20-miler than a stack of pancakes and bacon, especially when prepared by somebody else! My husband doesn’t complain much about wrangling our two young children for hours at a time when I’m gone running and I do my best to run during off-peak hours so it doesn’t suck up our entire weekend.

In spite of that, however, by six weeks into a training plan, I start to even annoy myself with the broken record statement of “But first … my run.” I think my husband’s accommodating nature actually makes me feel MORE guilt sometimes, like I feel he needs to punish me by acting more annoyed. Then again, I don’t think I’d like that much either.

I suppose when you’re a wife/mom/employee/friend/runner, you’re used to having to balance multiple roles in life, and guilt is inevitable whenever the delicate balance of all.the.things is disrupted. Marathon training stops for no one, which means it’s not the most conducive thing to pleasing everyone who matters to you. There is something to be said for being dedicated enough to attempt to make it all work, but I also have to have some self-compassion that there will be times when I drop a ball (or four), and that’s just a function of being human. I’d likely drop balls even if I wasn’t training for a marathon, because, well, I’m a human!

He is sweetly awaiting pancakes made by me.

So how do I manage all of this internal discord? On my negative days, I begin to resent my training. I don’t let myself stay in that mental place very long, though. These feelings are my cues that I’m probably tired and it’s normal to get down on myself when I look at my calendar and fitting it all in seems impossible. I have to remind myself that I choose this. I choose to run amongst the chaos of the rest of my life. I have to remind myself that this is temporary, and that this training cycle has an end date.

I know that this is a wonderful problem to have; I have a lot of people who want my time and I’m healthy and strong enough to train for a marathon. Sometimes it feels like a tough decision to have to compromise and make sacrifices when it ALL feels important. But, just like we do when we run a race, we have to take the attitude in life that we just need to show up and do our best. Oh, yeah, and when that training plan finally IS done: make your husband and children some damn pancakes.

Do you ever feel guilt about getting in your training?

I'm a college mental health counselor, runner, cyclist, wife, and mom to two strong-willed children. I started running in 2011 after the birth of my last child after years of love-hate relationships with fitness. My favorite distance is the half marathon, but I love the challenge of tackling the marathon. My biggest challenge is the mental aspect of racing, but my greatest strength is I'm stubborn and never give up! I'm a free spirit, an open book, and try to be authentic both in real life as well as in my internet life. Running has given me a place to face my fears, chase goals, and stay humble. Side note: I love cats and coffee and tacos.

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  1. I can relate to this 100%! Last year, I trained for my first full marathon. While it was completely awesome and the best experience ever, after it was over, my accommodating husband said it was nice to have me back on Saturday. Our only family day. This year, I’m *only* doing a couple half marathons. But since I’m after a particular goal tome, I’m over training. Cue long run Saturdays again. … with training and recovery, half the day is gone! As you said, I must remember that I’m healthy enough to be able to do this. Plus, I choose to do it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I know I’m not alone.

  2. This. Yes. Luckily because we live near Boston, my whole family gets to experience marathon fever starting right about now so it isn’t as bad as it could be. Also, I made a “guilt list” that I pull up whenever it gets really bad. Entries include “husband plays 4 hour rounds of golf every weekend from April -October”… and “Sunday night conference calls with team in Tokyo.” It helps me to remember that I do my fair share of accommodating everyone else’s schedules too!

  3. My hubby is very supportive, too. No pancakes, but he lets me get in a nap when I need one. He has his own time-consuming passions (hunting, namely), so I am sure to accommodate him. I also try to get my long run in during the week so I’m not totally spent all weekend. AND I only do one marathon per year (in the spring) so that summertime is less scheduled.

    I’ll be looking for you at Fargo, Pumpkin!

  4. Oh, we of the guilty hearts! How have I battled it? I do my longish workouts during the week while hubby is at work/kids are in school, and I do my long runs Saturdays as early as I can get my friends to meet me (5:30 on average) so I am home/done/ready for pancakes & coffee by 8:30 tops. And I remind myself that as well as creating a stronger/faster body, my husband gets to enjoy my runner’s tush in tight jeans! win/win

  5. oh man, so this! We’re at week 10ish of marathon training- that point where we’ve been at it for a while but race day seems to be still far away. The guilt is hard! Like some other commenters, I try to head out early on Saturday mornings so that I am home for most of the family time during the day, but I need to balance that with kids who wake up early, which means that if I’m out of the house before 6, my husband need to wake up early with them too. Not easy, that’s for sure!

  6. Definitely deal with this, especially as we get into the thick of marathon training. Brian is super supportive, but I also try and make it so it doesn’t take over our lives. I’m lucky with my flexibility I can typically make it so that I don’t miss out on a ton of time or things because of running but sometimes it’s just tough. Now that it is getting warmer out, and daylight savings is coming I would like to get more morning runs in so it is out of the way and I have more time in the evening for other things.

  7. My significant other just moved in a few months ago, and I am trying to balance out all of the activities that used to just be “me” time (working late at home, eating all of the ice cream, and oh yeah, running) with trying to be a present partner for him. Definitely there’s guilt to grapple with, especially the feeling of being selfish with any free time between us that overlaps. I’ll have to suggest sharing mega-breakfast duties on weekends.

  8. I have the same problem. No kids, just a wife but the guilt of not sticking to the training schedule is killing the fun. To the point I’m considering not doing races anymore. I used to train a lot for ultras and I’d be gone 4 hours on Sat and 4hrs on Sunday while my wife was doing stuff in the house. It IS a selfish thing in that case and I stopped that. Now the guilt is about not sticking to the schedule when things get busy with work and house-related stuff.

  9. I’m in Week 16 of marathon training and feeling this! Last week, my husband said, “Hey, want to go do something this weekend?” and my first comment was, “sure, but I’m running 18 on Saturday”.