I checked the temperature on my iPhone again to see if it had changed in the last 30 seconds. Nope, still 18 degrees. Sighing, I pulled up my socks, reluctantly put on my shoes, started my podcast and headed out the door for a 6-mile easy run. I turned left out of my driveway and began to climb the giant hill. Quads burning, eyes watering and nose running, I audibly groaned. “Why am I doing this to myself?” I thought as I wiped my nose on my glove. “I thought this was supposed to be fun.”
Ah, running. It’s our biggest hobby and also our biggest pain in the ass. We knew it was hard when we started. All of us can remember the days when a mile was a huge accomplishment and we thought we’d have shin splints and blisters forever. We even enjoy the hard part. There’s nothing better than that feeling of accomplishment after nailing a hard workout, or finding that point in a workout when it goes from being impossible to manageable.
But what happens when running is ALWAYS hard? When we never find that sweet spot and every run is a struggle? Do we push through and keep suffering for its own sake? And if so, why?
Should running always be hard?
I started thinking about this lately — not just from my own perspective, but by browsing through social media. More and more, I see runners posting about how running is so hard and painful. There are selfies with tongues hanging out in pain, hands-on-knees-sucking-wind pictures, and even a few laying on the road in pain. I get that some of these are exaggerated, but it seems that some runners just have a hard time with every single run. Every picture has an accompanying post about how much they didn’t want to run, and how the run was such a struggle but they managed to overcome adversity and push through.
All those posts made me start to wonder: is it possible that running isn’t for everyone? If every run is miserable and a struggle and you dread them, why force yourself to run when there are so many other activities that might bring you joy?
I should interject here that I’m feeling a little burned out with running lately, so I’m sure that’s coloring some of my opinion on the subject. But I wonder why we force ourselves to run even when we’re clearly not enjoying it. Do other athletes suffer through the same type of self-punishment; pressuring themselves to continue even after they’re clearly not enjoying it?
Maybe the social media publicity aspect of running makes people feel pressure to run when they otherwise wouldn’t. Shalane Flanagan’s NY win was headline news, possibly causing a spike in running. Running itself is a pretty public sport — between us greedily hogging neighborhood sidewalks and humble-bragging about our accomplishments on Facebook, it’s a fair assumption that most people know a few runners and maybe even aspire to be one. Could that sort of peer pressure keep people from crying uncle on running and look elsewhere for their physical fulfillment?
Life’s short. Do what you enjoy.
When I was a kid, my best friend joined the swim team, so I joined the swim team. Not much of an athlete, I was a pretty slow swimmer who could never quite master the art of kicking and pulling at the same time. Also, I didn’t really enjoy practices, not having much patience for 2 hours of staring at a black line at the bottom of the pool while doing freestyle drills. Nevertheless, I persisted, with the excuse that it was easier to stick with it than to try to find a new sport.
I swam competitively from the time I was 8 until my junior year of college when I finally quit to student teach abroad in Australia. It wasn’t until I got back to the USA and tried running that I realized I kind of liked it. It wasn’t until 5 years later when I realized I was kind of good at it! Now I look back at all that time I wasted forcing myself to like swimming when I could have been doing something I was good at and enjoyed!
My point is this: running is great. But it’s okay to need a break from it. It should be something you do because you enjoy it, not another task on your to-do list.
Have you ever needed a break from running? Did you feel guilty about it?