This is Supposed to be Fun

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?

I am a stay at home mom and group fitness instructor from South Texas. I love reading, wine, and travel. I write about trends, injury prevention and maintenance, and satire. I am training to break 1:30 in the half marathon sometime soon, and for the 2017 Boston Marathon.

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5 comments

  1. I was burned out too! So I’m on a “I run when I want to” kind of break. And if I’m running and it’s not that fun, I stop. I don’t feel bad. I was so burned out. So running 3-4 miles for me is good and I’m fine with it. I always enjoy your posts and letting all us strangers in on how hard this fun activity can be and how we all need a break from fun shit sometimes.

  2. I hadn’t realized I needed a break from running until I was forced to take one (actually two) due to injuries last year. I learned I could live without and be happy! I did two rounds of physical therapy and learned the importance of strength training and prehab, and am now a barre devotee. Once in a while I get a little sad that I’m not currently training for anything (I will be soon enough), but am happy I can just run as many miles as I feel like and not have to worry about doing twenty mile runs in the cold. Like Barley said, it would be better if this came on my own, not from injury, but I am happy to have learned these lessons and given my body some rest.

  3. I’m on a break right now! I started grad school and had some other stuff going on, and it just felt like another obligation. I also felt like I wanted to do other stuff, like strength train and go to yoga on a more regular basis. So I started doing those things and now I run when I feel like it. It’s awesome! I’m almost getting the urge to train for something again…but not quite.

  4. Most importantly, I agree that running should NOT always be as much of a struggle as much as some make it seem. If every run requires self reckoning or some diatribe- you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons, whatever it may be. If you get to the point where it TRULY is that way, you probably should take a step back or make a big change (just run, don’t train or try different distance or something) or just stop running for a bit all together. I know for me I didn’t’ take a real break for a few years and pregnancy became the wonderful much needed break that I didn’t know I needed until I took it. I occasionally struggled with guilt (more because of mom shaming/pregnancy shaming) but for the most part I opted to embrace the time off.

    On a flip side, regarding social media I would argue that a lot of those people who post that every run is a struggle or some life changing thing- is being dramatic and doing it for head pats. To each their own, but it’s definitely a thing to make something little a bit more than it really is for the sake of a post. There are also some people that every run requires a poop squat tongue sticking out dying in the street post because they don’t actually put the effort in consistently and therefore what SHOULD be an easy run for them is actually the equivalent of running a marathon up a mountain in the snow even if the run is only 3 easy miles. Sometimes, running is consistently hard because you need to train smarter, or actually train. Yes, that marathon is going to suck and hurt and make you want to call your mom if you don’t actually train for it and get to mile 20 feeling like the last 6.2 will in fact kill you.

    I wish it was more widely ‘acceptable’ to take a break from running before it gets to the point that you needed to (injury, pregnancy, burnout, whatever). I know that I should have and could have taken a bigger running break far sooner than pregnancy but didn’t because I didn’t have a good reason to and I was feeling good and still improving. I’m glad it worked out for the best, but that notion that we need to keep going if we don’t have a good reason to stop isn’t healthy. Can we make a regular running break, even once a year a prehab thing. We do all these exercises and #extrasalt to prevent injury. Can we take a break once in a while to prevent a whole litany of things like injury, burnout, of before we get to the point we just don’t actually like running anymore? Sorry, off the soapbox.