My Relationship With Running: Current Status? It’s Complicated

running relationshipThe past year of running has presented a number of mental and physical roadblocks for me. I’ve dealt with injuries, thyroid problems, shoe drama, and a general decline in my running performance. My current marathon training cycle is following that trend as well, and the mental fatigue that comes along with gutting through run after run is wearing me down. During a recent Really. Bad. Run. I realized that my current relationship with running bears a striking resemblance to the ups and downs of an actual romantic relationship — and man, is it complicated.

Running and I flirted for years before I committed. Through my teens and twenties, we’d go on an occasional date, but — you know — at the time it just didn’t fit. Running was coming on too strong, and I was looking for easy relationships. Life events happened and I got to the place in life where I was ready to ditch those other suitors, like that milk toast elliptical (Sorry, elliptical, but you and I both know you’re as sexy as a fat-free saltine cracker). Six years ago, I took the next step with running. To say we’ve had our ups and downs is an understatement.

That first year running and I were together, after I finally took the plunge and committed, was magical. As we worked together and learned more about each other, our passion grew. Each date strengthened our bond, and many days I’d reflect on what I must have been missing all those years before. We were in L-O-V-E and it was intense. Okay, my lovesickness blinded me just a tad. Occasionally running left me feeling depleted and a little unsure of myself, but back in those days the joy I felt when we were together far outweighed my misgivings.

Within a year, I was ready to put a medal on it. I locked running down and registered for my first marathon. Did our relationship have areas of growth we still needed to work on? Of course! But we were on the same page and we had a common goal in mind. We were going to grow old together! We celebrated the victories and comforted ourselves through some of our first long training runs. We worked hard, but it never felt tiresome. We woke up each morning with a purpose and we executed the plan for our big day.

Marathon day was the best day of our lives together! Looking back, perhaps we should have known we couldn’t keep moving forward at the frenetic pace of that first year, but it was our honeymoon after all. We still had so much to learn and so much to build on. Our foundation might not have been as strong as we thought, but we ignored that in our blissful haze. We were the happy, fun couple! We didn’t have time for practical things like strength training and core work. We wanted to run run run alllll the time! We had LOVE and it would keep us alive!

Inevitably, the honeymoon feeling slowly dissipated and we started to encounter some bumps in the road. We alternated between joy and frustration. We had some amazingly solid weeks or months of running, only for injury to blow up. We had some dark times. We went to massage therapy and tried Graston, and we were encouraged to retreat to work on that foundation. But just when we started feeling strong again, out went those foundational tools. We wanted to RUN! We were back in love and we just wanted to enjoy our time together! We wanted it to be like it used to be, but we just couldn’t seem to get the magic back.

And there we were a year ago, not sure if we were meant to be. We decided to give it one last try. We worked really hard to try new things, and get to know each other on a different level. We had a pretty spectacular training cycle and felt confident going into our last marathon. We were like a power couple again, ready to dominate that race. We showed up on race day, but the stress didn’t bring us together. No, the adversity of the bad race drove us further apart. Our faith in one another was shattered. And when another injury flared up by summer, I needed some space.

But a few months alone, and I missed running and running missed me. We tentatively started hanging out again and enjoyed a few good months last fall. Then, sure enough, January came and the past months have been nothing but a downward spiral. Injury again, health problems, and just a lack of enjoyment of one another has worn on me. I’ve put a lot of work into our foundation this year and have pulled out all the stops in getting us back to good. But with each added effort, we are getting progressively worse. We fight, we’re exhausted, and my body and soul just hurt.

I love running and I think that running loves me. It’s heartbreaking because I want to stay in this relationship, and yet, I feel like the more I sit here and try and nit-pick every single aspect of our relationship, it seems that we don’t make any improvements. My heart isn’t into it right now, but I don’t want to think of a future without running either! I was hoping another marathon would bring us together again, but nothing seems to be going well.

And now here I am wondering where things stand. Can I stay with running or will I bail before the marathon comes? What’s our relationship like now? It’s COMPLICATED.

I’m not ready to call it quits, and I’m not prepared to give up on marathon training. I’m going to wait until the big day. Even though the efforts to build a strong foundation are seemingly not paying off right now, I have to believe that somewhere down the line this will help us get back in sync. Some days I think that maybe we just need to separate again or maybe even go our separate ways. Maybe focusing on other relationships will allow us to appreciate one another again. I know we have a future, and I know it won’t be easy. I have hope for us though, and when things feel dark and all I want to do is quit, I hold on pretty tight to that hope.

Running, I can’t quit you. Let’s keep working on this.

How’s your relationship with running these days?

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. Ugh, I totally relate. I’m going on month 3 of a back injury-triggering-spasms and it seems if I don’t do everything just perfectly, I get punished. I admire your tenacity (and your writing, of course). Is there any way you can make it fun again? Is the pressure of the marathon getting to you? I dunno, just I liked Pimento’s junk miles post- sometimes we all just need some, but a marathon training cycle isn’t going to be where they’re at….hang in there!

  2. I’m in an open relationship with running right now. Ever since we added yoga to our relationship, our bond deepened. 😉 I understand the delicacy of your relationship, Pumpkin. I hope your issues resolve as we enter your favorite season. I also enjoyed this narrative!

  3. Maybe you and running need to evaluate the kind of relationship you have – perhaps one filled with track meets and 5Ks instead of marathons. I heard an elite athlete speak this past weekend and described out she just loathed the “long run” but when she gets on the track for short stuff, it’s magical. It’s a hard hard road and I don’t know you well enough, but I thought that was an interesting insight. She was talking about all kinds of fun “masters” track meets – 35 makes you a sub-master these days, and there’s no qualifying time, just show up and sprint for 400, 800, 1500 meters. Good luck to you in finding what works!

    1. Good news! Running and I had a heart to heart, and we have decided to stay together for now. We are going to evaluate our status after Twin Cities Marathon and see if we need to spend some time engaged in different running activities 🙂

  4. I hear you. Living in the Boston area, it is almost impossible to escape the marathon siren song every year…. often I contemplate what it would feel like to just NOT DO IT but then I think about how I would feel on Patriot’s Day and the FOMO gets to me!