Even in Hard Times, Running Is Not Selfish

I was driving home from visiting my mom in the hospital, my mind a flurry of thoughts. I was worrying about my mom, thinking about how much I needed to do when I got home, trying to figure out what to feed the kids while debating the pros and cons of getting on the treadmill that night.

I started thinking about the runs I’d been missing, so naturally I started creating a plan to ensure I got all my workouts in the following week. Then I realized that I am terrible, selfish person. I have so many people that need me right now, and here I am worried because I’m not getting my runs in? Talk about needing to get my priorities straight!

I’ve written before about why it’s so important to keep running even when life has handed you more lemons than you’ll ever be able to make into lemonade. Somehow a year has gone by since I wrote about that and here I am with my proverbial plate overflowing with even more crap that life has thrown at me. I find myself wondering if maybe I wasn’t being naive, unrealistic, and selfish back then.

At times like these is it possible to run and not be selfish?

Running, Even When Everyone Seems to Need You, Is Not Selfish

As I drove past the airport, an image of those little yellow masks popped into my head. You know the ones that drop down from the ceiling of a plane during an emergency? The flight attendant always says “If you are seated with someone who needs your assistance place your mask on first before helping them.” That always seemed a little selfish to me. Wouldn’t I want to make sure my young daughters had the oxygen they needed first? But it makes sense. You have to put your mask on first because you can’t help anyone if you can’t breathe.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with the demands of your life, think about how much harder it would be to deal with those same things if you couldn’t “breathe”.  Running is that breath of fresh air that keeps you grounded and keeps you physically and mentally healthy, allowing you to be able to take care of the people and the demands in your life.

How to Keep Running During Hard Times

So how do you do it? How do you fit running in without being selfish or letting someone down?

Have a plan, but don’t be a perfectionist. The first thing you have to do is make a plan and then immediately come to terms with the fact that you won’t be able to execute that plan perfectly. You need to accept the fact that you will miss some runs or cut others short, and that it is ok. It may seem silly to write a plan that you know you won’t be able to follow, but I guarantee you will run more if you only complete part of your plan than you would if you had no plan at all. Remember that you need to prioritize running to preserve your sanity and if you’re already prone to skipping runs or cutting them short to take care of others, you can be fairly certain you’re not being selfish about your running.

Go with the flow. Don’t get caught up in the details of your plan. This past weekend my schedule called for 16 miles at a certain pace. I had couple of options. I could run 16 miles by myself in the brisk 5ºF air. I could torture myself for a few hours on the treadmill. Or I could join a group of friends who were running some easy trail miles. I opted for the trail miles. Instead of 16 I ran in the freezing cold for 11 snowy, slippery, slow but very fun and therapeutic miles. Then I went home and ran the remaining five miles on my toasty warm treadmill. Clearly, this wasn’t what the author of my training plan had in mind, but who cares. At the end of the day I got a long run in and enjoyed time with my friends.

Don’t put it off. This may seem like a no brainer, but get your run in while you can. Don’t ever assume that you’ll have time later. I’m not saying you need to get up at 4:00 a.m. every day to run, but if you have a chunk of time to run, don’t let it pass by. I’ve also learned not to cut runs short if I have the time to finish them.

laying on treadmill
Probably shoulda gone to bed.

When I went home and hopped on the treadmill last week to do the last five miles of that long run, I felt like a bit of a nutcase. As crazy as it seems, it was important that I finish that run. I don’t have control over what each day is going to bring, and there is no guarantee that I’ll be able to fit in a long run next weekend. It’s best to get the long run in this week, just in case something comes up the following week.

Know when to ease up and when to push yourself. Sometimes I’ll come home from a long day and night and I’ll force myself to get on the treadmill. Sometimes it’s exactly what I needed and other times I should have gone to bed. It’s important to listen to your body and to remember that stress can take a toll on you physically. You’re not being lazy if you listen to your body when it’s telling you it needs some rest.


If you are struggling to keep all of your balls in the air, take it one day at a time. Remember that running is there to help keep you balanced, healthy and sane. It’s ok to take a break from running too. Your shoes will be ready and waiting for your return, but be sure to take care of yourself. Remember the importance of putting your mask on first.

Have you ever struggled with feeling selfish about your running? 

I'm a running mom of two little girls, who is busy balancing life, work and marathon training. It's always training season for me because I'm on a quest to run a marathon in every state, while constantly striving to be the best runner I can be. Running has led me to some great adventures and I always have a good story to share!

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  1. Love this! In a previous job, we did a lot with the 7 Habits (all the district’s elementary schools implemented the kids’ version, which entailed buy-in from the adults). Sharpen the Saw is a favorite of mine!

  2. You are one of the most amazing balancers of life that I know. You have been thrown so much this year, punched in the gut and spit at, yet you still find time to run. You inspire me! You are the person I point to when others tell me that they don’t have the time to exercise , and tell me when i have a kid, I won’t either. I’m grateful you’ve set that example for us! It can be done, in a smart way too.

    1. Yes! Who goes through all this shit and then still manages to run? SuperDill, that’s who. Thank you for the great post. Many hugs…

  3. Love you Dill!! I always say that if you don’t take care of the Captain, the ship will sink. Taking care of yourself is never selfish! Plus, I get to see you on random days of running;)!!

  4. One of my favorite quotes and things I have to remind myself of often when things get hectic- “It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself & to make your happiness a priority- it’s necessary”. Basically +3 to what you, and everyone else is saying. We can’t help others if you are barely staying afloat yourself.

    Big hugs Dill, XO