When Running Feels So Insignificant

Precious Moments Collection
I prefer a hobby of actual precious moments to figurative (or figurine) ones. (Photo credit: pchow98)

Sometimes I take my running too seriously. My husband is usually the first to tip me off that I’ve gone over the edge from enjoying it to stressing out about it. When he does this, his favorite phrase for reminding me of running’s place in my life is, “it’s just a hobby.”

He is always half joking, acknowledging that it matters to me and is important to me, but truthfully reminding me that in the end it’s not a matter of life or death. If I don’t PR or *gasp* get a day’s workout in, the Earth will continue to turn.

Lately, I uncharacteristically don’t need that reminder. 

When I woke up from a short afternoon nap on Monday, April 15 and realized bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, like many of you, my own running suddenly felt insignificant. It seemed like a normal reaction and one I expected to pass. Hours turned to days, days to a couple of weeks and finally I felt like running mattered to me again. I could hear the faint crackle of the fire beginning to burn again.

But then this whole missing women found in Cleveland thing happened. This might seem a strange thing to impact one’s motivation to run, so let me explain. As many of you know, the Salty headquarters are on the outskirts of Cleveland, OH. I was born here, left for several years and returned to settle down and start a family. It’s a great place to live. Most of the time here, I’ve lived in the eastern suburbs, but when I was finishing up undergrad (in my mid-20’s – I took the scenic route) and then when I went to law school, I immersed myself in Cleveland urban life. I first lived in a community just east of downtown and then in 2003, I moved to a neighborhood on the southwest side. I lived on the southern edge of a neighborhood called Tremont.

Tremont is where I started running again in the summer of 2004. I ran past the fliers showing Gina DeJesus’ and Amanda Berry’s photos. Gina’s disappearance, in particular,  struck me. I lived a couple of blocks from the neighborhood that is the heart of Cleveland’s Puerto Rican community. I much preferred this side of my neighborhood then going to the more gentrified areas for things like grocery shopping or coffee runs. I often drove past the churches, the schools, the botanicas admiring them along the way. Gina’s fliers were everywhere.

After law school, I found a good job and started looking to buy a house. I looked at a charming old house even closer to the Puerto Rican neighborhood from my apartment, but decided against it. Although the area was fairly gentrified, there was still a thread of urban decay and violence. I often encountered dogs on the run, at best unsupervised and improperly cared for dogs, but often strays. There were often homeless or drunk men sleeping in the park. And I often felt something was just off and not safe. There’s something about running the streets that gives you a sense of a place. I trusted my gut and passed on that house and the neighborhood.

Picture 8
The green is the apartment I lived in from 2003 – 2005. The red is, well, you can fill in that blank.

When I first heard the missing women were found alive, I was so relieved. It took a day or two for the reality to sink in and realize the horror they must have gone through. And then, finally, I decided to map the house to see where this happened. I was right across the freeway the whole time. I drove by it often to go to the grocery store. I frequented Charles Ramsey’s McDonalds to feed my coffee habit. I’m sure I saw Ariel Castro in passing.

The thought of being that close to someone so sick and, well, evil scares me. As a mother, the thought that we could be driving by a house where that was happening or standing next to someone who could do something like that hurts. I look at my innocent children and I hope with all the hope I have that I can protect them from that thread of evil in this world.

But I often come back to one thing: while Michelle, Amanda and Gina were imprisoned, I was out there running free. I had the privilege of being a little older, of living just a few blocks closer to the nice part of town, of growing up in the burbs. I didn’t know any of them, yet I feel a little survivor’s guilt.

And running goals feel so insignificant. So just a hobby.

I’ve been trying to remind myself that this stuff is very rare; most people really are good.  Life goes on. In the face of terrorism at the Boston Marathon or three women being imprisoned just blocks from my apartment, the answer is to live fully. The answer always is to live fully and run on.


How about you? Are you feeling back to normal after Boston? Ever have something so unrelated to running impact your desire to run like this? 

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. I don’t know if back to normal is the right way but I find it to be less upsetting day to day. I decided to train to qualify for Boston next year so I’ve been funneling my feelings into that

  2. You know, I’ve been weirdly fascinated with their story; maybe because of the Cleveland connection, and yesterday I happened to see a map like that in an article and thought, oh my gosh, that’s where you used to live!

    After both hurricanes, but particularly after Katrina, everything seemed insignificant, but that’s when I needed running the most. It can be a great constant in your life when everything else seems out of control, which I think explains some of why it has become so popular since the housing bubble burst and our economy has been on thin ice.

    It is a small thing. But the joy and sense of accomplishment and feelings of stability it can bring you are not small things at all. I agree with Mr. Salty that it’s no good to get all stressed and upset when things go wrong with your running, but when things go wrong in the world or in your life, running can become so much more than just a hobby; it can be the pressure release you need for your mental health. And that kind of relief is necessary to live fully!

  3. I know exactly how you feel. I had some very similar thoughts the week after Boston as I was preparing to run my marathon. It just felt so tiny and so selfish in the wake of everything, you know?

    I agree with what Cinnamon said – running provides an important outlet. While it is just a hobby (my Mr. says this, too!), if it helps you cope with awful tragedies and even just day-to-day stress, well, it’s so much more than that.

  4. Hi from Ireland, pregnant runner. Usually Zi dedicate my run to people who can’t go out for whatever reason, today I dedicated my run to the 3 Cleveland girls, so thank you for your article, it’s important to remember how lucky and privileged we are to be able to throw on a pair of sneakers and head out the door for a run, when there are so many who would love to have that freedom.

  5. I do know how you feel. One of my friends had a heart breaking tragedy in her life earlier this year and running felt so ridiculously stupid compared with the gravity of what was happening to her. I think it’s SO important to keep running in perspective. I love it, I really do…but it IS a hobby, it is unimportant. That kind of perspective keeps me from getting obsessed!

    Scary that you were so close to the house where the women were kept. I was trying to imagine ten years of being locked up and abused last night in the car. I can’t begin to fathom it!