Friday, May 15, 2015

Running is Selfish

How about some talk about running that isn't a training log?

Lately I've been mulling over something while running: Running is selfish. (In my opinion, etc. etc.)

Here's the thing -- there are some running events and people who are legitimately running for others. Team Hoyt, for instance, where a father pushes his son who is a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair. (Note: at his son's request initially, he wasn't pushing around his son who didn't want to be pushed around.)

Can I just say that if I ever saw these two I might immediately start crying?
Clearly, that is someone running for someone else. Or my friend Kara, who pledged to complete an Ironman and raise $10,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. A huge part of why she wanted to do the Ironman was as a vessel for raising $10,000.

But for the vast, vast majority of us, even if we are raising money for a charity as part of our training, at the end of the day, a large part of running is selfish. We run because it makes us feel good in some way. It might be mentally, it might be physically, it might be because hitting a goal gives us a feeling of pride. 

There is nothing wrong with any of those feelings. However, I think it's important to acknowledge that ultimately running is, for most of us, a hobby that brings us personal pleasure. So often I read things that seem to treat running as being something we do for others, and I just think that's a bit off base. (I'm sure I've been equally guilty of this.) 

So, this is something I've struggled with lately. Jess recently wrote a fantastic post about how much we have to do and give up to commit to running goals. It's so true -- there are a lot of sacrifices to be made in order to make yourself the best possible runner you can be.

The thing is, a lot of what we have to give up affects those around us, especially those who live with us. Certainly many hobbies have this effect. If you're in a competitive bowling league, you're probably gone a few nights a week. (Wait, do people still have bowling leagues?) But I'm guessing competitive bowlers aren't waking up at 5:30 a.m. for a run or going to bed at 9 p.m. on a Friday night or being picky with what they eat the night before a long run, or a host of things that runners need to do to seriously tackle big goals, all of which have some kind of an impact on those around us. 

I'm not writing this post to say that we should all give up running because how dare we do anything selfish. Not at all. Running is incredibly important to me for a host of reasons, and I think running makes me a better person. It certainly makes me a less stressed out person, which makes me nicer to those around me.

However, I've been thinking lately about the fact that when I choose to run a race and train for it, especially with my job which can frequently entail long hours, I'm giving up time with loved ones and I'm impacting what we can do if I say I need to be in bed by a certain time or can only eat certain things. And while I can say "it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for my goal," I have to remember that I'm not the only one affected by my choices. 

Look at that gorgeous sunrise! I snapped this at 5:50 a.m. after waking Sourabh up (because the dog was barking as I left) at 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning...

The fact that running and training for a goal are inherently selfish pursuits (again: in. my. opinion.) doesn't make them bad in the slightest. Selfishness is too often treated as a negative. Sometimes it's good to be selfish! Having our own interests and pursuits makes us better people.

I just think it's important for us, or at least for me, to remember that, and maybe to be more grateful to the people in our lives who are also sacrificing so that we can pursue our own goals. It's something I need to focus on personally, and I thought maybe others might relate.

So... thoughts? 


  1. Very articulate post, friend. First, there's definitely something to be said for the benefits running brings on an individual level. Like you, I'm much more pleasant to be around when I'm training, and I feel like the best version of myself when I'm swimming, biking, and running consistently. And that in turn helps me be the best me at work, with friends and family, etc. I joke it's better for everyone else when I'm training, but I'm actually kind of serious!

    However, I will say that after long training days (like four-hour rides on the weekends), I do think of how selfish I'm being. I could be at brunch with friends, I could be visiting my sister, etc. And the same goes for key workouts. On days before speedwork or bricks, I'm very careful about what I eat, I go to bed even earlier, things like that. Luckily, most of my close friends run too, and my family has always been incredibly supportive. But this model isn't totally sustainable, which is why I really go "all out" during the off-season. ;) In all seriousness, though, when running/training start to negatively affect those around you, that's when some reassessing needs to happen.

    1. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful response, Carrie. I totally agree with you (as I hope was clear) -- I do think I'm a better person for running. But just like you said, it definitely impacts those around us. I think for those of us who train hard without it being a full time job, it's important for us to structure those off-seasons as best we can so that we can be as "up for everything" (or go "all out" like you said) and make up for being somewhat selfish during training periods.

  2. Ditto the "I am just a nicer, more pleasant person to be around when I get my runs in" sentiment. For me, though, running predates the vast majority of significant relationships & pursuits in my life, so I've pretty much gone into everything (except teaching, which I eventually quit) with the attitude of, "This is what I do, so if it's a problem, that's a deal breaker."

    But, thankfully, it's rarely been a problem, probably because my training honestly doesn't affect anyone else much. I go to bed maybe an hour earlier than Don so I can get up early for strength work, but I run in the afternoons after work, and since I get home at 4-5 & he gets home around 7ish, he doesn't even know I'm gone. (And, I have no kids, so that's not an issue.) I would say the only thing I do that affects anyone is my Sunday long run, when I'm gone for 2.5-3 hours. But it's almost never a big deal. So I guess I'm just really lucky!

    1. I am eagerly awaiting the point in my career when I can say "sorry, I need to be able to fit in running." Not quite there yet...

      Being able to run in the afternoon is AMAZING, it's actually my favorite time of day to run. I have to choose between super early (for me) alarms (and therefore, often, not enough sleep) or rolling the dice on if I can leave work early enough to fit in a run. When it's only one thing a week (Sunday long runs) it's so much easier to manage/balance I feel like. All of which is to say I'm jealous ;)

  3. There is so much truth to this. I know that when I'm not marathon training I'm better at my job and better at my relationships. I don't think it makes any of this wrong, it just means that I have to be more aware of letting it control my life and not letting it effect how I put energy into other things. (Thanks for the shout-out!)

    1. I loved your post! Really committing to training does require so much from us, especially as we become better runners who need to alter more to see the best results from our work. And like you said, none of those facts make training hard and altering our lifestyles bad/wrong -- it's just something we need to be aware of and think about how we can thank those who are also dealing with it :)