On Not Running

I’ve been writing this article in my head for months. In (rare) spare moments, the words fill up my head and I find my inspiration. And yet, it has taken me nearly four months to put it down on paper. Writing an article about running–even one that has occupied the back of my brain for months–has been so far down on the priority list that it is clearly not a priority. I’ve just been too busy.

I have never been a fan of the word ‘busy.’ When I used to think of the word, I would think, no one is too busy to get what they want. I thought of it as an excuse or a search for some sort of strange badge of honor.

This time last year, I firmly believed that I would never be too busy to run or that running would be anywhere but at the top of my priority list. I believed, like many people, that the only thing that could keep me from running would be a serious injury. My life was very much structured around my ability to run. I’ve always been willing to get up early or to make sacrifices to make running fit into my life. That was then.

Looking back to the past couple of years, I realize what a luxury it was to be able to do that. Waking up at 5 a.m. to run around the trails with friends is a treat. ‘Sneaking in’ a second run after work is not a life necessity. Being able to cross train and rehab for four or five hours a day is an extravagance.

MH Bread ButterSix months ago, my husband, Nathan, and I opened our bakery/cafe, M.H. Bread & Butter, in the Bay Area. With that opening, my priority list dramatically changed, even more so than I had anticipated. Before we opened, I thought that I might have to get up a little bit earlier or that I may be a little bit more tired on my runs. But I thought that running was firmly cemented among my highest priorities. Maybe I was naive or maybe just overly optimistic. Instead, what I realized very quickly was that there is, in fact, times in our lives when running doesn’t matter. There are times when running does not have a place on the priority list. There are times where running might not happen. And more over, that is very much okay.

In this time, I’ve deciphered a couple reasons not to run, reasons that have risen to top places on my personal priority list:

  1. Family. Almost everyone I am close to has started a family in the past year. My friend group went from talking about where we were going to run or eat next to swapping information about babies and childrearing. I don’t think I have to enumerate or illustrate the times during pregnancy and family life in which running is not a priority. Family is the ultimate priority.
  2. Work. I never thought I would be as passionate about something as I am about running, especially not my job. Turns out, I was wrong! Sometimes you have to work 100-hour weeks to make your dreams come true. Sometimes the work is so critical you can’t just stop what you are doing. If you love your job or your work is your passion, you should never lament it being a top priority. (And if you hate your job, maybe you should consider a change.)

It is a difficult thing to not be able to run. To not have the time or energy to do something you love can be incredibly upsetting and hard. I struggled with myself as a runner for the first few months as I tried to hold on to the idea of who I was as a runner and how running fit into my life.

Through that struggle, I have come up with ways to cope and feel they are important to share:

  1. Don’t give yourself the choice. For the first five months of our bakery being open, I had no choice but to run every day at 2:30 a.m. into the bakery. There was no choice involved because we are a one-car household and Nathan goes into the bakery an hour-plus before I do. Like it or not, I had to roll out of bed and lace up my shoes to run the 2.3 miles from our house to the bakery. I lost maybe 15 minutes of sleep versus driving, but it helped me wake up and start my day off right. I am not saying that one should get up at 2:30 a.m. to run, but instead look for places in your day that you can integrate running as functional. It may be running to work, running errands, or running as transportation, but it is a small way to keep running a part of your life.
  2. Schedule. I find it is very easy to put off a run when my to-do list is pages long and people need my attention. I could fill up every waking moment with some sort of work, the next fire to put out, or the next pressing item. There will always be more to do. I’ve worked very hard at finding a way to manage all the work and to understand the places in my schedule or work flow where the work can wait. In those places, I schedule my runs. I find friends and training partners who squeeze in some miles–any miles–and I make a date. I make running a concrete plan and block out that time, protecting it from the overwhelming wave of work.
  3. Accept where you are. This is definitely the hardest one. After years of running two-a-days, spending countless hours on the weekends doing incredibly long runs, and being in great shape, it is a hard thing to lament the loss of your ability to run, to mourn being less fit, to not compare to where you once were. Those are all natural feelings and should be acknowledged. It is no fun to not be able to run. It really sucks. But feeling bad about not being able to run is not a good use of energy. In fact, if you have the time to think about not running, you may have time to run! On days where I worked from 2:30 a.m. on a Friday until 4 p.m. on a Saturday straight (maybe a short nap on the flour bags), I didn’t take pause to think about the fact that I didn’t get to run. My only priority was staying upright and then getting home to sleep as quickly as possible. When I did find the brain power to think about running, I saved it for thinking about ways to sneak in runs or scheduling running into both the near and distant future. I did everything in my power to make running happen but at the same time accepted where I am in life. (And I downright celebrated having too much great stuff happening in my life!)
  4. Make a plan. We are all used to having training plans. I ignored mine for the better part of the first four months we were open. I just ran what I could, when I could and that was definitely enough. In order to help keep my motivation up and keep me pushing myself out the door when I could, I made race plans. Yes, I accepted that I would not be in top form, but I put things on the schedule. It not only gave me motivation to run, but it also gave me something other than work to look forward to. There were several occasions when I simply could not make it to the race, but just having it on the schedule gave me something to aim at. When I ran the San Francisco Marathon in June, I was not in peak condition, but it felt like a vacation to be able to take the morning off and go for a nice, long run through my city. I felt elated that I was actually able to make it through a race given all I had going on. I valued and enjoyed the experience of being at a race more than I do when I am specifically trained for it. I also made long-term plans. I put races on the schedule for next year that I could dream about training and being ready for. It helps me keep perspective to put together future plans because I realize that my diminished ability to train will not always be the case. Ultimately, my priorities will shift again, my schedule will open up, I’ll find a way to come back to balanced.

Anyone who is reading this article genuinely loves running and wants it to be a part of their life. Navigating life’s changing priorities and diminished ability to run is difficult. It takes a strategy and it takes perspective. Utilize the strategies above to integrate a little running into your busy life. And, when you can’t, don’t lament being busy, celebrate having a rich and full life.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • When was the last time you found yourself called more by other priorities than running? What was the priority that required so much of your time?
  • In addition to Devon’s advice, how have you coped with navigating life’s changing priorities and putting running in the proverbial backseat for a period of time?
Devon Yanko

loves to cook, eat, run, sleep, repeat. She is a runner (distances and surfaces of all sorts), certified personal chef, and cafe/bakery owner. Three times she’s competed for Team USA at the IAU 100k World Championships, while also being a two-time national champion (100k and 50-mile). She competes in distances from the marathon to 100 miles, but the 50-mile distance is her favorite. She recently raced in the Olympic Marathon Trials setting a PR of 2:38:55. She documents her adventures on her blog.

There are 27 comments

  1. ClownRunner

    Finally! A post I can relate to! :)

    I'm always sending funny top ten lists on this thread because (a) I know Bryon and he tolerates my bad humor; and (b) it is my only outlet (poor humor) for not being able to run "long" anymore.

    With two kids (8 and 5) and a new puppy, and two jobs, I just can't get out for the bread'n'butter 20 miler anymore. I still do my same shorter runs (including run commutes), but it is those weekend long runs I miss so much. I guess I should do them at 3am, but then I'm just a wreck for family time. I'm in awe of those (like AJW and Wardo) who can train and travel the world with a full-time job and kids/pets, etc.

    Congrats on the new bakery/cafe and for fulfilling your Foodie dreams. And thanks for the post!

    1. ClownRunner

      Now that I read Bazzz's reply below, I too, must have warped priorities.

      And I just listened to Trail Runner Nation podcast, and I guess AJW is no longer exactly travelling the world (if he ever did)…but he's still my Trail Idol…ok, back to my new puppy blog….geez, I have no Man-Card left at all…

      Anyway, I still think Devon's article is timely and awesome…oh shoot, there goes the Man-Card again…

  2. Andy

    I am fortunate enough to have started my ultrarunning exploits after my kids are fully (or nearly) grown, and some of my work is flexible such that I can "sneak" in that midday run and catch up on work til 1 am. Sleeping less — and really good coffee — go a long way.

    Your attitude about restructuring priorities is critical. With patience and persistence (aren't those two of AJW's meta-whatevers?) the time will come to run and find balance once again.

    As for B&B Bakery, I look forward to paying a visit during my upcoming west coast trip, having just learned of my good luck with the Miwok lottery gods. See you in May!

  3. @chasingultra

    Great article! I used to be a marathon distance kind of guy and moved up to the ultra world this year. I ran two 50 milers and love the solitude/stress relief that I get from training. My wife is pregnant with twins and I have already realized that my plans to do a 100 next year are going to have to be put on hold for a few years.

  4. Carsonaceae

    I have been following the ultra world for several years now, mostly on irunfar. I have never run an ultra, and not even a marathon. I want to get to that point really really bad, but life circumstances just won't let me right now. I am in my final year of veterinary school, and on top of that I have an injury to deal with. Often, I will judge myself for not being dedicated enough, or not getting up early enough (something that is really hard for me to do), or not progressing my miles week by week. If I get a long run in, I don't get another for couple of weeks. With new rotations every two weeks comes a brand new schedule; it's almost like starting a brand new job every two weeks.

    I am happy to read Devon's article because it helps give perspective. My priority is finishing school and moving on. I have always run trails, but didn't become a serious runner until school, yet unfortunately it was also the wrong time to prioritize running. When I first heard of the Leadville 100, I instantly said that I wanted to do it, and someone I knew said that I couldn't, that it was impossible. So I'm working toward that and moving slowly in spite of naysayers and life schedules. Her article shows me that I have been doing what I can to fit running into my life until new circumstances arise. And I have been progressing as well. It's really hard to make time to train and deal with everything else, but as long as it happens every once in a while it works. I just tell myself that I have to accept where I am, and as Devon says, it's the hardest thing to do. When you have aspirations and motivation to get better, it can also be just as hard to tell yourself that you are grateful for your health and ability to run when you know that there is no way you're going to get in a run that day. Thanks for the article. It's very timely and appropriate for myself right now, and I assume many other readers on irunfar.

  5. bazzzzzzzzzzzzz

    "When was the last time you found yourself called more by other priorities than running?" I dunno, maybe a week ago when the prospect of a warm, cosy bed seemed preferable to trudging around in cold, wet, blustery conditions. So I stayed in bed and it was awesome. Fortunately running is just a hobby for me, so I can easily make those decisions.

  6. Dieter_Mindt

    I have been taking a break from running for the past 3 months just to give running a break from being at the top of my priority list. It has been nice to redefine what is "necessary" each day.

  7. Sarah

    Devon, I loved this article, and I commend you for throwing yourself 110% into something other than running. Ultimately, being able to define yourself by more than running, and being able to find satisfaction in other areas, will benefit you as a runner (as well as a well-balanced person) and keep you healthier. I relate to what you wrote in so many ways; my life has gone through phases of not running due to starting a startup firm, having babies and/or injury, during which running feels like a luxury or vacation. It is so easy to lose that perspective when training takes front and center. I have not run in two months due to injury and can't wait to finally return whenever my foot finally heals, and when it does, I may be forced to train at a minimum rather than with intensity. Your perspective reminds me of the saying "some is better than none" and accept where you are in a given phase.

  8. Marilyn_O

    Devon – loved this article! You continue to impress and I wish you all of the best in life. These ebbs and flows are what living our life, with running, is all about. Coming to grips with what defines us and what the running means to us is quite the process in the context of our other priorities of family and work. Hope to stop in to the M.H. on my next trip out to the Bay Area.

  9. olgav100

    I love you. I mean, Devon, I was so thrilled following you success in running, but even more so your story on bakery and its progress. You are awesome. I won't be writing here about own commitments – nobody is really interested:) – but I have to say priorities shift in life, back and forward, more back, more forward, and it never stagnates. Recognizing it is a wisdom we get as we grow older and wiser (all at various ages). Thank you for speaking up so well – but more so for setting an example for following your dreams, running AND life.

  10. @calebsimpson

    I can totally relate. Since starting Bearded Brothers, getting married, and having a little one, the time I have to run and go rock climbing has greatly diminished, so I cherish whatever time I can get and settle for only running about 3 days a week, which is still plenty of time to train for 50milers. I also settle for more road runs now too, pushing my daughter in the stroller. But, man I LOVE my family, running a business, and all the challenges those bring. It's definitely worth giving up a bit of running time. There is way more to life than just running.

  11. Emir

    Great post Devon. I am always juggling the schedule of life and running with 2 little ones running around and other life priorities. I will be visiting the Bay Area in the spring, and I really hope to stop by the bakery. Good luck on your new adventure!

  12. Steve Pero

    Good for you, Devon to make the correct choice at this time in your life. I've been following you for the past couple of years on your blog and you were one of the ultrarunners who inspired me to get off my lazy Ultrarunning ass and train again for a road marathon (has been maybe 20 years since my last). Ugh, it's hard, harder than ultrarun training!
    Best of luck to you and Nathan…and thanks for the inspiration.

  13. Ben_Nephew

    While most have periods when certain facets of their life need to be all-consuming, this can pose problems whether is running, family, or work. It seems like you are fully aware of the need for balance and to get back to running in some way, but it's not the easiest thing to do for highly motivated individuals. It's possible that things won't settle down or open up unless you make that happen.

    I think a strong realization of the benefits of exercise towards both family and work helps to some degree, at least when there is some potential to get a run in.

    As for the family priority, everyone would always tell us that there is perfect time to start a family. This may be especially true these days, but there are definitely better times than others, so don't be afraid to wait. Parenthood is hard enough when things are relatively stable, and you want to give yourself the best chance of finding your desired balance of work and family, and some running.

  14. @Strongerrunner

    Thanks for the down to earth honest post. Everyday is about examining priorities and fitting them into that 24 hour space. There are definitely things that come before running, but with that said, I just don't feel as good without a good run under my belt for the day.

  15. kellydunleavy

    You guys have been working crazy hard. Since whenever I talked to you earlier this summer and you told me about running at 2:30 a.m., if I don't want to run, I usually think yeah, but at least it's not 3 in the morning and I haven't been working at a bakery for 15 hours straight. Glad it's starting to get off the ground, though, and that you're having more time soon. And, it is a great bakery!

  16. @tawnyadozier

    Thanks Devon for this timely article. I've been beating myself up for being "lazy" lately and not getting in those long hard runs before my next big race. But working full time with a busy family of 5 kids I realize that time spent doing homework and reading stories is never being lazy, just different priorities. It IS a luxury to get in a two run day or a long 6 or 8 hr run. Tetrising regular runs into the work week with Hubby's running schedule is another hurdle. Sometimes exhaustion, inertia, fatigue, build up and it's not easy to escape the gravity pull of the couch. It's reassuring to know that life happens to even the best of us. Thanks for being so honest.

  17. @Watoni

    Devon,

    Kudos! Working like mad to make your dreams come true is a blessing, as much as running is. I remember hearing about your plans on Ninja runs, and just seeing you fly on the trails. It is all still there, and I think you will find more fulfillment in running when you are back into it and have more balance.

    I ran my first 2 50 milers and my first 100 this year … I was working until a few hours before I hit the start at the 100, and flew straight back to work afterwards. I am just a hack with my first 1000 mile year, and I never would have made it without the love and support of my lovely bride and two boys, and the wisdom gained with running with true Ninjas like you!

  18. Tony Mollica

    I too used to think that nobody could be too busy to not have time to run. I recently retired as a teacher and went back to practicing Law (my first profession). I’m lucky to get out of work by seven or eight, and I’m usually hungry then. I used to get in at least 50 mpw in, and now I’m lucky to get in 30. I have to figure out something!

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