Guilt And The Long-Distance Runner

AJWs TaproomAs runners around the world are gearing up for a new year of running and shaking off the winter rust, many are outlining training plans, organizing themselves for races, and collecting gear. In this process, in countless places, a balancing act is occurring: the balancing of training with the rest of life. We all have jobs, spouses, families, and other responsibilities, and so this balancing act can be particularly tricky.

I speak to literally hundreds of runners every year and inevitably this topic comes up. And, in particular, the topic of guilt is raised. Let’s face it, long-distance training and racing is an inherently selfish endeavor that can eat up days, weeks, and months of time that could be spent doing something else. Whether we are the mother attempting to care for young children, the son caring for an aging parent, or the successful professional caring for a business, inevitably questions of guilt arise and they can be painful at times and, in the worst cases, destructive.

For me, I battle this feeling of guilt often. Fortunately, I am blessed with an understanding and forgiving family, a more or less manageable job, and limited responsibilities beyond family, work, and running. As such, most of the time the guilt can be assuaged. But not always.

In the end, in addition to the inevitable balancing act, it also comes down to compromise and communication. And, long-distance runners aren’t always good at these things! But, we need to be.

So, as you roll into the new year of training and racing, accept the feelings of guilt that are inevitable. Claim them and name them and then seek the clearest path through that allows you to find that balance. In the long run it will be worth it for you and for everyone else in your life.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Lagunitas Brewing Company Brown Sugga'This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Lagunitas Brewing Company in Lagunitas, California. Their Brown Shugga’ Special Ale has really hit the spot for me lately. Yes, it has a high ABV and more than its fair share of calories, but its rich complexity is undeniable. It’s a great winter beer!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you feel guilty about your running habit? Of taking time away from work, family, friends, and other important things of your life?
  • Since we all experience imbalances in organizing our lives, have you ever let your running overtake other aspects of your life? If so, how did you reestablish the necessary alignment of priorities?

There are 21 comments

  1. Gump1968

    I am lucky to have an understanding wife and kids in regards to my weekend long runs. Besides, they know what a PIA I can be if I don’t get my fix!

  2. faithdoesmatter

    I think the one way many of us try to avoid this guilt is by running while the rest of the world sleeps. If it wasn’t for runners can you image how behind the times headlight technology would be!

  3. Middle Aged Dad

    Most important thing is to communicate well in advance with wife. Otherwise, life will suck. But when aware, almost always able to manage and plan appropriate balance.

  4. Benj

    This article really hit home with me. I have a newborn daughter and accidentally got into western states. I have taken a liken to doing insanity workouts while she sleeps in the same room!

    1. Mark Warren

      I too “accidentally” got into States a few years ago when my twins were less than one year old. It put tremendous wear and tear on my family. I learned a great deal from the experience. Primarily, how to be more transparent with my training and racing schedule. Most of what I do know involves honest and constructive family planning. My wife no longer has to clarify how long my 3-hour run will really take.

  5. Mitch

    I feel insane guilt every day. My ex-girlfriend one said something to me, to the effect of “You’re wasting your life running, this is not what you need to be focusing on.” That line has sunk deep and frequently stops me in my tracks, literally, during long runs. I do wonder “what am I doing out here?” most days, and even though I’m logging more miles than ever (race coming up) my mood is frequently very bad. So this is a good article… but I don’t know the solution to the problem. Maybe there is none.

  6. Nelson Prater

    I stopped leading marathon training groups because that meant a commitment to both Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings – coming home from work on Tuesdays and heading right back out; committing to not being home until almost noon on Saturdays. Two new grandbabies made this an easy decision.

    But, I have run at 4 a.m. for years (MY time), thinking I’m not getting in anyone’s way. But, on the other end of the day, I fall asleep on the couch at 7 p.m., and finally go to bed at 8. Luckily, my wife likes HER time, too. And, I have found that if I’m my usual aggravating self just enough, but not too much, she doesn’t mind my heading to bed at 8. Ha!

  7. Hillrunner50

    Two things that have helped tremendously in my life in regards to running:
    1. My kids are grown up, either in college or graduated from college. Now I have more time to run and do other stuff!
    2. My wife also runs long distances, and we do our long runs together in cool places. Having time for this stems from #1.
    The only guilt I feel is when I forget to pack beer in the cooler for when the long run is finished!

  8. Fatozzig

    I am blessed with a husband who is understanding, and I have no responsibilities such as kids. That being said, I, like everyone else, still spend a tremendous amount of time away from home, and then there’s the recovery time – especially when it’s a bad training day.

    During the week, I get up at 4:00/4:30 to get my week day workouts out of the way, and I force myself out the door as early as possible on the weekends in an effort to try to be home at a reasonable hour. Sometimes it sucks, but isn’t this sport all about embracing the “suck”?? :-)

  9. Justin

    I always hear runners talk about getting up crazy early to run. I’ll do that once in a while (or on race day), but by and large I’d much rather run at night. A nighttime beach run is a magical thing. Anyone else?

  10. Brandon

    Too true with the feelings of guilt. After my last harsh winter of training (for the Thomas Jefferson 100k, amongst others!) I’d be up at 3:30am to run on frozen roads in VA so I would get back while my family was still eating breakfast. I’ve figured that in the pat few years, I’ve only trained a handful of hours running in daylight. It definitely makes it a different beast, and makes you envious of single runners or those with more flexible family lives. However, what better way to train for endurance than a long run in the early morning, followed by 12 hours chasing little kids around? Am I right? Like many, I just feel blessed to have a wife that supports my habit! I’ll do whatever it takes to alleviate some of my guilt, including those early morning runs! 6 hours until the next one!

  11. Marks

    I think this is why the age of the average runner in an ultra-marathon tends to be higher than normal road race distances. For myself, I couldn’t justify the time to train for ultras when my kids were young. I didn’t really get into long distance running until my kids were grown and I was in my 40’s. I trained for the distances that time and other responsibilities permitted me. Once my kids graduated from high school, I got a divorce (for a variety of reasons) and proceeded to get in the best shape of my life. For me, it was a great coping mechanism as well as a means to fitness. I see others that are in the midst of family lives and running obsessively. My running buddies and I will often marvel at how understanding their non-running spouse is, but in the back of my mind, I think they are running away. We’re all running to or from something. We just need to create a conscious awareness of what that is. From there, it really is a balancing act. To close on a positive note, I think it’s the best addiction a person could have, and it’s even better when it can be shared with those you love. I’ve run ultramarathons with both of my sons that are among the best memories of my life.

  12. Ryan

    Cheers to having a spouse that runs! My wife and I don’t have any children, so we’re fortunate to be DINKs. She actually puts in about 3x as many miles as I do. We both have pretty demanding jobs and end up run a lot at night.

    One thing that helps with our scheduling is livetracking our runs to eachother if they are going to be more than a couple miles (we both have garmins that can do that). That way I can see about how far out she is and have dinner ready or whatnot and vice versa.

    As for the beer, that stuff is pretty sweet. I used to be a bartender and we had to stop selling the Shugga by the pitcher. Ppl got such a sugar high that they didn’t realize they were also getting super drunk. Hyper drunks are hilarious, but more of a PIA to handle, haha.

  13. Loren

    As an average runner I still engaged the services of a coach that could design a plan around work and family. I’ve agreed to 3 races a year (2016 – Canyons 100k, Santa Barbara 100, and Chimera 100).

    As my daughter gets older it’s actually harder because she has her own interests plus my wife has interests too. So I do a bulk of my runs in the wee hours of the morning or night. The mental anguish of me running at night is then solely on me. While I love running during the day and seeing the beauty of the trails it makes the efforts of training “acceptable”.

    Having a coach prevents me from going all “ego” out and doing big long runs or back to backs when a more precise program is better. I couldn’t of started this journey without Matt.

    Communication is key and having the family approve or accept the racing / training schedule is best. When I say that I will be home by 8 a.m., I make sure I don’t abuse it otherwise it goes downhill.

    It’s a balance and I’m not sure I do it the best. Wish everybody a great 2016!

  14. Hans A

    Doing anything at a high level takes a ton of time and a ton of commitment. I think, unfortunately, there’s a narcissism to ultrarunners that leads them to inflate their endeavors vis a vis those of other athletes. Ultrarunning is a sport, and like any other sport there are people who are high-level who put in tremendous efforts and people who are low-level who are just out there to have fun.

  15. Daniel

    I trained for my first ultra 2 years ago when my daughter was 6 months to one year old. It was pretty tough on the family. After the ultra my wife asked me to lower the training volumne and to be honest, it quickly dropped to no training at all, which was not good for my personal health.
    Currently I try to get back on track again, but I struggle to get at least 2 45-60 minutes runs into one week.

    My typical day is:
    starting my day at 5:00 AM , going out with my dog for 45-60 minutes,
    showering, driving to work, driving back from work, arriving at 6-7 PM (Based on traffic and if I need to stop to do shopping).
    then taking a bit of time to see my daughter, having evening meal, bring her to bed. Then it is typically 9 PM when it is getting silent and she falled asleep.
    When there is nothing important to be discussed, I probably can switch into my running gear and get out for a run.

    Up to that point, I really did not have so much time to talk to my wife, especially when there is anything important to discuss (Not even thinking about having a nice small talk).

    To be honest, even if I sometimes free’d up time, I just fall on the couch because I feel already exhausted. I know that this is partly the “blerch”, but also it’s sometimes the only time where I find a moment to take a break.

    I often hear the running folks like “Fatozzig” a few posts above me: I start my day at 4:00 AM and do my runs in the morning.

    If you are one of these athletes, please let me know how you schedule your sleep ? Even now without running I am constantly fighting in getting more than 6:30h of sleep per day.
    I know that when I go out for a run at 4 AM, I still wouldn’t be earlier in bed.

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