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.