When Your Running Sucks (and Life’s to Blame)

Recognizing and addressing when life stress causes your running to suck.

By on January 9, 2019 | Comments

With obvious irony, an hour ago I turned around two-and-a-half miles into my planned long run. The thought of having to write this article… and the remainder of my ever-expanding to-do list that left me drained and anxious. Indeed, this was one of two possible topics I was considering writing about and, well, today’s run sealed the deal.

I offer this as a life-is-real article. It’s a both a personal acknowledgement and a commiseration with so many of you. While I don’t have a concrete solution to what I’m going through, I will share how I hope both problem recognition and goal setting may be parts of the answer.

On the commiseration side, let’s get it out of the way that this is obviously a so called first-world problem. For sure. Life’s great. I’m fortunate. So are you. Awesome. Still, we can… and do miss the target and our goals in areas that we hold important to ourselves, and, if you’re reading this article, running is likely one of the non-essential, yet quintessential foci in your life, right? (Got it? Good.)

So, here it is: the rest of life can cause your running to suck. For you. For me. For anyone. Hopefully, it doesn’t stay that way and, more hopefully, it’s mostly enjoyable, but that’s not always the case. You’re not alone. I’m not alone. We’re not alone.

What stands in the way of fun, enjoyable running? Well, anything and everything! Illness. Injury. Weather. Obligations of a million flavors. Take your pick from: family, friendships, employment, and so many more. For most of us, there’ll often be a one or more factors stacked against us indulging our running habit.

Sometimes, it feels like we’re only treading water in our life. At other times, the weight of these obstacles to our running can seem like a saturated felt blanket pulling us down in a pool. It’s dark and we can’t see its end and fighting against it only seems to trap us tighter, while taking some of our little remaining breath away. Honestly, this latter (admittedly rather dark) scenario is how my life and my running have felt of late.

As noted earlier, I don’t have a broad answer here. In times like these, I do consciously and unconsciously use some of my personal tools to getting past the anxiety such situations cause. My goal here is to let others know that you’re not alone when your running’s tough. You’re not alone when that struggle threatens to take away what’s normally your release. You’re not alone when that creates a negative feedback loop and makes everything worse. And that doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad runner or a failure. Life’s almost always a challenge and sometimes it comes out ahead, if, hopefully, only for a little while.

On the personal-acknowledgement side, I think it’s helpful to recognize where my current challenges lay. At the moment, (1) that’s allowing myself to have or to think I have far more work (mostly iRunFar, some other) than I can accomplish in a foreseeable timeframe and (2) letting that weigh heavily upon me such that (a) it affects my well-being and (b) causes me to cut that which I enjoy from my life. (Yes, (a) and (b) are certainly interrelated.)

Whether I’ve dealt with this intentionally (as I did this past winter) or unintentionally, I’ve largely failed at getting out from behind my own Sisyphean boulder this past decade. When I think about it that way, it seems like a horribly uncorrectable situation. However, I do take solace in the few instances where I’ve consciously improved my life in major ways in recent years. Most notably, for the first five-plus years I worked on iRunFar full-time (as well as much of the decade before that in my previous career), I worked so much that four to six hours of sleep a night was routine. I’m happy to say that thanks to a recognition some years ago that this made me unhealthy and unhappy, I committed to no longer allowing lack of sleep to be a routine option. Over the course of a year I made this a reality and, now, I regularly get a full night of sleep (outside of race-coverage weeks).

Just as with getting more sleep, I don’t think I’ll make the change toward creating more ‘space’ in my life quickly. With that in mind, I’ve set the goal of creating breathing room for me in my life by early 2020. Reaching such a goal will be hard. It will require reflection, analysis, hard work, and even forming some new habits. I’ll also try to lessen the rather strong link between my work and my anxiety. In the short term, I’m working on some process improvements (such as paying writers electronically rather than hand-written checks and envelopes), deciding which to-do items don’t really need to be done this winter, and starting a list of which aspects of my work I’ll more deeply consider cutting before next year. (There’s also an aspect of bearing down and barreling through some items, as feeling overwhelmed can sometimes lead to inaction.)

In the end, finding more space for my running will need to happen by a thousand little steps and the end itself might not be easily recognizable, but here’s hoping I can make it happen!

Call for Comments

  • What areas of your life do you find most frequently interfere with your running?
  • Are there any areas of life that you find especially prone to expand to fill all available space?
  • How do you keep each of the above in check?

[Author’s Note: Just a little note to assure folks that while some aspects of my current situation as well as where they place me mentally aren’t ideal, I’m doing okay. I realize that life’s good and that I’ve made it through far-tougher times. In all honesty, I’m so encouraged that I’m unwilling to let merely an unpleasant situation stand, when in the past I’ve let things ride when life obligations and stress have left me mentally and physically broken.]

Pack Creek Rd - Jan 2 2019

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.