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

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

There are 16 comments

  1. Greg

    I find that much of my life’s happiness comes from order, structure and accomplishment of tasks. With kids and work and requirements its often a necessity to schedule things in that are important. Like the age old symbolic task of placing your big rocks (or important pieces) in the jar before pebbles, and then finally adding sand. If you place the sand in first you will never fit the big rocks into the jar later. They just don’t fit. Order matters. Because running allows you to be happier and I would argue MORE productive. Stick it in first! The first thing my wife and I do is get in a workout. I hate early morning runs but I get it in first because life will push it off and later on in the day it just won’t happen. In 2019 I am even doing this with long runs. I live in flat flatty flat land and am attempting the Rocky mountain slam. If I want success… I need to drive to the mountains regularly and get in some vert. So I scheduled my work at the hospital differently and Wednesdays mornings I have off and head to the hills. It is important so I am making it happen. In a senseless chaotic world. Having some control is essential. Good luck!!!

  2. Deserae

    Thank you for sharing. I struggle at times with the importance of running in my life and how it fits with my other obligations. I also think sometimes it’s difficult to find the balance between being content with how your life is (cause it is pretty great) and accepting it so you don’t overstress yourself, vs. becoming complacent in a situation that is less than ideal.

  3. Sarah Lavender Smith

    It’s the nature & irony of over-achievers that the more you do and the more you succeed at growing your accomplishments (in your case, growing iRF), the busier and more stressed out you get, to the point where it can feel self-sabotaging or in the words above, a negative feedback loop. I think one of the hardest things to do is to say “no” and to set the bar lower — or at least keep the bar stable rather than always raising it — and settle for less accomplishment & less success/growth so you have more breathing room in your life. Long way of saying, try to cut yourself some slack and care a little less about the tasks and projects in life that seem so important; perhaps they are less essential or less time-sensitive than they seem. I have a friend who’s a super high-achiever, high-profile author/speaker/mom, and she confessed to having fantasies about getting truly ill or having some other crisis that would land her in the hospital or give her a legit excuse for putting her real-life obligations on hold. That made her realize that something was seriously out of whack, and to realize it shouldn’t take a crisis to cut back or slack off slightly. Thanks for the article. It’s so much more real & refreshing than time-management articles that make us feel like we should be multitasking superheroes waking up at 2:30am.

  4. Drew Jennings

    Thanks for the honesty in this piece Bryon. I’m sure it was soothing to write and it is damn sure soothing to read. While my stress and anxiety ebbs and flows (sometimes like a river after the Melt), I always try and come back to Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principles or Matrix. A manager of mine turned me on to this a few years ago, and it really helped me to organize or contextualize both my professional and personal life. The four principles laid out by Eisenhower are stacked ranked in PRIORITY below:

    1. Important / Urgent
    2. Important / Not Urgent
    3. Not Important / Urgent
    4. Not Important / Not Urgent

    When I find myself most stressed or overwhelmed, it always seems to be the case that I’ve taken the Not Important / Urgent tasks/asks and given them way too much weight. If I am letting the Not Important / Urgent things consume me then typically, things especially like being a good/present husband or friend and running (which I would categorize as Important / Not Urgent) fall by the wayside. Being aware of the above allows me to reset and make sure I prioritize the Important things as guideposts in my life.

    Keep the candor coming!

  5. Sophie Speidel

    Thanks for sharing, Bryon. I totally agree with Greg above, make your run a priority first thing in the am. You will knock it off the list first, and might find your stress levels diminish as you have tapped into your endorphins early. I find that I also come to work with a clearer head and am ready to take on the tough stuff of the day having gotten my workout in. I’m able to do a hard run in the am so much more effectively because I’m fresh off 7-8 hours of sleep instead of a full workday. Here’s to 2019 being a year of continued growth and good change!

  6. Kristina

    Since losing my trail running pup in a car accident I’ve lost my ability to go for a run to decompress and find solitude. I’m finding sadness on my runs, missing him. My life has become too full as well and I always feel strapped for time. I’ve been trying to make plans to run with friends and it’s helping to motivate me to get out the door. I still love being outside but my happiness is replaced with sadness. I know it will pass and I focus on taking care of myself and staying healthy. Life is not always easy and often times gets in the way. The dark season makes it even harder when I’m at work all day during daylight hours. I think sometimes we all just need a vacation from life and social media to reset our spirit.

  7. pavao vlahek

    Dear Bryon, you are not alone. And I’m glad not being alone too.

    Last year I wrote a text for the local running website. “Why I hate running”. But never published.


    I’ve started with running 20 years ago to get the stress out of my medical school life and got hooked. Year by year runners became my friends, friends became my patients and suddenly my medical job became runners hub. But not just in the office. Everywhere. There were lots of situations where I’d run in the woods and around the corner came XYZ running and sighting me stopped, grabbed himself by knee and asked for advice. In our culture, it is normal to ask a doctor something for free when you see him or her anywhere (“socialized medicine “).

    Year by year I went to more and more World 100k and 24 h Championships as a part of Croatian Ultrarunning Team. I’ve enjoyed it most of the times but last year I went to European champs just 3 days after my fathers funeral to serve the runners.
    Eventually, it culminated with me being a race director of 100 k World Championships last year, a volunteering job I thought I’ d enjoyed in it, but bit by bit it became just another job. Connected to running.

    On the race day I was so stressed and fed up with running topics and running I could not enjoy the race, having world-class athletes around me but just wanted it to finish and everybody to go home.

    Although on the periphery of my mind there was awe “the Dude from iRunFar.com is on the finish line of my race”.
    (I should have proposed you to go to Tatjana’s vineyard for a glass of chardonnay in the middle of the race if I knew for your struggle.)
    A couple of weeks later, standing in front of the Verrazzano Bridge, at the start of my dream marathon (NYC) for the first time ( a dream come true), I have felt like a stranger among all those people I had everything together with in the past.
    No fun at all..
    Even listening to Paula Radcliffe LIVE, getting pictures with Kathrine Switzer or listening to Alex Hutchinson (my favorite running scientist) wasn’t fun.

    In the end because of all these things about running I didn’t have time to run.

    Because running would be just another mark on the daily checklist. Something I “have to” do.
    Then there was my Ph.D. thesis I’was trying to finish writing, struggling to read papers which are also about running.
    I’m getting sick when running is a theme. Of conversation,writing, getting nauseous seeing all the running shoes I have.

    Thanks to the local kickboxing club, I have found another sport. Hit the bag, do burpees, put on the tight t-shirt and don’t worry about the racing weight.

    So, my advice.

    Buy the tightest t-shirt you can get, join the local MMA club, twist some elbows, a do some chokings and get choked, deliver some uppercuts, hooks and get yourself out of the tight’s-wearing-camellbacks-carrying culture for a while. Swap Killian (Jornet) for Conor (McGregor), Geoff (Burns) to Joanna (Jedrzejczyk.) Don’t be afraid of some blood coming out of your body (it is ok if it goes out somewhere else apart from blisters or chaffing sites.
    Get into some bar fight and you will feel much better about running fast and far after delivering a first punch.

    I’m not kidding.

    I think the sentence “ Make your passion become job” as greatest fraud of the all times.

    Eventually, I hope running will come across sometime in the future as a friend we split apart with but rejoined years later.

    Sincerely Pavao

  8. Markus

    As a lifelong runner my suggestion is, to take the running part not that serious. Sometimes it’s actually better not to run instead of squeezing it in a already tight schedule. Sometimes less (running) is a lot more.

    Of course running is important to us, but other things are important too. Finding that balance for yourself is the key.

  9. Clown Runner

    Dude, I’m still doing the same exact work run commute route that YOU made famous OVER A DECADE ago…C’mon back, it’s pretty dark, you’ll need a headlamp, and there are rats on the Mall, but DC running will cure any and all ailments…flat, dreary, monotonous, all the things you probably miss about it! :)

  10. Ciaran McAneny

    Thanks Bryon. Sometimes for me it can be a weird circle. Running is my way to find space in stressful moments. But sometimes I think it can also be my way to escape those moments. To literally run away. The danger here of course is that by running away, I may not deal with the issue. Not dealing with the issue increases stress which may decrease my desire to run. Thus knocking out running as a mechanism to reduce my stress. And so on.

    I am also trying to find new mechanisms to reduce or accept anxious moments. Running can be one of these, but I will benefit from having other options (meditation, mindfulness, whatever works). I don’t want to rely on running as my safety net as then I may forget the joy of running for running sake.

    We all have our stressful moments. Relatively speaking most of us are very lucky. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that.

    On the best days, running reminds me how lucky I am to be able to to enjoy the world around me.

  11. Debbie

    I came on here to write something profound but instead saw all the comments above and read those and hence my lunch break is over soon. But it was time well spent! So in brief, thank you so much, for your article. Your vulnerability. Being real is what I love and believe in and I do my best to live my life this way too. I read your linked article on anxiety and this spoke to me too. Thanks to everyone who commented, I learnt a lot from your stories too. It is such a relief when you realize you are not alone. You are not the only one who battles with this stuff. So from a hot, humid Durban (South Africa) I am sending huge gratitude and making a note to prioritize reading IRF more often and the comments too! Debs

  12. Jill L Homer

    Good insights in your article and the comments. I think I will be quoting Pavao at some point: “I think the sentence “ Make your passion become job” as greatest fraud of the all times.”

    Hopefully you find some sustainable ground soon. My training is skewing a bit better for the first time in two years, and although I haven’t reached the point of optimism yet, I am starting to really look forward to the White Mountains 100.

    It’s interesting for me to reflect on the past couple years of uncertainty in my health and athletic endeavors, and how that has changed my perceptions. Although I can’t necessarily hold this view forever, I hope to never take my running for granted again. Every mile of movement is a gift.

  13. Jeremy Clegg

    One (amongst many) possible way(s) of viewing this: I think you actually saw the problem, but pointed to the wrong solution. “I’ve largely failed at getting out from behind my own Sisyphean boulder this past decade”. Albert Camus, in his famous essay The Myth of Sysyphus essentially argues that the only true freedom exists by staying with the boulder for eternity, *not trying to get “out from behind” it. /// “All Sisyphus’ silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols……..I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. ” /// (to be fair, when thew advice given is “freedom is a mind state and eternal suffering is ok” it might also be fair to temper that with a quote from Trainspotting ““It’s easy tae be philosophical when some other %unt’s got shite fir blood.”. TL;DR – this is a framing problem. :D

  14. Brandon J Baker

    As a part-time Race Director and club organizaor with full-time passion and emotion, I feel like I’ve been down similar roads (While also trying to be a competitive regional MUT runner- Gotta set limits, give ourselves a little break and, most importantly, remember why we do this in the first place- Without our family and friends, does any of this mean much?

  15. Bruno B

    Thank’s Byron fpr sharing your experience. I work and travel a lot, mainly within Europe amd Africa for business and sometimes to other parts of the world. Travel is planned mostly short term, within a couple of weeks or the same day to deal with customers, project teams, emergencies, etc… I am home not as much as I want but found in running and training around it a way to deal with stress and keep the body and mind active. To achieve 8-9 hours of training a week, i need to make choices (no or very selective TV watching, limited internet surfing and choosing social events that are fun. Yes i sometimes run at 11pm or get up at 4am for some runs but i do it because i want it and dont feel bad at all. Sleeping is important and i sometimes have to go to bed at 8 or 9pm if this is what i need… so basically no routine, roll with the flow and enjoy every run as much as i can, whatever the weather, locaton (dreadmill sometimes) amd keep smiling !

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