When I was in my young, tumultuous college days, I went through a spell of structuring all of my days around running. I ran 8 to 16 miles a day, and often ran twice a day. I don’t know if it was an obsession or some other maladjustment problem, but I’m sure it had something to do with turmoil going on in my life at the time. Running gave me a healthy outlet and stress relief, but I overdid it, running myself into the ground and neglecting other areas of my life. I would avoid going out on weekends or hanging out with friends so I could run or prepare for runs the next morning, and I even missed classes to run. I even dropped out of cross country to run on my own so I could get in more mileage.
It became ridiculous. I stopped enjoying my runs and just saw them as numbers to add to my weekly totals. I had set numbers in my head of how many miles I should run per week, and I did whatever it took to reach them. And I kept setting the numbers higher and higher. While dedication is a good thing, when it teeters over into obsession and taking over the rest of your life, something is wrong. In my case, there were some traumatic life events I needed to face but instead literally ran from them.
I realized I had to change the day I got stopped by a state trooper driving by as I ran along the highway. He was concerned I’d get hit because of running along the busy road. I had hardly realized I was there, and hadn’t even thought of my safety, just focusing on getting in more miles. He said I could have died, and that’s when I suddenly let all my emotions tumble out in an embarrassing, sobbing explanation and cry. He was a nice, fatherly sort and asked me questions about why I was there and from what he said, I think he was trying to figure out if I was trying to kill myself. Then I realized how close I must have been to getting hit.
I suddenly knew I had to deal with or change the things in my life that had got me to that state. Luckily I am good at change, and, after some travels, talks with friends, writing and thinking, I emerged with a more balanced life and a continued love of running.
Now I run for healthy reasons, and have a much lower weekly mileage but much higher enjoyment of running. Not to mention less injuries. I run for the feeling of freedom I get, for the stress relief, for the power, and, of course, to stay in shape in case of a zombie attack.
I am not saying that a lot of long runs or being dedicated to running means something is wrong with you. Rather, I’m saying to be mindful of your runs. Why do you run? Are you motivated by the joy of it, race performances or staying fit? Or has your running become narrow in focus, centering on attaining certain numbers? Do you still enjoy other areas of your life, or does running dominate everything? Do you enjoy running or are you just going through the motions? These are some questions to ponder the next time you step out to pound the pavement.
As I came to realize, running is a gift to appreciate, not a chore to get through or a way to escape the rest of life. Here’s to many enjoyable runs to come, my fellow runners.