Five Signs You Have an Unhealthy Relationship With Running
1. Skipping rest days, or feeling overly anxious on rest days
Rest is an important part of the training process, and is when the magic of bodily repair occurs. Without adequate rest, the body will break down quicker than it can repair and adapt to training,, leading to fatigue, burnout, and increased risk for injury. On a cerebral level, most athletes understand the importance of rest. However, big goals have the potential to override this wisdom and render an athlete into a myopic view of training. Getting caught up in the big workouts as a means to an end can create a massive anxiety storm on easy and rest days. Sometimes this anxiety is also related to disordered eating patterns, where exercising less or not at all causes a strain on decisions around food. These are all signs that the goal of training is not to improve the body’s health and function, but rather to stave off anxiety, which is not a sustainable approach.
2. Running more or more intensely as a way to “earn” food
As foreshadowed above, an inextricable tie between food and exercise is a warning sign for disordered eating and mental health issues. At this juncture, it is important to note that eating disorders occur on a spectrum, and just because one does not have a diagnosed eating disorder does not mean they inherently have a healthy relationship with food. Any sort of calculating calories, binging, anxiety around food, excessive worry about weight fluctuations, etc. are behaviors that are unhealthy from both a physical and mental perspective. While there are a prevalence of jokes and race taglines that claim you can “earn your turkey/beer/wine/donuts/ice cream” with running and/or racing, It’s important to remember that food DOES NOT have to be earned. Again, food does not have to be earned. Proper nutrition is important no matter your activity level, and becomes even more important while training. Another pattern I often see in the clinic is athletes fueling workouts improperly or not at all in an effort to consume less calories. This practice not only affects workout performance, but also increases risk of injury via early onset of fatigue or running in a glycogen-depleted state. We have some fantastic sports dieticians to help with fuel plans and education surrounding this topic; we’d love to refer you!
3. Comparing your workouts and running paces with people on Strava and/or social media
Running is an individual journey; a journey that is going to best serve us if it is created for us, and us alone. Training methods that work for one person may not work for another, and it’s important to listen to your body. In other words, looking to other runners for advice on your own training will set you up for frustration and potentially injury. Additionally, looking to outside sources to validate your progress will inevitably result in jealousy and excess striving. This is a lesson that took me a long time to learn. I’ve found that focusing on small goals and little improvements help me avoid the comparison trap and celebrate each success. Feeling successful keeps motivation high and frustration low.
4. You have a “race weight”
There is no magic number. Race day performance is not carefully balancing on the precipice of the scale. Athletes compete and perform better when they are closer to their “set point” of weight and body composition, and this of course is different for everybody and every body. Obsession with the scale and attempting to lose weight while training at high intensities is unsustainable and can really drain joy from the sport.
5. It’s not fun.
If you’re dragging yourself out the door, it may be time to take a hard look at your motivations and routines. Running should relieve stress instead of add to it, so if a change of routine is needed to continue enjoying the sport, do it! Try new routes, switch to trails, run easier, or even take a break. Don’t let the joy of running get lost in the daily doldrums. This is supposed to be fun!
Having (running) relationship problems? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll figure it out.
Keep going, you got this!
Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT
PS: I am not helpful for other relationship problems.