I’ve been running my whole life, or at least for as long as I can remember. I started in primary school and basically never stopped (until I had to, which I will get to later). So now, when I look back I can see that my motive for running has changed over the years. Running is often described as the best stress release there is, but I know from my own experience and from treating clients, that the opposite can be true. Running can very easily become the stress and it can be difficult to identify this until you look back with the benefit of hindsight.
When I was a child it was all about winning cross country. Then as a teenager I realised I could run quite far and started thinking about a half or even a full marathon. Somewhere in my early twenties it became about burning calories and in my late twenties I’d become pretty obsessed.
When I was diagnosed with Hypothalamic Amenorrhoea (my menstrual cycle was absent due to stress) I was genuinely shocked. I hadn’t recognised that I was overdoing it until my specialist, dietitian and naturopath all pointed it out to me. I was advised to stop running and I found this very confronting. If I didn't want to start a family straight away, I probably wouldn’t have to be completely honest.
Now that I am running again, it feels really different. I’m grateful just to get to go for a run, regardless of how far I go. I’m ok with hitting the snooze button if I don’t feel like getting up and I’m not even slightly interested in my pace. And most importantly, I am absolutely loving it.
So, it’s got me thinking about whether there are any signs that running might be contributing to your stress rather than helping to manage it and I think there might be a few:
Do you feel shame, frustration, disappointment or anger when you miss a run?
I know that a run is a really great way to start the day, but if it doesn’t happen for some reason, do you notice a negative shift in how you feel about yourself? Do you call yourself ‘lazy’ just for missing one run? This could be a sign that your motivation for running is to avoid feeling shameful about not running, rather than because you actually feel like going for a run.
Are you completely focused on your running stats and do you feel bad if you don’t hit your targets?
It’s unrealistic to expect every run to be better than the last, but I see a lot of runners who set this expectation on themselves. Now that we have such easy access to our own running stats, our runs have become less about how they feel and more about the numbers. If you’re noticing negative emotions because your stats aren’t sitting where you want them to, perhaps try running without your watch and see if you feel better about yourself for getting out there.
Are you prioritising your running over everything else?
If you are training for an event, it is understandable that you might pull back on social events to fit in your program. But if you are not training for anything specific and you notice yourself saying ‘no’ to things to make sure you fit your runs in each week, it might be worth trying to be a bit more flexible with your program. While running can be a great way to relieve stress, so can a coffee with a friend, a yoga class or a sleep in.
These are just a few differences I have noticed in myself and are not based on anything other than my own personal experience. I just know that I had not recognised this pattern until I’d been ‘forced’ to rest from running for a while. The enjoyment I get from running and knowing that I am truly running for fun right now is so refreshing and I wanted to share this in case anyone else resonates with me.