I often get messages from readers asking what to do about their families who do not support their running. I tell them, they’re not alone.
When I started running three years ago, I never realized that it was going to take over all of me. And as I progressed and fell more in love with it, I got more resistance from my family. They just didn’t get it. It wasn’t that they were totally unsupportive of my running, it was that they didn’t really support or encourage it. To them, it was just something that I was doing. But, as I started taking on longer distances and increased my training, it “became a problem.” Don’t get me wrong, my family was never intentionally mean or nasty about it. They love me and I know that they care about me and would do anything to see me happy. But the little comments of “all you do is run” or “what, your running again,” well, it hurts.
Over the years, I have been able to get them to the point of where they accept what I do and I do think (I hope) they understand what it means to me and how it makes me feel. Are they 100% there? I don’t think so, but it’s okay. They are further along than most families of runners who just don’t get it.
I’ve seen many posts in Facebook running group pages that I belong to asking or stating, “Does anyone else have a husband/wife that hates their running?” or “My family doesn’t get my running and don’t support me.” So on and so forth. I find that it is a common theme among runners that come from non-running or non-endurance sports participating families. I have even heard of divorces and break ups happening over running. It’s sad, but I get it. Running changes you as a person. And if your spouse fell in love with you before you became a runner, they fell in love with a different person. Now, if you’re lucky, your spouse has accepted this “new you” and has embraced the person you have become. But, sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. I do admit, I’m highly jealous of families and couples that run together.
“People think I’m crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise. Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. Dostoyevsky had it right: ‘Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.’ Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. There is a magic in misery. Just ask any runner.” ― Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner
What I have learned is that non-runners really don’t get it. They just don’t and I’ve given up trying to tell them what it’s all about. You cannot tell anyone what it’s like to run. They have to experience it. And those who try a mile or two and give up will never truly understand what running is. It’s about the pain and pushing the limits. It’s about training your mind to push your aching body beyond its limits. It’s about taking risks and accepting failure and doing it over and over again only to get it right some of the time. It’s about learning to be okay with all of your faults because you know that with running, your faults mean nothing. You can’t teach someone these things. They have to experience it themselves to understand.
What I have also learned is that while people say “You have to take time for yourself. Do something that makes you happy.” They don’t mean it. What they mean is, “Find happiness, but only if it doesn’t inconvenience me.” I see that not only in running, but with other things too. For example, moms taking time for themselves. Sometimes when my sister tries to take a “Mommy day” away from her four kids she is highly encouraged to do so. But, if she takes too much time for herself, well then…it’s just wrong. Utter nonsense.
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” ― John Lennon
So, why are you getting grief from your families? My theory is, they don’t understand what happiness really is. We live in a society where happiness is granted only if you have sacrificed your entire being catering to others. Your spouses, your families, your career. If you have given yourself fully to all those things, then you’re allowed to do something for yourself…but only for an hour…maybe twice a week…and only if it doesn’t inconvenience anyone else. That’s what happiness is. Bullshit.
“Some seek the comfort of their therapist’s office, other head to the corner pub and dive into a pint, but I chose running as my therapy.” ― Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner
How did I get my family to understand, well close to understanding, what running means to me? Well, I tell them that it’s the only time I do have for myself. It’s when I can really run away from my problems, from every stressful responsibility I have. And for a moment in time, I can truly be myself. It’s my therapy. I get the opportunity to feel like a child and to be free. To experience the true essence freedom in every sense of the word. And I ask them, “Wouldn’t you love to feel like that too?”
“Perhaps all our troubles – all the violence, obesity, illness, depression, and greed we can’t overcome – began when we stopped living as Running People. Deny your nature, and it will erupt in some other, uglier way.” ― Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
I tell them it’s primal. Running IS in our nature. Before cycling, swimming, crossfit…we ran. Just like dogs have the need to migrate so you have to walk them so they don’t go crazy, humans need to run. Our ancestors ran for survival and they ran for fun. It’s liberating. It’s quiet. It’s peace. Even when you are pushing the limits and your entire body aches and it hurts so freaking bad, it’s feels so good.
And for those who have told me that I’m obsessed and it’s an addiction, I tell them sure, they’re probably right. Running releases endorphins and dopamines and yes, it’s wonderful. But, is it so wrong to feel wonderful? Should I give up my runner’s high because they don’t understand it? Perhaps I should do illegal drugs instead because they can wrap their head around that instead. No, thanks.
And I’ve been told that it’s selfish to spend my time running. And for that, I give them the look. What happened to “Do something for yourself?” So, I’m selfish because I do something that I love and something that makes me HAPPY and while I get up at 4 a.m. or don’t sleep in on the weekends as to not to inconvenience THEIR schedule, I’m selfish. So be it. Call me selfish. I’m an asshole.
“No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.” ― Madonna
And when they say, “running has changed you.” Good. I didn’t care for who I was much anyway. I am more confident in my imperfect body than I have ever been in my entire life. Yes, I’d like to get rid of my Buddha belly and I hope to get my crooked teeth fixed some day, but I’m not obsessed with it. I no longer have the urge to vomit my food after binge eating because frankly, when you run ultras…you need to eat. And if my chubby thighs rub together for 50 miles, so be it. I’d like to see you run 50 miles with your stick legs. And can I tell you how much less time I spend in front of the mirror putting makeup on my face? I’m tired, I got up at 4 a.m., and I trained my butt off. I’m not wearing my high heels because my feet hurt, and if my hair is in an unkempt bun because I didn’t have time to fix it after my shower, so be it. You’re lucky I showered. I don’t worry about materialistic things…well, except for running gear because…well YAY to running gear, but I don’t worry about having brand name shit anymore.
Yes, running has changed me. I am on the path of discovering who I really am. Mile after mile, I’m closer to that discovery. And for those who go on with their mundane lives TRYING to find happiness and purpose the way society is telling them they need to find it, they’re missing it.
So, what do you do if you get a lot of grief from your family about running? You talk to them. You tell them how it makes you feel. You remind them about the time when they said “all I want is for you to be happy,” and you tell them you have found happiness and if they loved you, they would allow you to be happy. And you remind them that you’re still taking care of the household, you’re are still attending to their needs, but they may just need to be a little patient with your schedule because you’re taking care of yourself too.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt, This is My Story
So, if you ask me should you give up running under the pressure of negative feedback from your family? I ask you, are you willing to give up your spirit and happiness to make others happy? You decide.