You’re a Runner and They Just Don’t Get It.

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.

to be yourself

13 thoughts on “You’re a Runner and They Just Don’t Get It.

  1. Nice post 🙂 I’m lucky that I don’t get too much grief from it. My partner is completely fine with it. My mother refused to by me any running gear for Christmas….because that’s where my time and money goes into….haha. I do get the occasional “well you don’t have to go out running tonight” “I don’t know why you need to run most days” but they slowly are coming to a stop. I doubt theyd understand….

  2. Great post – I agree with most all of it! The only thing I’d challenge is the idea of putting running, or the joy of running, ahead of my spouse or marriage. I swore to “forsake all others” and my love is 1st to God and second to my spouse. The Bible makes that order clear. So…..because my hubbie loves me and also puts me second only to the Lord, he would never ask me to stop. But if he honestly thought there was an issue and I had put running above the family then I’d have to reconsider. I know not everyone has the same belief system and that’s ok. I love running and I love this post!

  3. There is a reason that the term ‘running widow’ exists … and it is NOT because “they don’t understand what happiness really is. ”

    It is VERY important to understand that there are two sides to every coin. I went from ~23 years of running 15 or so miles per week and never on weekends … to ramping up everything in 2012 and this year doing over 3000 miles again (more than 8000 since April 2012).

    And it DOES change you … and guess what? You are NOT objective about it. Assuming it is all their problem is just deflecting and … well, wrong.

    I wrote about BOTH sides of things …

  4. I could not have said this better! I have a somewhat supportive spouse, altho, since I’ve been running for over 20 years, he’s come to accept it. But yes, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience him… He’s come around more and more tho…last March planned an overnight trip with my boys to one of my races, and was at the finish line to meet me. My sister and I had a rough patch this year when she told me to stop talking about running. “I run too”, she told me. But it’s not the same…

    Thanks for posting this!

  5. I just found your blog last week and I am so glad – because this post is incredible Love, love love. I have family that understands that I like to run, but I get those same comments you mentioned above – “what, you are running another marathon?”. A few weeks ago, my brother in law was over and asked me “when I was going to knock that running thing off” and then yesterday, I showed up to our family Christmas party (post long run, and one of the best long runs I’d ever had) and asked if I was running and made a face. My husband met me before I ran, and it challenges our relationship constantly. Maybe that makes me selfish – but like you said: I didn’t like myself much before I was runner.

    The comments you wrote about the makeup/heels/bun/showering situation is hilarious. That’s me to a T. Up and training at 4am, doing the best I can with the time I have and loving it.

    Enjoy your holidays, and get in some good miles!!

  6. Great post! Love the quotes. Yeah, my non running friends just don’t get it. They don’t understand that I can’t show up to a 9pm party because I have to get up at 4am to run. Yes, I guess we’re selfish a-holes.

  7. This is an awesome post! I’m so lucky that my husband is so supportive of my running, but I’ve definitely heard these things from my family before. I agree that when people say “do what makes you happy” they really mean “don’t inconvenience me or do something I wouldn’t approve of”. It’s so crazy!

  8. I’ve been running for 43 years and divorced a man who started off “liking” my running and even competed in races with me, then he went back to who he was before I met him (he was just running to be with me, not because he loved it). My family has never really understood my marathons, ultras, Ironman races….and my parents used to compete in 5 and 10k runs when I was in college….and to add, running makes YOU happy. It won’t make everyone happy. There are other things out there people fall in love with and it’s equally as therapeutic and makes them happy. I have gotten great joy from my running and races, but it’s not the most important thing I have ever done…I also have to add that I have seen kids suffer because of their parents’ love of running. It’s a fine line between a healthy habit and addiction. Keep it balanced and to each their own.

  9. I could not have said it better myself! I am very fortunate to have an amazingly active and supportive husband and come from a “running family” but people outside of that just don’t get it. I also agree that running would heal nearly everyone’s problems and correct a lot of the world’s issues. What if everyone ran?! People sometimes think I’m crazy when I talk about running being the most perfect form of meditate and exercise. I’m glad to know I’m not alone. Great read!

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