Running is often labelled a healthy addiction; a repetitive habit used to gain short term highs, but lacking in long term satisfaction. But the ‘A’ word seems misplaced. Running helps us sleep, improves brain performance and mood, not to mention the physical benefits. How can running be an addiction if it offers such long term satisfaction?
The answer lies in why we run. Run for the wrong reasons and you fall into a trap of chasing short lived, meaningless highs, replacing the long term satisfaction with a more immediate ‘buzz’.
Do you sometimes feel disappointed, maybe even deflated after that big event? Have you ever enjoyed a run, just to check Strava and feel despondent? You may be a slave to the unintended ‘Runners high’. There are good and bad ways to trigger endorphins (the body’s natural cannabis)…but more on that later.
First, entertain the fact you may be running for the wrong reasons, leading to erratic, unreliable happiness. But what defines the wrong reasons? Here are a few examples of extrinsic motivations; motivation driven by external rewards.
- Running ONLY to escape your problems
- Running to impress/receive a pat on the back
- Running to achieve social status.
- Running to gain endorsement or sponsorship.
Notice one theme throughout? A lack of control, you are not solely responsible for the outcome of external motivations. Feeling out of control can be quite unsettling.
How about running for success, or a sense of achievement. Running purely to achieve can be counter-intuitive, leading to unhelpful training habits which stunt progression. Below are some negative characteristics.
Negative Achievement Based Motivations
- Training to beat your last time, every time
- Running to win and compete
- Running to better your mates on Strava
New research suggests constant watch watching can trigger endorphins. Yes, you can get high from positive feedback on your wrist. But this is not a helpful nor reliable high. It can lead to obsessive watch checking, anxiety and stress, not to mention negative feedback.
What if its an off day and your times are disappointing? I spent last year obsessing over pace without any logical thought toward fatigue, weather or other varying factors.
We are never happy with what we have; its human biology. This is how we survive, evolve and improve. You’re wired this way but if you understand and accept that, something quite magical happens. You have a choice. A choice which emotions to ignore and which ones to follow.
Human biology is brilliant, it gives us drive and passion to pursue our dreams. But remember you will always want more and you can’t always guarantee success. So, what do you do?
Start With Why
The question every runner should ask is, why do I run? Managing your need to succeed and habit of chasing short term, meaningless highs is not sustainable. It’s time to re-evaluate why you run.
If we don’t run because we love to run, to embrace the outdoors, then we’re chasing external or achievement based motivations which are short lived. If your reason to run comes from the outside and not from within, then you lack control. Control over your happiness, mood and how running really makes you feel.
I doubt you found running for the wrong reasons, maybe you got lost along the way. Improvement breeds the need for improvement, but becoming obsessed with achievement is not healthy nor helpful…if you find yourself in this self-destructive loop as I did, try a new approach.
Strip back all expectation, unrealistic or otherwise, relieve the pressure and just run. Ditch your watch for a set amount of time, seriously just use a stopwatch and race to enjoy the ‘feeling’ of learning new boundaries, not to impress on social media. I was horrified when my coach made the stopwatch suggestion, but it works.
Control your relationship with expectation. We manufacture stories and set standards based on what we dream up, sometimes these dreams are unrealistic and unhealthy. The simple solution? For the next few months, no standards at all, simply run because its awesome!
I am not suggesting you cut the competitive cord, but for a limited time try a new mindset. Stop obsessing over pace, time and who finishes where. Simply race from ‘a’ to ‘b’ as fast as you can. Surely this is the best way to pace a race anyway. Accept the result will be your best and that is good enough.
Wanting to improve, compete and be a better runner is healthy. Placing too much importance on this alone is not. Becoming a better runner is a process and you should enjoy the process, impossible while obsessing over an end result.
Of course setting goals is important and achieving them brings enjoyment. But overreliance on achievement at the cost of enjoying each and every run, will not make you happy.
Above all, do not let your goals and ambitions become the sole reason you run, let them enhance your why.