No, this is not a post about not running while injured, when it’s dark out, when it’s hailing, when you’re burnt out, right after a big race, or when your running shoes resemble flip flops.
Those are all reasons not to run, but this post is about when it’s better not run when you just as easily could run.
I will be the first person to admit that I can over-exercise. I’ve gotten much better about it, and I’ve learned that a rest day can be a bff, but generally speaking I would say that I could loosen the reigns on how strict I am about fitness. I am not in any way saying this to show off or boast about how much I exercise—because frankly, I’m coming to a point where it’s a quality about myself that I’m growing to be less proud of. Which is so contradictory to what Pinterest/Twitter/Facebook/blah blah blah always preaches about “getting it done” and “sweat once a day.”
In a nutshell, after years of constantly feeling the “need” to exercise and beating myself up over any rest I took, I’m beginning to seriously re-evaluate my priorities—and in that process, my death grip on my exercise security-blanket has really started to loosen. And you know what? It feels great.
And yes, I’ve written about this before and I’m sure to write about it again—but hey, I’m a work in progress.
I’m really back and forth sometimes between maintaining my title as a “runner” and just being “normal.” Because let’s be honest…runners are not normal. Admittedly, it baffles me that people who I love and respect are equally as happy and upbeat about their day-to-day lives without running at all. Furthermore, I’ve realized that over time I had become so dependent on running that I’d lost touch with all the other aspects of life that can be just as rewarding.
And I really don’t think I’m alone.
There is a sizable demographic, particularly within the running blog world, that is quite the opposite of lazy. We plan out workouts a week ahead of time, we track our progress, speed, and miles, and we live for the content feeling every day that we’ve logged a good workout. And rightfully so, because there are few better feelings than knowing you’ve poured sweat hours before most people are even at work.
And all of these things are okay…because of course, exercise is so powerfully good for you.
But the fact of the matter is that there can always be too much of a good thing, and exercise is no exception. It’s really hard to see this—because a) we’re in a country with an obesity epidemic and b) endorphins feel so damn good. But when exercise-induced highs start to take away from other parts of our lives, a red flag goes up.
My red flag went up a long time ago. It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally begun to admit to it, internalize it, and slowly but surely—hold up my white surrender flag.
Which brings me back to the topic of this post—when it’s better not to exercise.
I had the perfect opportunity to practice this kind of decision this weekend. And I use the word practice because it is something that is still very difficult to do.
I spent Friday through Sunday morning in Colorado for a Film Festival that my mom is the Executive Director of. Yes, she’s super badass.
In normal RB protocol, I would have planned out ahead of time exactly which hours I would have available to run. And truthfully, I did pack all my running gear with the intention of keeping on track. But when the hour presented itself to knock out some miles, I simply chose not to. And you know what? It was such a good choice.
Part of being at a Film Festival requires you to watch several movies, literally, all day. You wouldn’t think it—but this requires A LOT of energy and caffeine. When I laid in bed Saturday morning (my intended run time) and thought about the day ahead of me and the option for 1.5 hours of more sleep—the decision seemed ridiculous. I came to Colorado to be at my mom’s film festival…why would I want to inevitably sleep through parts of it for the sake of a run?
I know this sounds silly…because there are so many people who would have understood this kind of prioritization much earlier on. But for me, it’s hard—and it’s taken a while.
There are so many times when I choose running over other activities (namely sleeping) in order to maintain my sanity throughout the day. In many ways, I love this about myself—but I’m finally realizing that over time, the exhaustion and pressure of uber-prioritizing exercise completely negates the highs we get from it. In other words…it has the opposite effect of exercise.
Here is what I’m finally getting: missing one run does not make one. little. difference in how complete of a person I am. It’s how I choose to react that makes the difference—and in that sense, I’m choosing to stop reacting so much.
Because as much as I adore running, and as huge of a part of me as it may be, it’s not everything. When we spend so much time building our identities as “runners” we lose touch with all the other elements that make us who we are. And when we drift too far away from those things—it becomes harder to regain a sense of self when, all of a sudden, we can’t run.
It’s why when we’re injured, we panic—without running we’re lost. Of course, I am the guiltiest of the guilty in this regard, which is why I’m choosing to practice a different form of discipline. And in that respect…by relaxing our running and by taking on some more rest, our susceptibility to be injured goes down and we’re left with not only healthier bodies, but more well-rounded senses of self.
I’m not currently injured. I have zero desire to become injured. But if and when it does happen again (and I’m going to go with “when” on that one given the nature the beast), I want to be more armed with experience and amo for getting through it. The experience, in this case, being the familiarity with not running sometimes. And the amo being the ability to let other wonderful things build me up while running might be down.
I am a runner, through and through. I would venture to say that there may never be a point where I am not a runner—because that’s quite unimaginable. I love it, and it seems like the more I do it—the more I love it. But one of the biggest parts of being a runner is respecting the fact that it’s a sport that requires a great deal of discipline—and with that discipline comes the need to rest.
Rest has been my most underrated part of my participation in this sport, and I’m finally realizing that I’m honoring my title as a “runner” more so when I accept rest instead of resisting it.
So sometimes, it’s better to not run. Not because of anything particular, but because when we pair running with the other great things in our lives, it makes the sport much more fulfilling and exciting.
When I got home on Sunday, sleepy and happy from my quick CO trip…I couldn’t wait to slip into my running shoes. And when I took off on a long, leisurely jaunt around West Seattle, my thought wasn’t “Dang I need to make up for the past two days,” it was, “I loved spending every minute I could this weekend with my family.”
I’m a work in progress—as we all are. Some days are better than others, but overall I would say that I am finally getting the balance thing.
I encourage everyone who takes their exercise really seriously to continue to do so—but not at the cost of losing your health or all the other great things about you.
Sometimes the better decision as a runner is to not run, and you know what? It’s okay. Running will always be there, so don’t stress out if you take a time out every now and then. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.