How I Fell Out of Love with Running

by Casey Evans

I recently fell out of love with running. For years, running was my best friend.  I LOVED running. If I had a good day, I wanted to go for a run. If I had a bad day, I wanted to go for a run. Everything was going to be okay as long as I had running. When I started running ultra distances, things started to change. I started getting external validation from my runs. I would run a 50k and people would be impressed. I would do hard adventures and I would get “likes” on Instagram. The praise and admiration from other people felt really good. Slowly, my self confidence became dependent on the approval of other people. I went on adventures with my friends, I stuck to my training plan, I had big running plans. But I was not enjoying the actual running. I dreaded putting on my shoes. Runs felt so HARD and I thought I was just out of shape. I thought I needed to train harder, be a better athlete, and then I would start loving running again. I just had to run this fifty miler, then everyone would take me seriously as an athlete and everything would be better.

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But instead, I ran myself to injury: a tibial stress fracture. It started as a tiny pain in my shin, nothing too severe. I knew something was seriously wrong when my gait started to change; I couldn’t bring myself to jump on that leg, and my runs would end with me favoring that side. A few days before my 50 mile race, the pain became so intense I couldn’t even jog down the stairs. There would be no fifty miler for me. I told myself it would be okay, that I would heal in a few weeks and everything would go back to normal.

It took much longer than a few weeks for the running injury to heal. And everything was NOT okay. Even though I had started mountain biking and climbing while I was injured, I desperately felt like I needed running to come back. I felt like I needed running in order to prove myself as a badass. How would people take me seriously, as an athlete, if I was not out there crushing it like all the other badass ladies?

Even when the stress fracture FINALLY healed, I did not enjoy my return to running. I could only run a few miles at a time, and it was very slow. My runs were not impressive. And impressing people felt good, it had become the only thing I  enjoyed about running. If I wasn’t impressing people, I felt like a failure and running wasn’t fun. I contemplated if I even wanted to continue the whole running thing. But if I am not a “runner”, what am I? How do I define myself?

This was my running depression and it went on for months. I worked on other things: I resumed climbing, tried mountain biking, focused on skiing. Cross training used to feel like a waste of time, but these non-running activities felt very rewarding. I began to realize that these things were fun because I had no expectations about my performance. I didn’t have any goals. I was such a newbie, so terrible, that I knew no one was going to be impressed. It was freeing! I could just relax and enjoy the actual doing of the activity.

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And then I read “The Happy Runner” by David and Megan Roche. I was laying in bed, reading, and suddenly I realized why running wasn’t fun anymore. My ego had taken over and was making my decisions. I had lost sight of the reason why I run. For months, I had been saying that I run to be in nature and to be with my friends. But I was lying to  myself. The truth was that I was running for other people. That’s why I would obsessively record my runs; throwing down 60 mile weeks on Strava would impress others, right?  I signed up for longer races to be more “badass”, not because I enjoyed the process of training for a race. I kept pushing and ignored the signs my body was giving me that I was exceeding its limits. I lost sight of the reason why I fell in love with running to begin with.

I can see that now. I can admit that a lot of my running decisions the past year were driven by my ego. Acknowledging that allowed me to push my ego aside for a minute and suddenly my path forward became much more clear. I remember the reason this all started. I love to run because I love to feel my body move. I love the primitive form of moving quickly through the woods. And I love finding that magic flow state where the only thing that matters is the present moment. My overactive brain will finally quiet and I can focus. When I am finished, I feel alert, happy and grateful. If I remove all the other things, this is what matters.

My goal going forward is to hold onto the real reason why I run. To occasionally pause and make sure my ego isn’t driving the bus (she still sneaks behind the wheel, I’m not perfect). Part of this process for me is to worry less about the data. The data was just a means to compare myself to others. The act of comparison would suck out all the joy of the activity. The only thing that really matters on a run is if I am enjoying the run. I’m not saying that I should be happy every moment, but if I don’t get that sweet Strava record, or a sick Instagram post, or nail a longer distance, it doesn’t mean I should be disappointed in myself.

Now when I go for a run, I leave my watch at home. When I start slowing down, I don’t panic because my pace is going to be off (realistically, the only person that cares about my pace is me, anyway). Instead, I take the time to look around and marvel at this beautiful world we live in. I take a cue from my dog and stare up a tree for a minute. I listen to my body. By relaxing and enjoying the process, I am slowly starting to fall back in love with running. And in the process, I am slowly beginning to find myself too.

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Sarah Foote