Not Much Distance Left to Run – How a Marathon Killed My Love of Running

It’s over
Roughly six weeks ago I decided I hated Running.  In that moment, it seemed like a pointless activity in which the minimal gains were far outweighed by the physical, mental and time investment required.  Running had convinced the world it was accessible to anyone, but when anyone got involved, they were no longer anyone, they were now a Runner.  They cared about wicking, they could convert speed to pace and miles to kilometres, they engaged in the barefoot debate, they used marathons to sort out their brilliant-older-sibling issues, and they couldn’t run a phenomenal distance without telling everyone how freaking phenomenal the distance was that they just ran.  Running wasn’t a pastime, it was a cult.  I wanted no part of it.

This analysis may not seem particularly revelatory to some, but it came as an alarming surprise to me.  A surprise because Running was something I’d been doing up to four times a week since 2007, and unwelcome because at the time the revelation hit me, I was three hours (and 32km) into the Brighton Marathon.

Hello. My name is Jane, and I am a Runner.

I knew it would end this way
I made it to the end of the marathon, finishing 60 seconds after my previous marathon time (yes, previous – I have more than one brilliant older sibling).  I picked up my medal, texted a few people to let them know about the phenomenal distance I’d just run, went home, transferred an unopened crappy energy bar from goody bag to dining table, and then had a long hard look at my life.  It may have been the DOMS talking, but for the following few days I felt resentful about the hours upon hours lost to Running, regret at having lapsed in the prescribed training programme, and angry with myself for not having improved.  If I wasn’t getting any better, then what was the point of doing it at all?

So I stopped.  Every time I even thought about Running, the resentment, regret and anger flooded back, a clear and visceral signal that I had chosen the right path.  I embraced the gift of spare time: I caught up on my admin, got up to date with Daily Shows and acquainted with the Mindy Project, and stayed late at work.  It was nice.

I couldn’t really remember why I’d started Running in the first place.

It took me three weeks to realise that my ice-cream-specific appetite had not received the message that I wasn’t Running.  I also noticed that I was finding it much harder to switch off at the end of the (now extended) work day.  I then calculated that it was only three weeks until my long weekend away to Edinburgh, where I had registered for a half marathon and planned to support my friend on her first full marathon.

Oh yeah, that’s why.  All those things.

The Theory
One of the key behavioural techniques for helping people improve their mood is increasing activity.  For some people, an arbitrary increase in activity won’t make much difference, but focusing on activities that are in line with that individual’s core set of values can lead to more self-confidence, a better sense of control, and greater fulfilment  all key factors impacting on general mood.  When you’re feeling low or depressed, it’s pretty common to cut back on things that are important to you, and low mood can stick around even longer when there is a massive discrepancy between how important a value is and how much time or energy is invested in that value.

The Background
I’ve always been active, but I didn’t start “going running” until a uni colleague invited me to do a 10K Christmas Run.  We chatted as we ran it together and discovered that we had far more in common than just our doctorate programme.  More importantly, we ran at the same pace.  Running together was in line with our mutual important values of physical health and connecting to others, so we started doing it regularly.  We soon realised that it also provided a much-needed mental break from the demands of training to be psychologists. The fact that we both also valued efficiency turned this three-for-one activity into a four-for-one, and thus even more rewarding.

Somewhere along the way I started to care how fast I ran.  I started to think about my splits.  I bought a GPS watch.  I would look at my race results in the context of other runners and other races, and I learned to justify a slower pace.  I got irritated by bottleneck crowds at the start of a race, where I used to feel warmth over a collective passion.  At the finish line of my first marathon, I cried because I was so proud of my massive achievement.  Six weeks ago, I cried because I hadn’t run one well enough.  I hadn’t run 42 kilometres well enough.  Yep.  That happened.

All of this shouldn’t be a problem, because I also happen to value competence.  I really love being good at things.  Or rather, I really don’t love not being good at things. The trouble is, I already spend a lot of time and energy on this value.  Eight hours a day, five days a week.  I don’t need any more on this one, especially not at the sacrifice of my other important values.  If I’m running to get better at Running, I will still be able to run for physical health, but I won’t be good company and I certainly won’t be giving myself a mental break.  And I just might feel resentment, regret and anger about all of that.

The Experiment
I am running the Edinburgh half marathon.  Running it for the love of it, for the excitement of a big race, for the connection to all the other kindred souls who will run the half marathon with me, and for the pity of those poor fools who took on the challenge of the full marathon.

Click here to read the results: Running, I love you. Take Me Back, I’m in it for the Long Run. (Not Much Distance, Part II)

Click here to read what happened while running and I were on a break: 42K to Couch to 5K – The Competing Motivations Training Plan That Got Me Running Less 

I ran the Brighton Marathon for the Samaritans – if you would like to support their incredible work helping people in the dark and desperate moments, please donate here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JaneGregory

© Cognitive Behave Yourself, 2013, except for the lines I stole from Blur – if any of them have a problem with that, they really should give me a call. Or just pop by some time.  Any time.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full credit is given to Jane Gregory with a link to the original material.  For CBT in North-West London please visit www.hampsteadcbt.com.

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