The Top 10 Reasons We Stop Running

15 Jun

In the last post I gave you the Top 10 Reasons to Run. I thought I heard y’all say you wanted the good news first. Now for the bad news: you’re going to have periods when it becomes difficult or impossible to run. There’s still hope in such times! In this post I will discuss strategies to avoid burnout, prevent or rehab. injury, run through a busy schedule and more.

No.1, Sickness

This is certainly the most common de-railer of my running efforts. There are five of us Swansons living together. When one of us gets sick we usually all do. Two winters ago was terrible. It seemed like we had colds more than we were well.

I have some good news off the bat in this category, then, rest assured, I will return to the bad news again.

Regular exercise boosts your immune system! I can attest to this fact. This past winter was much better for me. There were at least four colds that passed hands among my kids and wife that I didn’t catch. Just beware of over-doing it with exercise. If you do it too often and much it actually weakens your immune system. This is largely a concern for olympic contenders and not the general population, but beware non-the-less and listen to your body.

Okay, that’s enough of that. You still will get sick. The worst are those three week long colds that don’t have symptoms debilitating enough to get you out of work, but leave you energy-less for your tasks. Who wants to work out with that?? Well, then don’t… and don’t feel guilty about it. You won’t lose as much endurance as you think.

Just make sure you come back to it when you feel well. If you have lost a step oh well. You’ll get it back quicker than you can say “Bob’s-your-uncle.” (from Mary Poppins… yeah, real men love Mary Poppins)

No.2, Vacations

I’m not going to tell you what you should do on your vacation. That’s the beauty of a vacation, YOU decide how your time will be spent thank-you-very-much. I’ll just say this: Make a conscious decision about exercise before you leave. Need a week off of your tired feet? Take it.

Personally I LOVE running on vacation. Oh wait, I can’t recall my last vacation. Okay, I guess I love day-dreaming about where I’ll run on my vacation. So much of our trips are filled with itinerary that it’s wonderful to leave some time for exploration and adventure. I like not having a preconceived route sometimes and just letting my feet take me where they will, so to speak. More often than not, I come back delighted with stories to tell.

So either pack the shoes or don’t, but let your decision be an intentional one.

No.3, Holidays

Oh the holiday sugar coma. Christmas time is the worst in my family. At least at Thanksgiving there is an abundance of quality home cooking to buffer all the pumpkin pie afterward. I think there’s a rule in my family that every Christmas hors d’oeuvres must contain cream cheese and, of course, one must try them all before deciding which one to glut upon.

Then there’s that break in routine at my parent’s house that leaves me wondering what to do with myself. So I do nothing. Then since I’m doing nothing I might as well eat. Then I don’t feel like doing anything… so I do nothing and… well, you get the idea.

Last holidays I started running from my parent’s house to my in-laws and vice versa for the various functions. It was a desperately needed escape, it was fun, and it burned away some of the calories I consumed. I ran a few times over ten miles. I still gained a pound or two. Holidays are hard.

No.4, Work, Work, Work

Long hours. Business trips. Looming deadlines. Lay-offs. Work is a big rock.

???: I love the analogy someone gave me about priorities in life being like different sized rocks that you have to fit in a jar. You have to put the big rocks in first and fit the smaller rocks and sand around them. Work is one of those big rocks.

So is running. When the world presses hard into you it could be that very thing that keeps you grounded. Sane. Running is my happy place. It’s quiet. It gives me a place to rest and think. It gives God a place to speak.

Make running a big rock and you won’t struggle to fit it in the jar.

No.5, Injuries

It’s going to happen. Twisted ankles, strains, shin splints (which, by the way, can be a number of things), back pain, and oh the myriad ways you can hurt your knees. I’m not a doctor, I just play one on the internet. I can’t tell you what you should do.

Running is the art of learning which pains to run through and which ones signal imminent disaster. Listen to your body. If you’re not accomplished in this practice I would recommend giving Yoga a try. Not only will it make you more attentive and fully in the moment, but it will stretch those bowstring tight runner muscles. Double win!

My standard operating procedure when encountering pain that is abnormal is to back off the distances I usually run and cross train during that time. Rarely do I need a full break from running (post races being an exception), but sometimes I need to slow down and do less for a while to let my bones, joints, and muscles recover.

The Magical Secret Fountain of Running Magic

Magic waters. That’s what I call the swimming pool at the YMCA. In training for my first marathon I was committed and determined and so when I strained my achilles tendon six weeks before the race I didn’t automatically give up. My doctor told me to stay away from running for eight to ten weeks.

I listened… kinda. I ran in a swimming pool with a floatation belt around my waist. I did this for hours at a time as I was in the peak of my marathon training. I’d mix in a few laps of swimming when I got bored. So in the last month and a half of training for the marathon I didn’t run any miles on the road until the week before and guess what, I finished my first marathon under four hours. The moral of this story is that even though you’ll get injured, there’s often a way to work around it to stay fit.

No.6, Family Activities

Are your kids only allowed a handful of activities a year? If so then you are a bad parent. That’s what it seems our culture says isn’t it? It’s okay to make your kids make decisions about which activities to pursue. Saying no to your kids can be hard, especially when they are all good options, but it’s a necessary skill for parents to possess. Of course it can go the other way and you can say no too often. It’s up to you and your spouse to decide what’s right for your children, not the frenzied culture we live in. Remember, running is a big rock too.

No.7, Hot and Cold

My wife is a huge wimp*. I always welcome the fall and winter for its pleasant sleeping conditions. Then come the quilts. “Three quilts? Do we really need THREE?” Then I get “the look” and give up arguing.

I’m a huge wimp the other way. I get all whiny and lethargic when it’s hot. I don’t like running in the heat. Racing times certainly suffer for me. Beyond that I’ve learned to adapt to the soaring temps.

Real Men are Impervious to the Weather

Wives roll your eyes as you must, but when the weather gets frigid us men don our tights and hit the road. Thankfully it is dark more of the time in winter and fewer people are traumatized.

There is something satisfying about running in weather that sends most people running for cover. Runs in the rain and snow are some of my favorites. Dress right and nothing can stop you (besides hurricanes, tornadoes, piranha infested waters, volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, flash floods, angry mobs and the like).

All this from a guy who does most of his miles on a YMCA treadmill. But then it’s only on the really crappy days that I run outside. What’s the fun if there’s no downpour or mud to slog through?

*My wife did give birth to three children is infinitely tougher than I am. My friend JL and I agreed during a marathon recently that we guys are funny thinking we are tough running a marathon and yet there’s no way in hades we’d ever be able to bear a child… beyond the simple (and wonderful!) biological limitations of course.

No.8, Mental Disorders

Us bi-polar folk experience significant swings in motivation and outlook. With the help of medication that I will take the rest of my life, those effects are mostly managed. Both my psychiatrist and psychologist recommended exercise as part of a wholistic treatment plan.

I still have down days. They are far less often and not nearly as low, but I still have them. On those days it’s hard to muster the energy to run, but I’ve found running to be a great alternative to moping around on the couch all day. I take care of kids and I own a business. I can’t wallow around. Running helps get me back in the game. I come back feeling better than when I started. Not necessarily happy, but functional and hopeful, knowing my foul mood will pass.

I include my life-long struggle with mental health disorders because I know I’m not alone and I know that a lot of you guys aren’t getting the help you need. Don’t be ashamed. It’s not your fault, but you need to get treatment. Your relationships will continue to suffer until you do. Real men get help.

No.9, Backsliding

Why do you run? Is it to improve your quality of life, or are you chasing the questions you left unanswered in high school? I think one of the reasons us guys get so easily discouraged with running is because we measure ourselves against the athlete we used to be, ten years ago or last month.

Give it up. You may never be that fit again. How does that strike you? Goals are good for runners, but running is and always should be about living in the moment. Racing strips away our delusions of grandeur.

You are not Matt Hall, Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, or Martha Stewart. You probably never will be, so I ask again, “Why do you run?”

If you’re reading this and you are one of those people that really, honestly thinks you’ll go that far, more power to ya, just as long as you don’t think you’re Jesus Christ.


Number 10 on this list is number 01 to me right now. It surprised me a few months ago. I don’t think I’d ever run consistently long enough to reach the point of burnout. If you’re here with me then congratulations! It’s your reward for faithful training apparently. I got through that wall and so can you. Arm yourself with an awareness of the list below.

Contributors to Burnout

1… Too many races. Your body needs a break to rebuild itself. Work in terms of training cycles, anywhere from 8-16 weeks long.
2… No training goal. Just putting in miles strictly for the sake of fitness gets old really fast.
3… Too many miles. Don’t go long all the time. Limit your long runs to one a week, with a medium-long run, and a few shorter runs sprinkled in.
4… Always killing it. Essentially the opposite problem. If you are always running your hardest your body never recovers adequately. Mix it up: long, short, fast, and slow.
5… No cross-training. I gave up running altogether for a few weeks to bike, but now I opt just to sprinkle cross training in place of a run a week and it seems just the right amount for former running purist.
6… No challenge/adventure. I always need to find new races and challenges to keep my passion for running alive. Right now it’s ultramarathons. At some point I’ll probably run out of unique race formats. Then I’ll start making up my own and torture younger runners. :-)

As you can see there’s no cure all for burnout, but be assured that if you shake things up you’ll find the fires rekindled for your first exercise love (running). Maybe you’ll be in your car and hear your power song on the radio (*insert Justin Bieber song of choice here*), or maybe you’ll be biking around town and suddenly shout, “What am I doing?!!” as you hurl your Schwinn into the river so as to continue on foot… either way it will be magical. I promise.

One Response to “The Top 10 Reasons We Stop Running”

  1. Jamie June 15, 2012 at 3:10 am #

    Don’t make me start telling stories about you, now, honey. ;) Like when you take ice baths, or other such hilariousness. You call me a wimp…. which I might be … I start sharing the stories. Be careful. ;) Love!

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