Why Do So Many Runners Look Miserable?

The other day I was driving around, doing some errands, and made an observation that led to the title of this post… I noticed that so many runners just look miserable when they’re running. So I asked myself, “Why?”

Is it because running is hard? It can be. Are they suffering? Maybe. Does it hurt to run? Sometimes. Is it that unenjoyable? Could be. I guess I don’t really know. However, I think the more important question is…

Why are people putting themselves through this experience?

In my experience it is because people think it’s going to get them in shape or help them lose weight. Can it work for some people? Yes. Does it work for most people? No. And if it doesn’t work for most people, why are people putting themselves through an experience that they don’t like?

Running can be nice exercise. Running and jogging should be fun and enjoyable. Running can be a great way to get outside, get some fresh air and relieve stress. Running should not be miserable. If you don’t enjoy running- DON’T RUN. If running hurts- DON’T RUN. If you get injured before, during or after you run- DON’T RUN. If you suffer when you run- DON’T RUN. If you’re hanging onto a treadmill trying to get your miles in- DON’T RUN.

Take a step back and think about the body. Running is a form of stress. Stress leads to breakdown. Stress leads to inflammation. Stress leads to illness. Stress leads to weight gain. A little stress is good and will make the body stronger if the stress is appropriate. Constant stress, particularly on an already stressed body, is not. Some light, enjoyable running is probably fine. Running a few miles for leisure is good. Long, miserable running is not. Short, intense running can also be good. Run some sprints or a mile for time. Good. Run 5 miles for time, now you may be pushing it. Run 10 miles for time over and over, only a select few can pull this off without detriment.

All of this is also predicated on decent running form, which is a rarity. People with bad gait, even if they love to run, who run 3-5 times a week are probably asking for trouble. Thousands of repetitions on a shaky platform is a cumulative disaster. Show me a running group that doesn’t have as many knee wraps as people in it and I’ll show you a running group in the minority.

Running is a remarkable and tremendously useful ability developed, honed, managed smartly and passed down to us from our ancestors. Let’s keep it on the pedestal it belongs. Keep it appropriate, keep it fun, and keep it outside. Don’t make it miserable.

The Bare 5 Bottom Line on Running

1. Use your body as your guide. It will tell you when you are running inappropriately.

2. If running is boring or miserable, find a way to make it fun or find something else to do.

3. If running hurts your body, find a way to run better or find something else to do.

4. If you are running mostly inside on a treadmill, get outside or find something else to do.

5. If you enjoy running, you don’t get hurt and you get outside while doing it, keep running.

Thanks for reading, have a great running (or not running) week!

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12 comments

  1. Great point, enjoy the experience of exercise. Bicycling and foraging in nature tickles my fancy, I also love soccer and other sports.—– so find something that (fits) you——-ha ha I enjoyed post.

  2. Totally agree, today everything is being done to achieve some objective, for runners its to achieve X distance, or get away from drugs or get a new activity to supposedly improve health or get the runners high (as widely advertized). Any such repetitive activity which is driven by objectives can never be beneficial

    • True- for most people the repitition improves a skill at best and causes dysfunction at worst. For those who love to run simply for the love of running I think the repetition is mildly hurtful but for most people who run because they think it’s good for their health or weight loss the repitition is likely very hurtful.

  3. If you love doing something like playing tennis its not repetitive since each game is new and you dont know whats coming, but running a specific distance by design cant be non-repetitive and must be forced which in the long run causes mental problems. Any activity forced against one’s grain over a sustained period of time is bound to cause brain atrophy. Views please

    • I agree- one of my favorite quotes, that could be about anything but was said in regard to cardio/running: “boredom is the brain’s way of protecting you from unproductive or damaging things.”

      There’s also quite a bit of concern over the runners high and that it may be a psychologically protective mechanism to shield us from the potential pain/damage that occurs from oxygen deprivation in the brain after sustained higher intensity cardiovascular work.

      Not to mention the sub acute heart attacks that seem to be more and more noticeable with endurance athletes.

      In general, I think the repetitive stuff is good until we get a baseline skill at doing it and then anything after that is probably worthless or damaging. The problem is that people like getting better at stuff and running offers an easy activity to get good at to the point it gets easy. Psychologically desirable but physically damaging the more you do it.

      Finally, to your point, I think the things that challenge our brains and bodies to adapt and be flexible are preferred to those that don’t. People say you should do crossword puzzles to keep your brain sharp but we never hear not to run too much because the lack of variety may be slowly killing your brain.

  4. Yes I agree. But isn’t the world today entirely driven by objectives which may not have been very prevalent in the past. Of course competition has become intense etc. But I have come to realize that whatever you do to try and achieve a specific objective finally makes you a slave to objectives and you can’t live happily unless you have an objective. So you are always struggling to achieve something till you hit the bucket and have missed the joys of just living/exploration. Also once you have an objective most thoughts that are generated are linked to the objective and thus you lose the capability of examining/exploring anything without the bias created by your objective. This constant struggle to achieve seems to me to be the main reason for the rapid increase in depression/OCPD especially in the US and moving at a rapid place globally. There is a theory that marathoners/CEO’s have a higher probability of OCPD than others

    • You’re probably right. The world, particularly the western and developed countries, is obsessed with accomplishment and achievement to the end that it can run and often ruin our experience in a lot of things. I think the obsession with running is an easy transition because it’s easy to do, very measurable and east to get better, making it a perfect activity for OCD brains. Add in the pseudo positive neurotransmitter bath that it can create and you end up with a culture that is ruled by trying to achieve and easily becomes addicted to things like running, even to a detriment. The theory of marathon running and OCD is interesting but I wonder if OCD people have a higher probability of running as well.

  5. There is a subtle difference between OCD and OCPD, OCD person realizes that what he is doing is wrong and tries to correct it but is mostly unable to without external support. OCPD guy believes that his repetitive action is the right way and is so for all, he cannot accept a differing opinion and gets annoyed. sO ocd guy may not necessarily take to running

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