Penguin Chronicle :: October 1996

As I have met and corresponded with new runners, I’ve become convinced that the leading cause of running dropouts is not injury, time constraints, families, or jobs. I believe the reason most folks give up running is because their expectations are completely out of line with reality.

Starting a running program is easy. Almost anyone can do it. You don’t need any special skills or talent. All you need is a pair of shoes and a place to run. This simplicity is one of running’s major attractions.

The physical benefits are well documented. Even neglected bodies like mine begin to renew themselves. The litany of emotional benefits is also well known. Many of us like to philosophize about the inner peace produced by running. But these benefits are only half the truth.

The other half is that sometimes running is difficult. Sometimes a run isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s a matter of dragging yourself out the door and getting in the miles. The whole truth is that some days even those committed to running choose not to run.

New runners don’t always understand the whole truth. It’s easier to believe that one can reach new physical and emotional goals through running than to believe that reaching those goals requires patience, discipline, and plain hard work.

I have no business being a runner. It is pure serendipity that running is still part of my life. When I started I was sure I could find a way to fail at running. Why not? I had figured out how to fail at jobs, relationships, diets, and much more.

How would I fail? By setting my expectations so high they would be unachievable. I told myself I could undo the damage I’d done to my body in a matter of weeks. I expected my sedentary body to be able to run a mile or two or three in a matter of days. And walking? That meant I wasn’t trying hard enough.

To ensure failure I began to set unrealistic time goals. In the first weeks, it was enough to finish a mile, or later, to complete a 5K race. But I expected my times to improve dramatically. Instead of being satisfied with a 30 minute 5K, I became discouraged by my time and finishing position.

For too many new runners, this is the pattern. And for many it leads to frustration and ultimately to giving up. The shame is that had they waited the extra week or month or year it sometimes takes, they would have found the joy they were looking for.

So, if you’ve reached a point in your running where your expectations have exceeded the reality of your abilities, it may be time to rethink those expectations. Whether you’ve run for a month or a lifetime, something is wrong if you’ve lost the pleasure that running brings.

For running to be a part of your life, it must become a part of who you are. For better or worse, being a runner is part of your definition of yourself. In your running, as in your life, there will be great days and days that are not so great. There will be days when your life and your running are easy and days when they are a struggle.

But for me, I’d rather have a bad day as a runner than a good day as a non-runner.

Waddle on, friends

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