Last Updated on September 9, 2020 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Feeling guilty about all of the time you spend on the trails (road, treadmill, etc.) instead of being at home? Wondering if you are making a mistake spending all of that time training, instead of with your family? You aren’t alone. Quite frequently I see fellow athletes posing questions in online forums asking something along the lines of “am I selfish for running so much?” and “how do I get over the training guilt of being away from my family for so long?”
Many of the topics I write about on this blog either come from personal experiences, or are questions and concerns I hear from fellow runners. But usually – it’s both. Today’s topic in particular hits close to home…and I’m sure many of you can relate. And my opinions and experiences may not be the most favorable, but they are mine. So all of that said:
Running is Selfish…but That’s OK.
Let’s be perfectly honest: training for something like a marathon or ultramarathon takes up a ton of time. There’s no denying it. I frequently remind clients before they dive into a new training plan that tackling a training cycle of that magnitude (like a 50 or 100 mile plan) is a huge time commitment. You’re often looking at running upwards of 70+ miles a week, which can equate to at least a dozen hours or more (depending on your pace). And you probably aren’t going to want to hear this, but…
Running for that amount of time is inherently selfish.
Now don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t necessarily make your running a bad thing. Quiet the opposite. I believe that carving time out of your day to focus on something you enjoy is a fantastic form of self care. And as a parent, it demonstrates to your kids the idea of personal autonomy, that it’s perfectly acceptable (and important) to take care of yourself and do the things YOU enjoy, in addition to making others a priority.
But all of that said, even when your family or partner are completely on board with your training venture, there can still be a ton of guilt associated with constantly being away from home. So how do you get through it?
How to Get Over Training Guilt
I am a stubborn, head strong, “I’ll do what I want, you can’t stop me!” kind of woman. I’d like to thank my father for this one, for both passing on the stubborn gene, and constantly encouraging me to grow up to become an independent human being.
BUT. (There’s always a but…)
I’ve certainly realized over time that my running can have negative consequences when it comes to the people I love the most. That’s not to say that they aren’t supportive – they are. But rather, that I’ve learned that there comes a point where you truly have to find a balance between the things you love and the people you love. And this balance constantly ebbs and flows. Sometimes it works out flawlessly – other time it’s a total sh*t show.
When it comes to managing the “training guilt”, here are some skills I’ve learned:
Remember the aforementioned stubborn side of me? Yeah…that makes this the hardest “skill” I’ve had to learn.
TALK to your people. Swallow your pride and ask your loved ones how your running affects them.
Keeping a constant line of communication open with those closest to you is incredibly important when it comes to managing your training guilt. Be sure to frequently check in with your partner or family to ensure that they aren’t feeling neglected by your absence.
And, be open and ready to hear their honest responses. Simply asking doesn’t necessarily help if you aren’t ready to put action behind your words. As I often tell my clients, missing a handful of runs over the course of a training cycle is not going to hurt you. Family should always come first.
Alternatively, BELIEVE your family/partner when they say that everything is a-ok. Try not to create drama or anxiety in your head when it’s not warranted or necessary.
Remember: You Matter
On the other hand, remind yourself that your goals, and your personal time matter. Relationships are about compromise. Parenting is about sacrifice. These things are absolutely true. But I fully believe that you shouldn’t lose yourself or what matters to you, when you enter into those relationships.
There are a number of reasons why maintaining time for yourself to do the things you enjoy doing (especially when it’s something with proven benefits, such as exercise) is important. Read this post below for a reminder of those reasons:
Related Post: Running Mom Guilt & Why You Should Let it Go
If everything on the family front is calm, then remind yourself it’s OK to take this time for yourself. Take a deep breath, and allow yourself the time you need – guilt free.
Schedule Your Running Around Your Family
You can ward off training guilt by scheduling your runs when no one really needs you anyway.
That sounds harsh, but bear with me:
I get a lot of running clients who assume running has to be done at a specific time each day. But it doesn’t. You can run early in the morning before your kids get up, or at night when your partner is watching their favorite show that you can’t stand. Or maybe even during your lunch break, when you wouldn’t see your family anyway. There are always alternatives to working your training around family obligations, which should help ward off the training guilt.
Invite Your Family to Join You
OK, so maybe your 11 year old can’t quite manage a 10 mile run at tempo pace with you. But there are a number of other ways you can invite your family and / or partner to be a part of your running. They can:
- Tag along on bicycles, especially if you run on a multipurpose path or quiet neighborhood streets
- Join you for at-home core or strength workouts
- Help plan your routes, and maybe find somewhere to explore and meet you on the way.
- Involve them in crewing/pacing/spectating race day duties
- Have little ones? Push them in a stroller
Inviting your family to be a part of your training will not only help give them insight to what exactly it is you are doing with all of your time, but allows you to spend more time together. And hopefully, that helps eliminate some of that training guilt.
Cutback on Running
I know, typing those words feels like blasphemy. But here’s a harsh truth: running isn’t going anywhere. But your commitments to those closest to you are going to constantly fluctuate.
For example: the chaos of 2020 has my kids unexpectedly schooling from home. They are young, they need supervision and help to ensure they get their schoolwork done. COULD I squeeze 100 mile training into our days? Yes. Definitely. Will it be enjoyable or will it stress me out? Probably the latter.
So I’m cutting back.
It does NOT make me (or you) any less of a runner, any less of a badass, any less of anything. It just means that maybe, right now, the “guilt” you are feeling is trying to tell you something. Again, I realize that’s not the case for everyone, and likely not a popular opinion.
But for some, it’s true.
Ultimately, it’s normal to experience some sort of guilty feelings when you are ramping up your mileage, and spending far less time at home. The time away is simply a sacrifice you have to make in order to reach big racing goals. But by being aware of what is causing your guilty feelings, and keeping an open line of communication with those you love, you can hopefully eliminate some (if not all) of your run training guilt.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.