The Reason We Run

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The Reason We Run

Written by Richard Ferguson, Ph.D . on 17 September 2015.

In my work as a Sport Psychology Consultant I constantly work with athletes who are really stressed over their chosen sport, not only professional athletes, but recreational athletes as well. It seems as though they are burdened by their sports instead of enjoying them.  Instead of feeling pleasure, positive self-worth and love for their sports, more and more athletes seem to be worried, anxious and frustrated. It just seems sad that what should bring joy brings stress.

                  So just think for a few minutes why you run. Maybe fitness, health, socializing, competition, sense of achievement etc., are just some reasons you run. But when you take all the reasons you run and boil them down into one thing, isn’t that one thing really about having fun? You run because it is an enjoyable experience!  How can an enjoyable, pleasurable activity like running, become a stress inducing, frustrating, worrying and sometimes depressing experience?

                  Not to say that all runners are stressed out over their running. Most are super happy about running and really, really enjoy their running. But wouldn’t it be great if all runners felt the joy of running on a consistent basis, like when they first go into running? We all know the feelings of exhilaration that running brings, so bringing about these feelings more often is a worthy goal, both for runners and sport psychology consultants. So just how can we make running fulfilling, positive and just plain fun again?


Maybe the answer to the previous question lies in determining just why running becomes a stress inducing activity for some runners in the first place. It’s safe to say that running doesn’t simply become a stress inducer in a single day. Sure, some running days are better than others, but rarely do you just wake up one day and feel stressed or frustrated over your running. Such feelings may arise over a long period of time, months, maybe even years. Attitudes toward running may change with experience. These attitudes may be influenced by training partners, friends, coaches, and possibly what is read about running on-line and in print.

                  What began as pure fun may have now morphed into so much more. There are times you must achieve, overall and age group places in races, competitions begin with other runners, miles per week are tracked, heart rate is monitored, diet becomes paramount, and on and on. Internally, you begin to put pressure on yourself to run faster and faster, run more miles, not eat this or that, run more races and even spend more and more time on auxiliary exercises like core work and functional flexibility.  Running has become more than a hobby or fitness activity. In some cases running has become an all encompassing obsession or psychological addiction. While the words addiction and obsession may be a bit strong, at the very least, running can begin to consume more and more physical and emotional energy. There is no doubt that hard work and dedication are critical to becoming the best runner you can be, but where is the line crossed and what was once just plain fun, now has become the only source of personal gratification. The line may be when running has become a form of personal identity.

                  When running becomes your identity it becomes a direct reflection of who you are as a person and, as such, when running is going well you feel good about yourself, but when running isn’t going well your self esteem suffers. If you run races then a poor performance really hurts your ego and you might feel like a failure as a person, but if you have a good race you feel super personal pride and very worthy as a person. This type of pressure can lead to high levels of anxiety, constant worry and an up and down roller coaster of emotions, all based upon how you perform in a race. The constant pressure you put on yourself can make running become a huge stressor instead of a stress reducer and source of enjoyment. The constant pressure can lead to a vicious negative cycle with stress and anxiety leading to poor performance, which leads to negative emotions, which decreases performance further, with more negative emotions and on and on the whirlpool goes.

                  So what can you do to maybe decrease the pressure? Just think! Maybe just get back to the basics and think about the real the reason you began running and actually why you still run: it should be FUN! Think about it, when something is genuinely fun you enjoy it, feel really relaxed and you are free to just do your best without any expectation of a result. What a novel idea! Put less pressure on yourself, have more fun and your running will improve, just what you were looking to do when your were putting all that pressure on yourself. So put running into perspective and think about it with a more rational attitude. Running is not life or death, its fun! If you have been putting a lot of pressure on yourself for and extended period of time (Months, Years), it may take awhile to change your way of thinking, but just constantly remind yourself of the reason you run: it should be fun

                  Now this doesn’t mean you stop training hard or working hard to be a better runner. It means you take a different view of now to become a better runner and enjoy it more. Putting pressure on yourself is a mindset. Having fun is a mindset as well! Sure, you do your best in training and racing, but learn to enjoy the process regardless of the results. Savor good performances and learn from poor ones, then let the poor ones go. Don’t carry around that mental garbage in your head! Do your very best and appreciate that type of effort, because your best effort is all you can give.

                  If your running has turned into a stressor, constantly remind yourself why you began running and why you’re still at it. More than likely you will come to realize that you started running because it was fun and you keep at it because it is still fun. Lower the pressure on yourself and get back to mentally relishing running as being simply fun. In reality that is the real reason we run!              

Richard Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness, and Sport Science Department at Averett University and is an AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant. He may be reached via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   


Read more of Dr. Ferguson articles on -

Some New Recruits -

Are You a RUNNER? -

A Different View -

The Components of Peak Performance -

Running and Sleep -

Don’t Panic! -

The Mental Maximization of Training -

With the Help of a Friend -

Beating the Winter Blues-

Go For It -

Beating Burnout -

A New Outlook -

Expect the Unexpected -

Pain or Discomfort ? -

Keep Your Eye on the Prize -

 Running Free -

Running and Role Models -

- See more at:

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