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You already know that running has a whole host of physical, mental and emotional benefits: It can make you fitter, stronger and happier, to name a few. But is it possible to have an unhealthy relationship with running?
In short: yes. And to get the most out of your running, you may need a relationship refresh.
One step to determine whether your running habit is healthy is to check in with your intentions and ask yourself if your training regimen is realistic, says Kate F. Hays, Ph.D., a Toronto-based psychologist who specializes in sports psychology.
“Goals can sometimes be fairly unrealistic or not bear much of a relationship to the person and take into account where one is in one’s running,” Hays says. For example, a recreational runner who is just starting out has different capabilities than a competitive runner who has been training for 10 years.
So how do you know if your relationship with running could use a little TLC? According to Hays, one telltale sign is that your family, friends, work and other obligations take a backseat to your training regimen and running goals.
“Runners tend to be pretty focused and driven and maybe even perfectionistic,” she says. “That certainly supports running, but it can also spill over into less healthy behaviors—ways in which a person is more involved with their running than with other aspects of their life.”
If you notice an increase in illness or injury, or if you tend to push through pain rather than giving yourself time to recover, you may need to reevaluate. Hays notes that another important indicator, especially for women, is “developing a mindset about weight and eating and running that starts to take charge of the person rather than the person being in charge of those elements and how they interact.”
To combat these concerns, take a step back and ask yourself what motivates you to run. Is it about physical strength? Camaraderie and connection with other runners? A sense of overall well-being? Then determine if running actually fulfills that motivation.
In the end, a strong indicator of a healthy running habit is whether you are “fundamentally finding it enjoyable, either during the run or shortly afterward,” Hays says.
How to Refresh Your Relationship With Running
Find yourself with an unhealthy relationship with running and need a little extra help to get back on track? Try these training tricks.
Log your runs
If you have a record of your workouts, you can look back at patterns in your running and reflect on whether anything has changed that would impact your physical or mental well-being.
Phone a friend
Recruit a running buddy who can help you review how things are going. “By talking it out, it may become clearer what [you] need to do to reset,” Hays says.
Work with a coach
A running coach can help you define your intentions, set realistic goals and stay motivated. But before you commit, make sure you’ll get a program that’s tailored to your individual needs.
Take a step back
Hays says that if you feel fatigued, find yourself injured or simply dread putting on your shoes and heading out the door, you may be at risk of overtraining. Give yourself some time to recover.