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Today we’re going to discuss what they are and how to avoid them but first…
Who cares why runners quit?
As a Physio, I’ve been helping injured runners get back to training for almost 20 years. Whenever I meet an injured runner for the first time, I get them to tell me all about their injury and then I ask them…
Why do you run?
Why Do Runners Run?
The vast majority of runners respond with something like “it’s my me-time” or “it helps with my stress” or as one of my athletes put it “it makes me feel like my brain got sucked out by a vacuum”. In short, mental health.
Most runners run because it helps them with their mental health. Me too.
The second most common reason I hear from people is that running helps them stay healthy. This is particularly common in the over 30 crowd. I played soccer every day for the first 20 years of my life (well, once I could walk anyway). Once I hit my twenties and started working though, it became harder to stick to the rigid schedule of a team. Since I got married and had a kid, it got even harder.
So, like many people, in my late twenties I gravitated towards running mostly out of convenience. I can run whenever I want, for as long as I want. I don’t need equipment or facilities. I don’t need other players and it’s free.
In short, it’s the perfect form of exercise for busy people. That’s one of the main reasons running has exploded in popularity over the last 50 years.
The third most common reason people give me for why they run is that they want to set a good example for their kids.
We all know that kids don’t care what you say, they watch what you do. Unfortunately, while most parents will support their kids to play in millions of different sports, they often unwittingly communicate that exercise is something you only do when you’re a kid.
I don’t want to model that for my kids and I’m sure you don’t either. The way I see it, running allows us to pass on the gift of generational health.
So the most common reasons that runners give for why they run are:
- Mental Health
- Physical health
- Set a Good Example for Kids
Why Do Runners Quit?
In my experience, there are two primary reasons that runners quit.
The most common reason that people quit running is simply that life gets in the way. A new job, having a baby, starting a business, moving house, a family illness. These are pretty big things, but it’s often far more trivial. Even regular things like summer vacations or Christmas can ruin a good running habit.
The next most common reason for runners to quit is injury. Running injuries are notoriously stubborn and very poorly managed by typical healthcare. For many of the most common running injuries like runner’s knee, achilles tendonitis or knee arthritis, the recurrence rate is alarmingly high. Most runners will continue to suffer from these problems for years.
I’ve heard versions of this story hundreds of times.
The knee pain stopped me running so I tried Physio, which made it hurt less but I still couldn’t run as much as I wanted. They did an MRI that didn’t show much and gave me some injections that didn’t help. After about 18 months of this I still had pain when I ran. I quit because I didn’t want to do more damage.
I think of Life and Injury knocking us off running like wrecking balls. You’re cruising along. On track with your health and fitness and then whack a wrecking ball knocks you off track for a few weeks. You never really decided to quit running, you just look up one day and realize it’s been six months since you ran.
Whether the wrecking balls come from life or injury, one thing is certain, they will keep coming.
Who Cares If Runners Quit?
As I said earlier, the main reason that runners run is to preserve their mental and physical health and to set a good example for their kids.
Have you suffered from anxiety or depression? Or do you know someone close to you who has? What about obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, even some cancers? All of these are related to low physical activity levels. If you don’t have these problems, I bet you know a bunch of people who do. I certainly do.
Low physical activity levels is a leading risk factor for all cause mortality (WHO). The others are high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and obesity. 1 in 2 adults don’t meet the minimum requirements (CDC) for physical activity.
We all like to complain about our overrun hospitals and doctors offices but we also know that many of the people filling up our hospitals and clinics have chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. These are directly tied to “lifestyle choices”, meaning a bad diet and lack of physical activity.
If runners choose running because it is the most convenient option given their busy lives, what do you think they do when they quit? Exactly, nothing.
Running is a linchpin for most of us. It helps us hold together our physical and mental health. It allows us to show our kids how to do the same. It’s incredibly important.
I’ll Never Quit Running
Hopefully that is enough to convince you not to quit! But I know what you’re thinking…
“That won’t happen to me”
When I worked in a Physio Clinic, I would ask everyone who came in what they did for exercise. With people over the age of 50, the most common answer was:
“Well, I don’t do any real exercise, but, you know, I’m very active”
They would then follow this up with “I used to run but then…” or “I used to play hockey but then…” and then they would insert whatever wrecking ball stopped them.
The fact is that walking and standing and generally moving around are not enough to keep you healthy and they don’t qualify as active. The guidance from most of the major health institutions in the developed world is roughly the same. You need to be out of breath for about 2.5 hours a week and lifting weights 2-3 times a week.
That’s the minimum requirement to avoid unnecessary ill health as you age.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably meeting the cardio requirement, but very few runners I know are lifting weights 2-3 times a week.
All of those people I met in the clinic who had stopped running or working out never really decided to stop. They got hit by a wrecking ball and before they knew it, 10 years had passed.
Statistically speaking, most of you guys reading to this will quit running at some point.
So let’s talk about how we can avoid that.
How To Not Quit Running
I’ve been a Physio for 20 years and I’ve had the privilege to meet many extraordinary people who are still running hard and hitting the gym in their 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s. That’s what I want and that’s what I want for you. Based on my own experience and talking with these outliers, I have 3 recommendations to help you not quit running.
1. Know Your Why
When I ask runners why they run, they are always confused. They’ve never really thought about it. I want you to think about it now.
“Why Do You Run?”
Go deep, when you come up with an answer, ask “why is that important to me”. When you have an answer for that, ask again “why is that important to me?”. Keep going until you come up with an answer that evokes a strong emotion. Then write it down.
You should be able to answer this question instantly:
“Why Do You Run?”
2. Expect the Wrecking Balls
Life will keep hitting you with wrecking balls. Probably one or two per year. Some of them will be small, like Summer vacations or your kid starting piano lessons. Some will be massive, like you or someone you care about getting really sick.
You will get injured, probably every year or two. Again, some will be small injuries that you can adapt your training around. Others will be massive and require weeks or even months of rehabilitation.
The wrecking balls will knock you off track with your running and fitness. Expect it and plan for it.
3. Get Support
Your Spouse, your kids, your family, your inlaws, your friends, your co-workers, your running club, your coach (shameless plug there).
These are the people that will help you get back on track when the wrecking balls come. Surround yourself with runners and other active people. They will influence you and keep health and fitness top of mind.
Running may seem like a fairly trivial hobby to an outsider, but we know how important it is. If you’re thinking about quitting running, for any reason. Just take the time to really understand the implications. Whatever the reason is, we might be able to help.
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