Take Care Tuesday – Helping Your Non-Running Family Understand


Taken on my hill run – there is a great view of the rolling hills below in the distance on the left. Oh well.

Here is a basic reality: if you are the only runner in your family, they don’t ‘get it’. They might be your biggest supporters, cheerleaders, provide encouragement when you’re down, and more … but they really don’t understand why we do this to ourselves.

I KNOW this, but was reminded by a few things my family said this weekend … to be fair, having 20 years of me being a ‘just to stay thin’ runner conditioned some of this. If I did a lot of other activity I wouldn’t run, I never ran on weekends, never raced, and so on. So now that I am a ‘different type of runner’ it can be confusing for my family to try to figure out what running means to me now.

It is up to us as runners to listen to them when we get a little over-the-top … and also to help them understand why we love this sport so much:

1. I Know I Don’t NEED to, But I DO!

As I said, the first 20 years of ‘my running life’, I would not run on weekends, and if we had other ‘calorie burning activities’ I would tend to skip my run. So when Lisa said to me the other day ‘you don’t NEED to run today, you know’ – I replied, I KNOW I don’t … but I want to.

It is a concept that is not easy for non-runners – they ask ‘why?’ … is it fitness? Weight loss? Endurance? Training? Sanity? or WHAT?!? And of course the answer is ‘yes’ – sometimes to all of those questions and other times to one in specific.

2. Racing Isn’t About Running, But It Is

When I sign up for a race, I am committing myself to do my best. I am not a ‘casual racer’, I sign up for very few, so I want to make the most of them, properly assess my fitness and training, and put forth my best run.

Again, this makes sense to an extent – but what can I possibly get from a 10K that I couldn’t get on my 6.25 mile loop?

Unlike running the normal routes, a race makes you start at a specific time, run with others, consider fueling differently, and realize that everything you do is measured and you get an overall assessment at the end – and learn about how you handled that run compared to a bunch of others.

3. Racing Is About Social Aspects, But Also Solo Time

Aside from my brother and the Wineglass Marathon, I have never specifically run with someone else at a race. Sure I see people I know and say hi, but basically I am there for ME. It is about how I go through this challenge, how I handle everything, and what my body delivers.

Yet I also am social and have no problem having a few chats along the way. The biggest one was during my last half-marathon last year, where I was trying to work and even pace, and ended up chatting with a woman for several miles. She had recently lost her daughter and was stuff suffering after-effects of divorce, and running was an escape.

So being at a race allows me to share the experience with others … but the experience is uniquely my own. That strange dichotomy is something non-runners don’t really understand.

4. Racing, Like Running, Is Never ‘Done’.

It seemed to make sense – once I ‘conquered’ running a 5K I would move on, and by the time I did a half- and full-marathon there was no need to ever go back, right?

Um, no.

Each 5K I ran I have improved my time, same for every half- and full-marathon. It is about working hard, improving myself, and doing better all the time.

This is a tough one – the media makes it seem like 5Ks are fun little things and Marathons are ‘serious’. But guess what? They are all races – and we can always learn more about ourselves and our running by challenging ourselves in new races. Which leads me to …

5. I Will Never Stop Wanting to Improve

While I do mostly the same sorts of runs during the week, I am constantly trying new things – new route, new distance, new mini-challenge, and so on. I always want to be better. I mentioned in my weekend post how hills are an evolving challenge for me, and that I have a blast pushing myself more and more with them.

Same for races – I want to keep hitting better and better times, trying new things, and find different ways to push my comfort zone.

6. I am Acutely Aware of the Chance of Injury

Many non-running people only hear about running in a bad way – injuries, attacks, and so on. And since they worry about us, they worry that we might end up hurt.

And there are many ways to get injured – under-fueling, large routine change-ups, too much too fast, and so on. When our families and friends question of we are going to get hurt, they are expressing concern – and that is a good thing. Answer honestly – tell them what you are doing to ensure you are not headed towards injury, then follow through.

Bonus. I Just Really, Really Love to Run

There is a practice in ‘Lean Six Sigma’ called ‘The 5 Whys’ … which is ultimately about getting to the root cause – asking Why once gets you surface info, again gets you deeper and so on until you get to the core.

I feel like there are the ‘5 Whys of Running’ – and I hear them particularly during the winter. Because it is -20F and I could be on a treadmill … or in bed. But I am not.


Because I am a runner, I love running outside, I just completely love running, and there is no sport or activity that can replace it for me. So unless there is active lightning or dangerous ice … you know where you’ll find me. By choice. Every day.

Because I love running … because I am a runner.

So What Words of Wisdom Would YOU Give to the Non-Running Family?

32 thoughts on “Take Care Tuesday – Helping Your Non-Running Family Understand

    • Haha – so with you on the ‘not a sprinter’ thing. I mean, I totally punished myself this weekend with ~30 miles plus loads of yardwork including heavy lifting and so on … and yet I fear a sprint-like 5K. Yep, guilty as charged 🙂

  1. My family doesn’t have a choice but to understand and try to support me because I’m me and I DOWUDDAWANT. But they also probably are like, whewf, running is a lot less expensive than riding. I rode horses before this, so it was a pretty harmless transition. Alex lifts, so we understand that we don’t necessarily understand each other’s “thing” but that it is important to us, so we will support it (if that makes sense). My brother plays (and now designs and programs) video games, and for the longest time I didn’t understand how he could spend hours at a time doing something like that (never mind that I used to as well), or that my dad could spend hours playing and working on golf (as he rarely competed) or studying Spanish. I think people need to understand that it is not about being the best of the field, but getting the best out of yourself. And that applies to any and all passions/pursuits. And, if nothing else, it is a healthy habit that brings me happiness. As long as I take care of myself, what is it to them? It’s a lot better than their drinking/bad food choices! I may be an independent athlete, but I am never alone–you always feel that connection.

  2. This post makes me glad I never have to explain! My husband runs (though he won’t do a full, he’s done halves and runs several days a week, and goes to boot camp with me a few days per week). All my brothers run (2 have done marathons with me). My mom runs (she tried one full and it was a mess, but she does occasional halves and mostly just runs 6-8 miles solo since they don’t live near a city, plus boot camp and yoga). My dad bikes (loves 50-100 milers, goes to spin classes constantly in the winter and takes yoga classes with my mom). Even all of my sisters-in-law run — I’ve marathoned with one, halved with one, and 10ked with another. A total running family! So they definitely all get it, and usually expect to do a race, run or boot camp when they visit us, understand if I’m also racing when I visit them, and plan runs together when it’s not a race-based trip.

  3. I love this post because I see it from both sides. As a runner myself I understand the love of running. I am like you I always want to improve and since I only race on the occasion each one there is a goal. However, as the wife of someone who is at an entire different level than me it is sometimes hard to understand. I KNOW that running to Wes is an addiction, I KNOW how badly he wants to qualify for the Olympic Trials – but SOMETIMES when I have done my shorter run and I just want to relax with him and he wants to still get in another run it is hard. I just don’t understand why he can’t rest for one day. That’s him though, there are worse things he could be into and to some extent I do understand it, it’s just hard sometimes because everyone is different. I can see how it is harder for other members of our family to understand the passion and drive – I at least do understand that!

    • Great point, Sara – you two are a great example. And as a side-note to that I think that has been an added challenge, as youwanted to be together so you pushed yourself more and harder, instead of just doing what was right for you.

  4. This is a great post. I just love running. Fortunately I sucked my husband into this sick world so at least he understands and our families now just think we are BOth nuts!

  5. On any normal day, my family understands my desire or need to run. During the awful winter days this year I also had a very tangible goal – to run a marathon – that they could cling to if there was any doubt of my sanity. As long as family generally accepts the sanity of the goal, they also can easily accept the work required to achieve that goal. Now that the marathon is done, I’m running with less tangible goal and more for the joy of just running, and the health benefits too. I do try to be careful to minimize the impact running has on my family, impact is not zero, but they understand balance and don’t feel threatened, so they have little reason to question the motives.

    • That is a really good balance – I was personally struck that after so many years there were things that they didn’t ‘get’. Things like ‘support’ and ‘accept’ are critically important, understanding comes with time … or not. They might always think I’m crazy! 🙂

      • Ah, I was more looking at the “accept” side rather than the “get” side. For the “get it” side of things, how about have them meet you along the course of a marathon and at the finish line. If any of my fan club was merely accepting at that point, after seeing unbelievable joy and excitement in the runners, I think they get it at a deeper level. Even my 9 year old seems to get it better now than she did during the training.

      • Indeed, you’re totally correct – it is like they can see the life-changing moment wash across your face … my wife was five days after shredding her three outside ankle ligaments and in a boot … but she made sure she was at the finish line of my marathon last fall!

  6. As soon as I saw the title of this post, I knew I was going to love it. I am the only runner in a non-running family. They are supportive, but most of the time I feel extremely misunderstood for every reason that you mentioned here. My mother especially is very doom and gloom about injury/other things that could happen to me and I get called obsessed a lot when really I don’t see how I’m obsessed at all. And even if I was obsessed, I can think of about a hundred things off the top of my head that it would be worse to be obsessed with.

    • haha – totally get it. Someone told my wife I had a ‘dangerous obsession’. She noted I was running before we were even dating … now I run more, and more seriously. As for obsessed … that is a bit of a heavy word, but if that is the best one, then yeah I’ll take it I guess 🙂

  7. I totally get that non-runners, and even very casual runners don’t get why people like us would get up super early to run long distances nearly every day. Even my husband who has run marathons in the past says he never approached running like I do and can’t really understand it.

    My family thinks of it as if I have some sort of bizarre self discipline and will power and I don’t see it that way at all! It’s a lifestyle choice and something that is a part of me and not just something I do.

    • Thanks Nicole – glad you enjoyed it. I am not surprised it is true for many of us … we are a misunderstood bunch! haha

      One thing I always say on the blog is that Lisa’s days off are a boundary for me – if she is off then I don’t run. Other than that I do.

      • Very true – I DO have an iron will when I commit, to which I attribute my ability to run in -20F weather. Some of those days, especially with wind are not ones when you can ‘run for 10 minutes and get into it’ – they are 100% suck! 😀 But I would gain strength and motivation from the fact that I DID IT.

        And funny with your husband … I think if my 1994 self met me now he would be like ‘wtf dude, you don’t HAVE to run, y’know’. (even though I never talked like that)

  8. I am lucky TheWife is a long-time runner and that is how we did some bonding when we first met. I would drive an hour to her house to meet her for a 3.0 mile run and then drive back home while she went to work. I guess at that point she figured out I was fairly serious.

    1. I Know I Don’t NEED to, But I DO!

    Yes, I need to and yes I want to and will whenever I can.

    2. Racing Isn’t About Running, But It Is

    Racing is running, but it is running for the challenge of allowing or pushing yourself to do more than you thought you could, either faster or farther, dependent upon your goals.

    3. Racing Is About Social Aspects, But Also Solo Time

    This is where I differ from many other runners, before a race due to my own issues, I am withdrawn. I am polite but not real good company and during a race I don’t think I have ever talked to another runner, except to ask if they are all right or apologize if I accidentally elbow someone when it is crowded (I run like an old track runner and basketball player — my elbows tend to go out without thinking about it when I am in “traffic” to maintain my space.

    After the race, now I push myself to socialize and have fun, and enjoy the comaradierie of being around the other runners and people that I know and meet new people with similar interests.

    4. Racing, Like Running, Is Never ‘Done’.

    There is always faster, further and more challenges to do when racing. As you get older, you have the age group to play in and then it is always fun to “surprise” the younger fellas and gals, as that old grayed haired guy, still has some competitiveness left.

    5. I Will Never Stop Wanting to Improve

    That is why I tend to get injured, I am running the edge of what I should be doing versus what I know I should be doing. Sometimes I go over that edge and it results in down-time. Frustrating, but the way it is.

    6. I am Acutely Aware of the Chance of Injury

    While I have gotten injured while running, most of my serious injuries have been non-running related, most of them are niggles, that are more inconvenient than anything. As long as we use common sense and not attempt to do more than the conditions actually allow us to do safely, for the most part we stay injury free.

    But when you push the boundaries of what you want to do, there is always the chance of pulling something or some sort of overuse injury.

    Bonus. I Just Really, Really Love to Run

    Yeah – there is that and after the first year or so, running just becomes a part of you and who you are.

    Because I love running … because I am a runner.

    So What Words of Wisdom Would YOU Give to the Non-Running Family?

    Don’t get too upset by your runner’s running shoe addiction,

    • Great perspective, and all so true. Look around at a race and you will see all different types of people, same afterwards.

      “Don’t get too upset by your runner’s running shoe addiction”

      Haha – my wife has noticed the building expense “really not a cheap hobby when you chew through shoes every few months”. But I had to laugh especially with your post today and leaving the credit card at home! 😀

  9. I really don’t think anyone I live with understand WHY I put myself through tough grueling and PAY for races. They’re like “so you have to pay almost $100, wake up at the crack of dawn to train, then race at the crack of dawn with 1000s of other people? why not just run and not pay to race?”

  10. Great post Michael. I relate to all these points. I am the only one in my family who runs and EVERYONE thinks I am crazy. They don’t understand running or what I put myself through (PT, pain of foam rolling, time, etc) in order to run, but for the most part, they are all supportive. It’s really hard at times to explain it to others because its something that is hard to understand if you haven’t ever felt the high of getting in the zone in a run, crossing a finish line, getting a PR, etc. I do my best to explain it to them and just simply say that running, for me, makes me feel alive, it makes me a better daughter, wife, mother, friend, boss and employee. In the end, you can convince someone of something they don’t really WANT to understand, you know?

    • Thanks Sara – definitely see what you are saying, and agree, but at the same time it is hard for them to get past the worry and concern and stress of being a supporter, know what I mean?

  11. I haven’t run since April 23rd and absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder. I miss running so much and that baffles the minds of many. Feeling a sense of sadness and even a bit of jealousy as I spectated the Vermont City Marathon on Sunday is bizarre to so many who can’t fathom the idea of running even 1 mile let alone 26 and paying to do so.

    My family is supportive, but they definitely don’t understand “this running thing!” I try to work it around my husband’s and son’s schedule so no one is affected by my training, but when I can’t they have to compromise because getting a run or cross training workout in is non-negotiable most of the time. I spent far too many years overweight and inactive. I will never go back to being that again.

    To my non-running friends I say go find your “thing.” Do what makes you feel amazing inside and out. That’s what running and racing does for me.

    Great post and comments.

    • Thanks Aimee – and I definitely think about the weight and fitness elements all the time as well. And I think that no matter what happens, running is something that is at once solo and yet involves our whole family in many ways. And I definitely encourage everyone to find their passion and everyone else to support it as best they can.

    • Thanks Megan – I think sometimes it can also feel isolating, and really after seeing what my brother looked like after his first marathon, I understand why our supporters spend so much time worrying and convinced we’re insane.

  12. Pingback: Take Care Tuesday – The Other Side of the Finish Line, My ’9 Loves’ | Running Around the Bend

  13. Pingback: Why Not Everyone Should Run a Marathon | Running Around the Bend

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