For those who have never tried running before, a common fear is, "I won't be able to run."|
Then, as they conquer that first mile, then the second, then the 10th, the fear is the same, yet very different: "I won't be able to run."
If you've been bit by the running bug, you know how addictive the sport can become. For many runners, it's much more than just a means of burning fat and calories—it's an opportunity to relieve stress, boost energy and get the endorphins flowing. More a way of life than a workout, running can involve competing in local races, exploring park trails and connecting with like-minded friends. And then there's the feel-good factor that comes with knowing you're doing something to benefit your health and longevity.
Many runners report a feeling of euphoria and mental clarity as the miles peel away, but is the "runner's high" a real thing? Running coach Kyle Kranz believes it is. "Once you get into a run, your body starts to release natural opioid-type chemicals that make you feel good," he says. "Running may sometimes be physically hard, but it's often quite mentally stimulating. Scientists have even discovered that running and other aerobic exercise may trigger the growth and regeneration of brain neurons."
Why Do Runners Stop Running?
Like any sport, running doesn't come without its risks. As running coach Matt Fitzgerald points out, it's a high-impact activity that puts stress on the joints and bones, which increases the odds of injury. "Some runners develop overuse injuries, such as bone spurs, which are difficult to recover from," he says. "Others just sort of age out of the sport, reaching a point where the activity is too painful to continue." Some give up running due to burnout—after excessive amounts of training and racing, they simply get sick of the sport.
Beth Weinstein, ultramarathoner and owner of clothing brand OnlyAtoms, says balance is key in prolonging your participation in the sport. She recommends alternating running with other forms of exercise. "Cross training not only helps to prevent overuse injuries, but also tones the body, stretches your 'running muscles' and helps to avoid burnout," she says. "I personally only run around three times a week, and I enjoy it each time I run."
If pain becomes an unwelcome running companion, don't try to run through it. "Runners are often too afraid to skip a run when they feel a little twinge, and then they end up being forced to rest due to injury," says Kranz. "Skipping a single run or doing shorter, easier runs for a period of time is always preferable to running through an ache and then developing a full-blown injury."
How to Fill the Running Void
When your daily runs have become integral to your physical, mental and emotional health, losing them to pain or injury can seem devastating. A longtime runner who can no longer run is likely to be frustrated, grumpy and maybe even depressed.
"Part of what makes runners psychologically dependent on running is that it makes them feel good both while they are doing it and afterward," Fitzgerald says. "When they're forced to stop, they can go through a kind of withdrawal." In one study, runners who voluntarily stopped running for two weeks reported symptoms of depression, including anxiety, insomnia and feelings of being under strain. The symptoms stopped when running was resumed.
That doesn't mean you have to sack out on the couch and snarl at your family if you’re physically unable to run anymore, though. If you've suffered an injury, had a recent surgery or just aren’t sure if you should run or not, you don't have to give up exercising altogether. In fact, even in the absence of injury, some degree of cross-training is important for all athletes. There are plenty of low-impact ways to stay in shape during the hiatus or to pick up as a long-term substitute.