Running Addicts



As a guy who’s been injured for most of the past two years, I’ve dealt (and continue to deal) with the frustrations of missed workouts, unwanted down time, and the empty feeling when you just know  you should be on the road logging miles.  A day doesn’t pass without me thinking about what it would take to get ready for race x or race y, even though I know I’m not going to be able to start a serious training program for at least another couple of months.

This led me to ask the question:  Is there such thing as a running addiction?

If you were to put 100 runners in a room and ask them, the overwhelming majority would say there is, and proudly proclaim that the term applies to them.  Of course, they’re talking more about their dedication and enthusiasm about running, rather than actual physical or mental addiction.  But can you really be addicted to it?

Studies suggest you can.  A recent report stated that while only about 3 percent of the general public is addicted to exercise, a quarter of runners qualify as addicted to the sport.  That number more than doubles (52 percent) among triathletes.

Of course, it should be no surprise that those numbers are high among endurance athletes.  After all, we’re talking about type A personalities taking on a sport that requires a high level of fitness.  If you slack, it’ll show, and type As generally don’t like to be known as slackers.

But when does dedication become addiction?  The answer is surprisingly simple.  When it starts to take away from other important aspects of your life.  Ask yourself this list of questions compiled by the American Running Association, published in  If you answer “yes” to three or more times, you might potentially be addicted.

  • Have I missed important social obligations and family events in order to exercise?
  • Have I given up other interests, including time with friends, in order to make more time to work out?
  • Does missing a workout makes me irritable and depressed?
  • Do only feel content when I am exercising or within the hour after exercising?
  • Do I like exercise better than sex, good food, or a movie?  Is there almost nothing I’d rather do?
  • Do I work out even if I’m sick, injured, or exhausted?
  • In addition to my regular schedule, do I exercise more if I find extra time?
  • Have family and friends told me I’m too involved in exercise?
  • Do I have a history (or a family history) of anxiety or depression?

One other indicator is whether you consistently run through injury.  Obviously, every runner knows that random aches and pains are part of the job description, but how you handle more major injuries could be in indicator.  If after downtime and rehab after an injury, you consistently try to resume training earlier than your doctor recommends, that could be an indication of addiction.  Pain at every stride shouldn’t be part of the equation.

Now, I don’t want to make more of this than what it is.  There are many runners, like me, that are intense about what they do.  And most of them have a good life balance, and addiction really isn’t an issue for them.  But there are people out there for whom this isn’t a joke. Their families suffer, and by extension they suffer, whether they realize it or not.  Fitness should complement and enhance our lives, not take them over.  

Addiction of any kind is no joke.  If running is taking away from other important parts of your life, it might be time to ask for help.

For the record, I answered “yes” to three of the questions, plus the “come back too fast from injury” extra question.  I’ll have to keep an eye on myself….

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