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Self Care for Runners

I recently shared a post on Twitter and Instagram about different ways that runners can practice self-care when it comes to the sport of running. When we hear “self-care,” we often think of massages and bubble baths, but it doesn’t have to look like that. Of course, if it does look like that, that’s perfectly fine too. 

In terms of the sport of running, though, here’s what I came up with for specific ways to practice self-care towards your body. 

instagram post about self care reminders for runners

1. Take Rest Days

Rest days are very important for our overall health and performance in the sport. Rest days give our muscles a chance to recuperate and replenish. You’ve probably heard that when lifting weights, you generally give each muscle group a few days off before working them again.

That’s because they need “rest” time to facilitate repair and strengthening. The same goes with running and performance.

Here’s a great article from Runner’s World on rest days

Going too long without a rest day also affects sleep and mental health. I’ve written more on overtraining and compulsive exercise here. 

2. Don’t Run More To Compensate For Food, or Lack of Movement

Running more miles or more time to compensate for the food you’ve eaten is an eating disorder behavior. When you link your exercise to your eating, and one depends on the other, it’s denoting an unhealthy relationship to food and exercise. 

In my experience with clients, running because they think to “have to” rather than because they “want to” also takes away the joy of the pure sport of running. 

Therefore, running because you actually enjoy running can be a form of self care. It can be an outlet for you, a way to relieve stress, get in nature, socialize with others, listen to a podcast or book, etc.

But, if you’re doing it to burn more calories or make up for what you ate, it’s not serving you in any form of self care. 

3. Remind Yourself You Don’t Have to Train for a Race To Enjoy Running

So often, we get too tied up in goals and training and I think that sometimes this can take us away from the intuitive nature of exercise and exercising just for the “fun” of it.

I truly think exercise can be fun and not be seen as a chore, if you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Running when you feel like it, for however long you feel like it, with or without music or podcasts, can be a huge form of freedom. Of letting your mind wander, but at the same time, connecting to your thoughts.

For some, having a purpose for running is more fulfilling and I get that. But I think there’s also an important balance that comes from enjoying the pure nature of the sport, whether you are or aren’t training for a race.

Here’s an old post I have about the enjoyment of running when you’re not training

4. Running Doesn’t Have To Be a Way to Change Your Body

Using running as a way to manipulate your weight is taking away so many of the pure benefits that running offers, in my opinion. First off, it’s okay if you don’t like running. We can replace it with any form of exercise you do enjoy.

dumbbell weights on wooden floor

There are many positive side effects from exercise independent of weight, like:

  • Mood-boosting
  • Endorphin release
  • Stress relief
  • Alone time (or social time) depending on how you enjoy exercise time
  • Prove to yourself you can reach a goal (time, distance, getting out there, etc)
  • A way to be active with your partner and/or kids
  • A way to explore new areas and destinations

As I’ve previously written about, I’ve found so much enjoyment and benefit from all different types of exercise during this pregnancy. 

mom running on gravel path with daughter

5. Your Worth is NOT Dependent on Your Running

Many runners bring a type A, all-or-nothing mentality to running. Remind yourself that you are a person outside of your identity as a “runner.”

Maybe you’re a mother, a friend, a husband or wife, a brother or sister, a daughter or son. Or, maybe you’re a dog or cat mom,  hard worker, etc.

When we place all of our worth on being a runner and ONLY being a runner, it’s easy to feel more guilt and shame when running doesn’t go the way we planned.

paved running and walking path in north carolina with grass on both sides

Sometimes, I have my clients take some purposeful time away from running. Whether it’s because they are experiencing over-exercise or exercise addiction, or because we need to disentangle exercise from food.

Either way, it’s usually a time that’s full of lessons and self-reflection, no matter how difficult and uncomfortable that time may be. 

I’m curious to hear from you!

What are your thoughts on self care as a runner? How do you practice it?

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  1. I think that last point is SO true! And too many runners just fall into that trap — when it’s taken away, for any reason, they go into a funk.

    You definitely can’t outrun a bad diet & I would actually argue that sometimes running can make it harder to maintain your weight — oddly enough!

    Which is why it’s also important to rest & to remember why you really want to run! Great post!

  2. These are all great.

    I do try to value my rest days, even though I hate taking them. And I do have to remember not to tie up my worth into my running.

  3. I totally agree that running is a form of self care, as are all forms of exercise. I cringe when I see people wanting to run a few extra miles because of all the food/drink the evening prior. It also makes me sad when people judge their worth based on their performance (running too slow, not far enough, lifting too “light” of weights, etc.). Fitness shouldn’t be an obligation or a punishment, but a way of life 😉

    1. I like to remind my clients that exercise can definitely be self care, but we want there to be other self-care options available too 🙂