In the last three weeks I have had three separate conversations, with three different women about the same thing.

Runners guilt.

All three conversations started with the same question.

“Why do I feel so guilty for going running?”

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It seems ridiculous, but this is definitely something that I can relate to.  I recently noticed myself regularly feeling guilty just before a run.  I kept delaying, telling myself that I didn’t have time and that I should be working instead.  It became a pattern.

I had to remind myself, I’m a running coach so it is my job to run!  If I feel guilty, how does the working mother – with two children – who is just beginning, feel during the school holidays?  Guilty, as it turns out.

Gen is a former colleague of mine and when we met for coffee, we chatted about her running.  She explained how she struggles to find time to run but also, that when she does have the time, she feels horrendously guilty.  She is a mum of two young boys and works part time for a health charity.  She doesn’t want to leave the kids and feels that she should be taking care of them, entertaining them, doing some work or one of a million other things that are on her mind.  The end result? She bought a treadmill for the house, so she didn’t have to leave!

This story of mothers guilt over exercise is certainly not unusual.  A few days later I had a second conversation over email. This woman described herself as “a mum of a 2 year old, working full time who’s trying to find time to run.”  She described her guilt over working full time and feeling as though she should spend that spare time with her daughter.  She described it as “a challenge to say the least!”

Finally, the third and final straw that made me determined to write about this, was two weeks ago on a personal coaching session with a client.  Her job is full on, with late nights, early mornings and being ‘on-call’ over weekends.  She was feeling guilty for taking one hour to get a massage on her weary running legs and unwinding away from her phone, emails and work pressures.

Between my own experience and talking to these women, we seem to have covered huge sections of society that are experiencing this awful guilt.  Sadly, it seems this is not unusual.

 From these conversations, one phrase stood out for me:

I should.

You can insert any number of activities into this quote:

…I should be working

…I should be playing with the kids

…I should be checking my emails

…I should be sorting out the house

The list goes on.

I don’t know about you, but I can always find something that I should be doing instead of exercising.  In reality however, it comes back to what I personally prioritise each day.  As a running coach, running is pretty high up on my list of priorities but it is certainly not always at the top.  Some days it slips, when I decide to prioritise working, cleaning the kitchen, watching House of Cards and dealing with the dog.  All the while I am thinking, “I should be running!” Oh the irony!

So how do I personally get over this?

For me, it is primarily about shifting my priorities slightly and making it feel ok to go for a run.  I find that the single biggest help in achieving those is to plan my exercise, in the same way that I might plan a shopping list for the week or a to-do list for work.  If you put it on the list, more often than not, it gets done with less guilt attached.

I have written previously about the value that I see in training plans that cater to your life and how they should work with your circumstances rather than against them.  A well thought out training plan can also address the biggest excuse that we all use, lack of time.

“I should eat a decent breakfast…but I don’t have time.”

“I should go for a run…..but I don’t have time.”

 Don’t let the “I should.” factor beat you!

Get planning your week to fit in a little guilt-free running time, even if it takes the help of a coach to plan your sessions.  I certainly feel better even if I do a 10 minute jog around the block with the dog.  As an added bonus, I find that I also get more done on my to-do list!

How does ‘I should.’ get in the way of taking care of yourself? Share with us below!

Image source Shutterstock.



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  • I think it is also other people’s opinions and priorities that can make you feel guilty; what THEY think you ‘should’ be doing. Even if time out is on the list if it isn’t in the form of ‘running’ or whatever they expect then you can feel guilty. I think they key is to having an independent mind (even if you are wrong). For example, I got my first offer of babysitting help about 5 months into life with bubs and the thing I wanted to do was ‘go for a run’. The suggestion was met with ‘no’ because the well-meaning person thought that I shouldn’t be running so soon, or at all (possible pelvic floor issues etc. I assume although they never actually said this). With hindsight I think they were right and I had lots of things to sort out before I did run, but it was nevertheless something I was made to feel guilty about because someone else wanted me to do something else. Perhaps when we feel guilty about running (or whatever) it is because of other people’s expectations, and if we rely upon them for anything then we don’t want to do what they might not think is right. I guess society itself (or our inner voice) can replace any particular person telling us not to run/or whatever. Good luck. be independent. think for yourself. Guilt is never healthy. And if running (or whatever) really isn’t what you need just now I think you’ll work it out.

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  • This article describes to a T. I am glad that I am not alone.

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  • Women just seem to feel guilty about many things – when we work, we are feel guilty leaving the kids, when we have to exercise to get over an illness or operation it’s OK but then it goes onto the backburner when it shouldn’t because we feel guilty again of not taking care of our parents, or our sick husband, or our grandchildren or being there to help out with our own children. Think we have to tell ourselves, we must do this or that and get on with it

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  • It’s taken me a long time to figure out that I’m important in my family too. In fact, possibly the most important. When I’m happy, it flows. And my family need to know that I’m important and worthy of the things that they are. So instead of “I should”, I say “I Am” going to yoga. “I Am” going to the movies on my own tomorrow. “I Am” walking in the morning before work. I’m finding a much happier me and my family see that my needs are as important as theirs. No Guilt Here!

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  • I think this sometimes too but it is important we look after ourselves too within reason so we can be a better carer for our loved ones.

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  • I can relate to this. My husband never seems to feel guilt for putting himself first and going running. I have a harder time trying to juggle things and feeling guilty for everything.

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  • Ditch the “I should” ! :)

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  • I feel guilty when I don’t run. I so lack motivation, I know I need to exercise, but it’s so hard to get going. So sometimes I just don’t, then I feel guilty. And fat. And lazy. And hopeless. It’s a snowball affect

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  • Think of it as your “me” time even if it is only an hour or so at a time.
    No guilt!! Problem solved!!

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  • Taking care of yourself is important and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it!

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  • I always there is a time for everything: a time to spend time with your kids, a time for yourself, a time for your spouse, a time for friends and extended family, a time to work/ study, etc.
    When you do spend proper care for yourself and take the time for that and take enjoyment in it, you’ll be able to pour more attention and love in your kids.

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  • Banish the guilts – it is the best way to live a fullfilling!


    • There should be a life at the end – it dropped off!



      • Doing things for ‘me’ is better for the family.

    Reply

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