Sunday, February 19, 2012

I'm addicted to you babe... you're a hard habit to break

Now being without you
Takes a lot of getting used to
Should learn to live with it
But I don't want to
Being without you
It's all a big mistake
Instead of getting easier
It's the hardest thing to take
I'm addicted to you babe
You're a hard habit to break

Yes, it's Hard Habit to Break by Chicago but you already knew that—don't pretend you didn't. It's nothing to be ashamed of.

I'm not going to lie, spending time away from running has made me very unhappy. I'm sure you are sick of hearing it from me. Ironically, it's not this feeling that has me thinking more about running addiction. It's a few comments made by doctors that tuned me in.

World's oldest marathon runner
I once heard that medical practitioners have to ask the average abused women about possible abuse three times before they finally open-up and talk about it. Is there a similar protocol for running addiction? I have encountered references to it at nearly every running related medical visit so far. I couldn't tell if these two doctors were testing me to find out if I had addict qualities or if they were just thoroughly annoyed by running addicts. Maybe it was a bit of both.

Addiction Reference #1
At the end of last summer, I was having some pain in my left foot between the 2nd and 3rd metatarsals. The Orthopedic specialist told me that the X-ray looked OK but that I should rest it for a short time. He said "Maybe you aren't addicted to running because you listened to your body and stopped running."

Addiction Reference #2
At the beginning of last Fall/Autumn, the pain in my foot was worse. It turns out I was right about there being a problem. I had developed two stress fractures in my 2nd and 3rd metatarsals. When the doc called with the MRI results, he said "This is going to go one of two ways. You are either going to cancel you Half Marathon and wear a soft cast for 6 weeks or you will do what the running addicts do and run the Half and get a full fracture which will put you out for a long time. I'm working the medical tent, so I will be there when you get the fractures." I felt that taking the soft cast was the prudent thing to do.

Addiction Reference #3
I had a damaged toenail (nothing to do with running) and had to have it surgically removed. If you have a strong stomach, you can read about it here. The Podiatrist (that's a Chiropodist in other parts of the World) told me to come back in two weeks to see how I was doing. Last week, he told me the wound was looking great. I asked him how soon I could run. He said "If you are addicted a week. If you are not, two." I asked him if it shouldn't have been two weeks for everyone. He said "Addicts don't listen. They won't even wait the week."

I feel like I past these three challenges. I am pretty confident that I am not addicted to running but I was curious enough to look into it a little more. I thought that I could score some pointers to avoid getting addicted in future. From the attitude of the Docs, addicted runners sound like selfish d-bags.

Who would capitalize on addiction but marketers? As insightful as this Nike TV spot is about running, true addiction is something to take seriously. I remember the horrible lack of control when I was addicted to Marlboro cigarettes back in the day. I am told that there are people out there that are truly addicted to running. These are not people who love to run and can't get enough of it. They are people who have no choice. suggests that an addiction like this has a "negative effect on your spirit or your body." That's right folks, these people stop enjoying running because they have lost control. Worse than that, their bodies are breaking down under the strain of doing more than they can physically handle. That's a terrible shame. Like any addiction, exercise addiction has celebs who have "come out" about it [he rolls his eyes]. Renée Zellweger has an addiction of running 7 miles a day on a treadmill. I'm no expert on her but she seems like she is someone who may have had her share of body image issues and eating disorders. Running is a great excuse to inappropriately burn calories. Eminem claims he was running 17 miles a day. He is known to be a recovering addict. Apparently endorphins have a property similar to morphine, so it would make sense. It's a pretty healthy addiction to substitute for a more life threatening one although it sounds like he is suffering from the pain of too many miles.
The tricky part with running addiction is that you can still look good. Renée looks great these days and Eminem has been looking good too. Running is great for you. It's just a shame that for some, they turn the corner, lose the love and hurt their bodies in the process.

So, how do people stop themselves from turning that corner? What are the signs? Well, here are some but as you can see, they can be vague.

You suffer from symptoms of overtraining syndrome
It's a complicated thing to diagnose but it boils down to the body being exhausted and needing rest. Your performance may not be dropping but it may have plateaued. You have an on-going feeling of jet-lag-like fatigue. I don't think I have personally experienced this with running. I like to think I would listen to my body if I did.

You force yourself to exercise even if you don't feel well
What does "don't feel well" really mean? I find that if I go for a sensible run when I have a cold, it really helps me get over it much quicker. If I have full-blown flu on the other hand, I doubt that I would be out pounding the streets.

You almost never exercise for fun
I can't imagine running and not enjoying it. I do it for the love—nothing more. If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't be doing it.

Every time you exercise, you go as fast or as hard as you can
This was me when I didn't know any better. I was using the "no pain no gain" rule. It wasn't until I read Jack Daniels' book that I realized that different types of runs at different types of paces work different systems of the body and make you a stronger runner. Since then, I have done more fun runs without worrying about pace, etc. I do tend to push myself too hard. That is something I have to watch out for. It never used to be a problem but I'm not getting any younger.

You experience sever stress and anxiety if you miss a workout
I am OK missing a workout or two. I only feel more stress and anxiety if I haven't been running for many days and part of that anxiety is the frustration of not knowing when I will be back on track. I don't think it's strange to feel bad about missing something you love, especially when it pumps endorphins into your system. 

You miss family obligations because you have to exercise
Um. No. My running happens around my family. My wife would put me in my place if I was selfish enough to not value that. I do think it becomes important in relation to the family. If running makes me a better me, it should help me to be a better husband and father.

You calculate how much to exercise based on how much you eat
Even when I lost 45lbs, I didn't try to drop the weight by lowering calories. I counted calories in the beginning just to see what my portions were like. In the end, I ate healthier, ate sensible portions and ran—simple as that.

You would rather exercise than get together with friends
I'm a bit of an introvert. I think many runners are. If I wasn't married, I would be living in a cave. I'm social at work but I like time alone. With a wife and three kids, the only times I have alone is when I run or workout. I may be a little guilty of this but my wife helps to keep me balanced. It's one of the reasons I love her.

You can't relax because you think you're not burning calories
That's just loco Neo.

You worry that you'll gain weight if you skip exercising for one day
If I run regularly, I don't weigh myself if I have missed some time off. The one thing I am guilty of is not wanting to gain too much weight when I am injured. There is nothing worse than starting back running and carrying extra weight. I'm just being honest.

How did you do as you read these? I think I OK. If you want to try some other questions to make sure you are not an addict, I found a survey online that I put in a Microsoft Excel document to automate the score. Go to this link on my Google Docs and download it (top right).

All of these points are helpful to keep a temperature check on the situation but for me, the real measure of addiction still comes down to a compulsion to run that is accompanied by a lack of enjoyment and/or a punishing regime that is having a devastating impact on your body. I'm not there. For now, I'm happy being a little obsessed with running and keeping the scale tilted in the right direction:

Healthy Habit / Unhealthy Addiction


  1. Hmm interesting. I kind of agree with most of the symptoms but I'm not sure about the one about not enjoying running. If I enjoy running does that still make me addicted?!!!

    Anyway I've done the test - what a surprise - i'm an average (neutral!!)

  2. Milo. I tested neutral too. It's a funny test. The point about enjoyment is that some addicts don't like running or at least don't like the way or they are running through their addiction but can't stop doing it. All non-addics should enjoy running. If they don't, they probably shouldn't be doing it.

  3. Nice post.thanks a lot for this knowledgefull post. Carryon boss. Thanks to all. Warning! You May Be Addicted to Stress!


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