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Updated 9.5.18

Got Guilt? or Guilt...It's What's For Dinner

Guilt is a highly misunderstood emotion that has had a bad rap in the past. We tend to associate guilt with things like feeling bad about the Salem witch hangings of the 1600's (collective guilt), or secretly wishing the Smithsonian would be closed during a visit toWashington so we could spend the day shopping instead (individual guilt).

But guilt has its place, and can actually be a runner's best friend. Let's say you are driving in your car at the end of the day, tired and hungry. You haven't run because you didn't have time and you see a person running in the street. Worse yet, suppose you see several people. Do you not experience that sharp pang of guilt that forces you out the door when you get home? Will you not run even if it is midnight, in January, and you live 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle? Of course you will. Because you have runner's guilt.

This phenomenon is particularly prevalent among training partners. Assume you have a training partner you run with on 
weekends. We'll call her Barb. Every single day during the week, Barb will call you to see whether you went for a run. If you say "yes," she will be plagued by guilt and will run that day even when bones are visibly protruding from her leg. The only way she can deal with the guilt of not running is if you take pity on her and lie.

Barb: So, did you run today?
You: No, not today.
Barb: I don't believe you. (Pause) If you had run, how far would you have gone?

She will torture herself on days when she is sick and cannot run by continuing to call you to find out how many miles you ran so she can run twice as many when she is well.

Guilt is also very closely tied into a runner's diet. There is a direct correlation between the caloric value of the food you eat and the number of miles you run, as follows:

Food + Guilt = Miles

If I were creating a marathon training plan, I would use this formula to create a plan that would look something like this:

Hamburger and Fries

chocolate crossant (a.m.)

Belgian waffles with syrup and whipped cream (a.m.)
Fifth of scotch (p.m.)

Weeks 1-4

Weeks 5-8

Weeks 9-12
Long Run

10 miles

15 miles

20 miles
I guarantee that any runner who follows this plan will never miss a single run, though he or she will likely resemble a water buffalo by the date of the marathon.

My personal relationship with guilt is not as clear. I do feel guilty when I don't run, just not guilty enough to actually do anything about it. My response is similar when I spend large amounts of money on myself. The guilt is there; just buried deep beneath the surface.

Strangely, the only time my guilt overcomes my deep-rooted tendency toward laziness is when, for some reason, I am prohibited from running. For example, this spring I began experiencing chronic heel pain. Like any good NERCER, I went to see our esteemed newsletter editor, Dr. Bob Barr. Bob explained that I have a condition called "plantar fasciitis." What is this horrible sounding thing? According to Bob, and this does get a bit technical here, it means you have pain in the heel.

So I said to Bob, "Bob," I said, "what should I do?" Bob's advice was to rest my foot as much as possible before my upcoming marathon. Of course, I should have been ecstatic. Here I had a bona fide excuse for not running; something to erase any potential guilt. Butguilt still got the better of me, and I became furious. How could this doctor forbid me from doing something I hate doing? Guilt, as you can see, is a powerful thing.

As a writer, I am also acutely aware of the way language can be used to inspire guilt in the running community. The very existence of this newsletter is guilt-producing. When it arrives in the mail, does it not remind you that you have yet to volunteer to help at a race this season? That you have yet to run in a Grand Prix race? Or that you have not commented, at all, on the high quality of the humor columns that appear regularly in it? That you have not indicated, in any way, your deep appreciation for the time and effort this humor person puts into writing incredibly funny running columns? Do you not know, that when this person is gone, you will be sorry that you failed utterly to tell this person that their charm and wit brightened your day? It's ok, don't worry about it, I'm sure this person will survive. Somehow.
A History of RunningAnatomy of a CrosstrainerBuckeye Trails 50KGot Guilt
Misery loves CompanyMy Dirty Little SecretNerc ComplaintRunning for Dummies
Size MattersThe 12 step runnerThe NERC HelplineThe Rules of the Road
UnmentionablesYiddish in the Running

This article was originally written By Aimee Gilman for the newsletter of the NERC, Northeast Running Club. It may not be reproduced without the express, written consent of Aimee Gilman.
Copyright 2010.

Please contact us for permission.