Beware of the selfish runner’s syndrome.

While I holiday with Rottnest I have made an effort to read as much as possible, in-between running of course. One of my favourite books is the running bible by Tim Noakes , ‘The Lore of Running’. A 921 page book of biblical proportions containing just about everything you ever need to know about running and more. It must be noted though, as pointed out by my friend Mike, ‘how can anyone write so much about running, it ain’t that complicated’. 

There are hundreds of extracts I could post on the blog but this one section caught my eye this morning which I think is worth sharing. It describes the selfish runner syndrome and balancing running with life’s other commitments (There are other commitments ? ….) Noel Carroll, an Irish double Olympian, describes runners as an introvert lot. ‘They like keep their thoughts to themselves. Their behaviour is at best antisocial , at worst utterly selfish…

What amused me in the book by Noakes was a section where he offered pointers to avoid the selfish runner syndrome, or at least mask it. One of his offerings was :-

Don’t allow running to affect the way you carry out your household responsibilities. Doing so provides your family with a tangible reminder that they come second.

What a classic quote from a by-gone age (I think?). So runners if you load the dishwasher once in  while and maybe even mow the lawn intermittently you may disguise the fact that running is far more important than your family.

It gets better,

Be aware of “danger times” – you will know what these are in your household. At these times, be at your most attentive and, at all costs, do not open your mail to see if your running magazines have arrived, discuss running, or, worst of all, go for a run. Weekends too must be handled carefully to ensure that running conflicts as little as possible with the family’s weekend recreation.

Not sure what to do when I live in ‘danger times’ constantly. ? Luckily we now have the internet so I can pretend to answer emails while secretly reading my online running magazines.

One last gold nugget from Noakes.

Don’t get overtired. As a runner with a family you just have to accept that, for the sake of your family, you simply can’t train hard enough to run your best. That is the price that must, realistically, be paid.

He is a wise man Noakes, I just hope my Wife never meets him or reads this.

All joking aside, which I assume Noakes was doing when he wrote these little gems, family life and running are not ideal bed partners. I often say to my non-running colleagues that I run early morning before the family awakes and lunchtime , when the family are miles away.  Truth be told this has the knock on affect of course that after I read my youngest her bed time story I sneak off to bed myself,  leaving my Wife to do whatever she does for a few hours. (‘Karen time’ I think she calls it )

When I was training for Comrades in 2008/2009 and 2010 I have three young Daughters. After my long runs, which would sometimes be up to 50k, I would return home and like limpets the girls were on me, excited to see their Dad return. Karen, my Wife, would of course then hand then over as she had looked after the girls till then. It made the afternoons as challenging as the previous 50k of running. Many times I would bundle the girls in to the car and find a park where I would position myself to watch over them from beneath the shade of a tree but that would be my contribution. The legs would be stiff and tired from the mornings exercise where as the girls were full of life. Sacrifices had to be make. Looking back I can see why most ultra-runners are older as after the mornings training nothing would have beaten a nap, after a good sized lunch of course.

Funnily enough I only started to run marathons ,and then ultra-marathons,  when I had my third daughter, I’m not sure if it was a conscience decision but running further, although harder, was still easier than looking after three young daughters, I’m sure Noakes would understand, not so sure about Karen.

As I get older I have managed to keep my love of running and even managed to up the training but this has the negative affect on any other sporting activity with my girls. Basketball, Tennis and Netball are all far too dangerous to an ageing runner who is one bad injury from retirement. As soon as any ball based game is offered I retort with how dangerous it would be for ‘my hammy’ and runners are ‘built to go in straight lines not move from side to side !’ The girls are less than impressed, another sacrifice us selfish runners make.

Truth be told my family does realise that running is important to me and they also realise it has stolen time that would have normally be assigned for them. Because of this they are flippant to the point of uninterested in any of my achievements which is a pity because it would be nice if they were to share in my successes (or failures)  but it seems I may have not followed Noakes successfully enough.

Running is a selfish sport and families do suffer because of it but I would hope my family realises that although I love my running nothing is more important to me than family. (Just don’t tell them I said that!)




  1. Jon | 27th Oct 16

    Brave to touch this topic ! I like to think it could be worse we could be training for an ironman, or a golf hack 😉 so yes marathon training can be done on “only” a 2hr long run each week, with a few shorter runs thrown in… no impact to family life ? (well positive impact anyway, surely better role model for kids to look up to someone with motivation)

  2. Jonathon | 28th Oct 16

    Brilliant post as usual. I’ve just joined runningDads on strava and facebook, to show my commitment to family life as a priority 😉 *LOL*. Seriously though I can relate to being very very tired after a big ultra and trying to stay awake while looking after kids after the race… I try to think of the enforced movement as good active recovery. As i type this my 1 year old is playing with my ear and trying to climb onto the couch, while trying to pull the cord out of the laptop (but its got battery power…HA!)… I did a hammy chasing my 6 year old once though, so I agree about being careful with basketball netball etc. Tennis should be good crosstraining/active recovery though especially if its doubles. I think that option of sneaking off to bed early is a good one, reckon I might try that one more… I manage to persuade my wife with great effort sometimes to come to the gym, to use her garmin, to upload to strava, to do a pram run, and she has even done a few races, but its been an uphill battle. The phrase “daddys going running again” has been uttered a few times by my 9 year old. The WAMC kids marathon the kids race at Ultra Trail Australia and the 3-5km at Melbourne Marathon, have allowed us to make some of my biggest races a bit of a family event, and we even high fived the Perth Marathoners as a family one time. The family holiday to my race has been achieved 4 times since 2008, but thats a strike rate of about 15% partly due to cost but probably also due to disinterest. The whole lets go to Rottnest, Sydney, Gold Coast, Melbourne,or Berlin, or Boston,or Durban/Pitermaritzburg on a fantastic holiday (and there just happens to be a race there too) …can work sometimes but its expensive a logistical nightmare and they get sick of it sometimes. OverallI think these experiences can be character building adventures. Good to just do your own thing sometimes though…and easier to focus on race. Its better if the wife and kids race sometimes although I have accepted that there is likely to be continued long periods of time where the interest level and understanding is low by others. Relatives are even worse,they just don’t get it. I still havent read lore of running even though its been recommended to me since about 1996,must do that some day soon. Saw a picture and good little write up in the Sunday Times about “big Kevs home run” from the other weekend…

  3. Maddi | 29th Oct 16

    My husband could have written that chapter… I go out as early as possible so that nobody misses mum too much (the drama that unfolds when I’m not there to get the kids ready for school is not pretty…). Although I get some credit if I come home with some bling after a race, the early nights, no alcohol and extended runs on the weekends are not appreciated by the tribe. Too bad… I WILL drag everyone along to watch the Masters Marathon. Go Kev!

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