How Hustle Culture Wreaks Havoc In Running
The glorification of working harder, not smarter is a recipe for burnout.
You’re probably familiar with the idea of hustle culture: Millennials (hi, it’s me) were raised on the seemingly simple idea that hard work begets success. Over the past decade or so, that perspective has created this pervasive sense that we always have to be doing more, more, more—often, in a way that sacrifices self-care—in order to achieve our goals.
The hustle culture narrative has redefined how Americans think about work, but it’s also changed the way we approach leisure activities. Running slots neatly into the ethos of hustle culture: If you do X, then you should achieve Y. And if you don’t, well, work harder.
Hard work is necessary to achieve your goals. But what I see too often in running is people doing too much without questioning their motivation or looking at the bigger picture. I’ll use myself as an example: There was a time when I would run a race every month of the year, and that included multiple marathons; I thought that by doing race after race after race, I’d naturally get faster at each one. FYI: That’s not how it works. Racing a lot is fun—as long as you’re not all-out racing every single time. But that can be hard to understand and even harder to practice for newer runners or runners with less experience.
I’ve also seen a rush to check off certain running accomplishments, like the World Marathon Majors. Those races create that kind of environment with lottery entry systems; without guaranteed acceptance, runners would be smart to enter multiple lotteries each year. But problems arise when those runners get accepted to multiple races and feel pressured to say yes just because those spots are so coveted, regardless of their training history, current fitness level, or even their motivation to do multiple races.
Then there are runners whose races don’t go as planned, so they immediately sign up for another so they can get “redemption” or so they don’t “waste their fitness.” It’s one thing if you didn’t race at 100 percent due to circumstances outside of your control (i.e. bad weather), it’s another if you disregard an injury just to prove something to yourself or other runners.
All of this highlights a sense of FOMO—fear of missing out—that seems common in today’s running community. This term can be broken down into two aspects, according to a 2021 analysis in the World Journal of Clinical Cases: “firstly, perception of missing out, followed up with a compulsive behavior to maintain these social connections.”
The second part is more concerning. In running, there’s a sense of cachet that comes from participating in certain events, which creates this idea that those who don’t do those events aren’t “real” runners (see: the person who says they’re not a real runner because they’ve never qualified for the Boston Marathon). There’s nothing wrong with doing a race for the experience, but I think we lose something when we’re motivated more by participation than a real desire to perform (even if the performance goal is just to finish without feeling terrible).
Social media exacerbates that fear of missing out. It can feel hard to keep up when you’re scrolling through what’s essentially a highlight reel that glorifies the grind (case in point: we’re in peak #nodaysoff season) and other people’s achievements. Newer runners can be easily influenced by those doing what for the average person may be unrealistic (see: logging 100-mile weeks). And any runner is susceptible to a skewed perspective around what’s normal, especially with the proliferation of language that encourages unhealthy mentalities, like “I can’t take a day off because I need to run” or “I’m injured but I have to run.”
Of course there’s an inherent sense of comparison on social media as well. How can you not feel pressured to do more when you’re constantly exposed to other—potentially more experienced—runners doing the most? But you’re not getting the whole picture when you compare your stats to someone else’s; you’re missing context like training background, sleep, life stress, fueling, etc. Someone who’s been training for over a decade may be well-equipped to handle higher-mileage; a runner without that kind of base fitness would suffer doing the same.
And then there’s a level of addiction to the hustle—not just to the actual doing, but to the praise for being “disciplined” or “motivated” (even to your own detriment). That has a proven toll on your mental wellbeing: People who shared health-related data on Instagram felt pressure to perform, which led to compulsive tendencies, a 2021 study published in the journal Social Media & Society found; meanwhile, January 2020 research published in the journal Information Technology & People found that using these platforms for social recognition makes you more likely to develop an obsessive passion for exercise and suffer higher stress levels. Not ideal.
None of this is to say that runners should stop signing up for events, log off of social media, or avoid other runners. I love racing, I’m extremely online, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of the running community. But I do think it’s important to talk about these aspects of running, if only to encourage people to develop more self-awareness around their relationship with the sport.
Whenever I interview experts about mental health in relation to running, our conversations always come back to someone’s “why.” The reason you run—whether that’s for physical health, mental health, a sense of community, whatever—should always be your north star. And I think most of us are in this for the long run, which means it’s important to look at the big picture. So when you find yourself doing things like signing up for a specific race just because all of your friends did or changing your training to mimic what someone you follow online is doing, use that as an opportunity to re-check in with that “why” and see if it aligns with your real motivations. If it does, great! If not, it’s OK to opt out.
Hustle culture preaches relentless productivity, but that’s just a recipe for burnout—physically and mentally. Long-term growth and success requires periods of rest and reflection, just like a healthy relationship with running calls for time off and down weeks, setting boundaries and following your own path. There’s nothing wrong with a little hustle, but if you try to rush the journey, you’re going to suck the fun out of it.
Adidas Takumi Sen 10
I couldn’t tell you the last time I seriously raced a 5K or 10K, but I keep coming back to this shoe for faster workouts. The big changes in this iteration: the EnergyRods (which function like a plate) have switched from carbon-infused to partly recycled glass fiber and mimic the design you’d find in the Adios Pro 3, which supposedly makes the midsole—a double layer of slightly tweaked Lightstrike Pro—simultaneously more stable and more flexible. To me, that meant it felt a little stiffer; that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I felt like it lost a little bit of the pop. On the plus side, the upper has been reconstructed from 100% recycled polyester that’s so much easier to get on and feels way more comfortable than past iterations.
Master of Change, Brad Stulberg
Brad Stulberg’s latest book is all about how to cultivate rugged flexibility: a way of approaching change that marries the ability to be tough, determined, and durable with the willingness to adapt and bend easily without breaking. This isn’t a running-specific book, but because so many people use running as a coping mechanism for stress related to change, I found this to be really relevant on a macro level and in my own life. I think a lot of runners can benefit from his research on adopting a more fluid sense of self, where you aren’t always defined by one single pursuit (cuogh, running) and instead by the core values you act on. And I especially enjoyed the chapter on responding, not reacting. We live in a world designed to elicit reactions without thought, and I found his explanation as to why this isn’t helpful—as well as his actionable advice on how to train yourself to respond versus react—to really resonate.
Chris Chavez on Running: State of the Sport
Over the past few years, Citius Magazine has become one of the dominant voices in running journalism, and the first half of this podcast with founder Chris Chavez is a great deep dive into the brand’s rise and role within the space. Citius Mag’s 360-degree approach to content—via their podcasts, newsletters, website, and social media—goes so far beyond traditional media’s “digital first” approach, and does a really great job of bringing younger voices to the industry (check out their Magic Boost program). Chavez calls himself a hype man for the sport and talks about how he built the brand from scratch by amplifying stories beyond the bold names you’d see in Sports Illustrated and ESPN. For someone who started their journalism career with print media in its death throes, this is a really fun listen and makes me feel a little more hopeful about the industry as a whole.
“Man-Management Skills Are Being Lost In a Rush of Data,” The Guardian
An athlete’s mood (and humanity) play an immeasurable role in performance, a Guardian columnist argued in this recent article on English football team Manchester United’s relationship with data. “Data is providing fascinating insights into the game, allowing the honing of structures of pressing and increasing efficiencies all over the pitch, but there is a danger that the humanity of players is lost, the fact that they have emotions, ups and downs – and that, crucially, these are not inevitable,” Jonathan Wilson wrote. I think this is just as applicable to running: Sure, your smartwatch can suggest workouts and predict race paces, but it can’t track your emotional or mental state—and that can make all the difference. As much as I love having access to all the data, I think knowing when to listen to it and when to ignore it is even more important.
How to Maximize Protein Intake for Muscle Gains
It took me long enough, but I’m fully on the protein bandwagon (if you even run with me, I’ll start evangelizing the Core Power Fairlife Elite 42g High Protein Milk Shakes, which I have spent an alarming amount of money on over the past year). A December 2023 meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism on protein supplementation for resistance training—which I’ve finally started doing consistently—had three main takeaways if you’re looking to put on muscle or develop strength: Consume protein before and after exercise, eat protein before bed, and consume milk protein supplements to see the best adaptations. Noted!
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