BEWARE OF THE SELFISH RUNNER’S SYNDROME
Noel Carroll, the Irish double Olympian who began running at the age of 15 and has been running for more than 25 years, was the first runner to dare suggest that everything might not be absolutely rosy on the runner’s home front. He wrote, “Runners make better lovers but sometimes lousy spouses: that is the problem” (Carroll, 1981, p. 65).
But his message does not end at that. “Runners are an introverted lot. They like to keep their thoughts to themselves. Their behaviour is at best anti-social, at worst utterly selfish. It can create an atmosphere that does nobody any good and certainly not the runner” (p. 13).
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Running can indeed become an extremely selfish activity. I once asked one of the world’s most lauded ultradistance runners what running had taught him. His answer was that it had taught him how incredibly selfish he is. And to compete at his level, running must come first. But in his case, such selfishness can be justified by his lack of family commitments, by the level of excellence he has achieved, and by the fact that without such selfishness he would not have reached the same heights. He warns, however, that one must not be too antisocial: “So don’t run in a world of your own: it’s everybody else’s world as well. You must consider your family, friends and workmates. You must consider those who you expect to tolerate you. You must be prepared to compromise” (Carroll, 1981, p. 68).
The problem of the Selfish Runner’s Syndrome is most acute for those of us who Have family commitments and who lack the champion’s talent. I have found that to balance everything, paying appropriate attention to work and family, requires almost as much effort as does running. To put all our reason for living into racing is inappropriate and ultimately may be harmful. The joy of running should be that it adds to, rather than detracts from, our lives.