The Line Between Dedicated and Obsessed

I was pretty beat up after my fall marathon (hindsight: I am pretty darn happy with how I did – it was one of my fastest marathons I’ve ever run). As most people do after a missed goal, I tried to pinpoint some areas that needed improvement. But even more importantly was trying to figure out why I was so devastated – missing my goal felt like my world had just ended (not exaggerating here). I moped for several weeks, whined in this post and then after some feedback, told myself to buck up and move on.


Smiling for the camera post-Philly Marathon (2013)

Six months removed from the race and I can 100% say that I focused too much on that one race, that it meant too much to me. I had become obsessed with a single goal and it completely controlled my life.

I have a very “all or nothing”, somewhat OCD personality (I’m not diagnosed OCD – just have some OCD tendencies). I feel that if I can’t dedicate myself 100% to any goal I set – whether it’s running, cleaning the house or blogging –  then it’s not worth the time. I love setting goals, coming up with a plan and then doing x, y and z to accomplish them.

And so with some areas of my life, including running, I think I tend to hug the line of being dedicated and being obsessed. 

  • Obsession: the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.
  • Dedication: devotion wholly and earnestly, as to some person or purpose

Lately, this is something I have been struggling with. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am using a coach this training cycle. So I have a very specific training plan, core and strength workouts that I do on a daily basis to supplement the miles and right now, have seven days of running a week. My mornings revolve around running, I go to bed early so I can get up early to run and my meals have to provide the nourishment and energy I need for the next day’s run.

I want to do everything I can to work hard, get faster and have a successful marathon. But, from past experience, I know it’s a slippery slope for me – and so I’m focusing on not letting it control my whole life – where I can’t eat certain foods, have a glass of wine when I want or miss fun events because of a long run the next day. I had a tough time with it this past weekend. On one hand, my training plan called for 13-14 miles Saturday morning and I really wanted to get the run in. But, on the other hand, it was a weekend with some of my closest girlfriends – who I never get to see – and I didn’t want to be in bed at 9pm and miss a night of dancing, drinking and laughing just to get the run in. (Note: I know some runners who would have chosen the good night’s sleep and early morning run – and I don’t think they are obsessed – they are some of the most dedicated runners I know. So maybe it’s more a function of what you are willing to sacrifice…)


Beth and Liz – two of my lifelong friends

I think I’m on the “dedicated” side right now. But when does it go from being dedicated and doing x, y and z to chase down a goal to being obsessed (either with goal, mileage, etc)?  And does that change based on the person, your goals and your circumstances?  Here’s what I mean. I’ve done all of these in the last six months. Would you classify me as dedicated or obsessed?

  • Getting up at 5am so that I can run before my husband has to leave for work
  • Not missing a workout (for something other than sickness or injury) during a training cycle
  • Running 8.3 miles outside and then running .7 miles (to finish cooldown) on treadmill – husband had to leave for work and I couldn’t finish cooldown outside so I took the boys down the basement with me.
  • Following up a 10 mile “easy” run with a core workout
  • Doing a double 1-2x/week
  • Running 12 miles while away on a weekend getaway with my girlfriends

What if these questions were about a runner trying to break 4 hours. Or BQ. Or break 3 hours. What about a runner trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials?  Does your answer change?

I know this post is a bunch of random thoughts that probably don’t even make a whole lot of sense. And I don’t have a poetic way to end it. I just felt like I wanted to share some of my recent mental struggles and thoughts since beginning a new training cycle.

How do you keep yourself on the “dedicated” side?  

Have you been on the obsessed side? 


Who raced this weekend? Anyone run the Brooklyn Half? 

I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

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    30 thoughts on “The Line Between Dedicated and Obsessed

    1. Pingback: Lesson from the Gardens: Obsession | Rach Runs Her Mouth

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    3. I love your honesty Michelle! Really insightful and raw post. For me, balance is huge. I don’t want to miss out on my life because I’m so busy training. Sometimes I wonder if that means I’m not dedicated or disciplined enough, and I always admire other runners like you who have run 18 miles before I’ve even woken up on a weekday. I think balance is probably different for everyone. It takes time to figure out and even then we still won’t have all the answers. I think it is ok to miss a workout or cut workouts short for the right reasons. And I think everyone is different. So what works for you may not work for others and that is perfectly ok. I’m excited to hear more about your training with your coach and all you will accomplish this year.
      Jesica @rUnladylike recently posted..Weekly Training Recap: I’m Baaaacck!My Profile

    4. I love this post! It is EXACTLY what I have gone through the past couple months. I became totally obsessed with BQ’ing (which I did and am going in 2015), but it’s hard to sacrifice a fun night with friends and hubby sometimes as no one else understands except for your run buddies. What I decided to do was try a tri and have no expectations! I also have been running my last couple races garmin free so that I just go based on how I feel, it is SO LIBERATING! So, until I have to train for Beantown, I am going to keep trying to accomplish goals with no expectations and then I may just surprise myself in the end :) Cheers to being dedicated!

    5. This was a great, honest post. I could use some of your dedication! It’s a slippery slope and I think the fact that you are paying attention to it shows that it’s dedication more than obsession.
      Runner Girl Eats recently posted..Summer lovin’My Profile

    6. I read all your comments and thought just dedication, but I think many of us runners face that same slippery slope of bordering obsession. I would do all of those same things that you would do and call it “normal.” In one of Dean Karnazes’ books he discusses this issue w/ runners. He claims some runners can control this part of their life and others just become all consumed with it and it takes over who you are; and if this is sort of normal; is it so bad? Runners are committed to training but can also be very committed to relationships and can endure much more than others can. If you read Karno’s books it def. makes you feel like you are normal w/ running and not anywhere near obsession b/c this guy is just over the top!

    7. I’ve dealt with obsession in the form of an eating disorder…so it is very easy for me to go there with running. It’s not like those personality tendencies went away once I stopped displaying symptoms of an eating disorders. So I have to avoid extremes: extreme focus on one race, extremes in diet (eliminating foods etc). One of the things that keeps me dedicated is not being too rigid with my training plan. This last cycle I basically mapped out my long runs and weekly mileage for the cycle but planned the rest of my workouts the Sunday night for the coming week. That kept it fresh. I also make sure to have a glass of wine or two every Thursday night (date night). Originally I was planning to cut out alcohol the two weeks before the marathon. But I got to the Thursday before the race and realized that I was way to wound up about it and I needed to relax…even my massage therapist said to have a glass. And it helped me relax and reminded me to have fun and I also stopped obsessing about my foot and the sensation went away. It’s all about balance. Great post. Thanks for being so honest!
      Sarah @RunFarGirl recently posted..Training You Can Trust: How I ran a 23 minute PR in the MarathonMy Profile

    8. I don’t know, I don’t usually feel like it’s all that hard to “have it all,” and I don’t think that makes me obsessed. For example, I really can’t get up early for long runs. CAN’T. It’s just not happening. So if I want to go out with people on a Friday or Saturday night, I just sleep in & arrange things so that I can do my run later in the day. I do some form of double (running, cross training, or strength work) pretty much every week day & still have several hours in the evening to do other stuff, & it doesn’t really feel “hardcore” or anything. It’s just what I do. :)
      Angela recently posted..“That feels like bone. It’s not.”My Profile

    9. This is a great post about the daily struggles life balance and trying to stick to a training schedule with high goals. It’s a very hard balance for me to do everything, but I try and see friends and stay busy so I don’t isolate myself during training. You also run the risk of trying “to do too much” by seeing everyone and not giving yourself enough “me time” and “down time” to rest and recover. I learned the hard way by getting sick after running myself down. I’m a believer in balance. Your family, friends and life activities will make you happier and healthier which will benefit you as an athlete and person.

      Keep up the good work and balance!


    10. Don’t we all need a little obsession to keep us moving ahead with our training goals?! As long as it doesn’t completely take over your life and make you or your family miserable…embrace those goals!

    11. Wow this is so great. I too can become borderline obsessed and I see it manifested in secondary areas to running. So if I am training for a race and being dedicated in getting my runs in through whatever training plan I am following then I see the obsession with what I eat, how my body looks, comparison, etc. While the dedication is good, and ultimately helps me reach my goals, the obsession is crouching at the door ready to pounce. As in most things in life there is always bad with the good. Health and wellness are absolutely necessary but they can also become consuming. I worry about my return to fitness after this off season I am forced to be in. I don’t want to get injured by going back too quickly but I am anxious to get out there as well. When we love something (like running) whatever level we are competing at becomes a potential for obsession while we use dedication to make us better…
      Tracy Carson recently posted..Thursday ThoughtsMy Profile

    12. I don’t really have an opinion but the simple fact that you are aware and cognizant that sometimes life, family and fun are equally as important as training says it all. What’s the saying? Recognizing the problem is the first step….something like that. I think you good (not that an internet stranger gets a vote 😉 )

    13. I think most runners who are competitive and are trying to reach specific goals have obsessive tendencies :) I’m sure most also do isolated things that might sway towards obsessed. I also think dedicated runners can appear obsessed to non-runners. It is definitely a fine line, but things like going away for a weekend with your friends and staying out late to have fun demonstrate a healthy balance between your training and personal life!
      Beth @ RUNNING around my kitchen recently posted..Ragnar Cape Cod recapMy Profile

    14. i don’t think you are obsessed. I would say passionate and dedicated. I see WAY TOO many people who are obsessed, and you are not it. But i’d be the first to tell you if you were. And i hope you would do the same to me. Obsession is great if it brings good things, but not if it has a negative impact on life, ya know?
      lindsay recently posted..Feeding the Adrenals- Cherry Sleepytime Shake and Sea SaltMy Profile

    15. I think you cross the boundary from dedicated to obsessed when your relationships with those you care about suffer because of your level of commitment. That being said, you are absolutely dedicated. Running, like any sport, requires a lot of dedication. It requires a lot of tough workouts, sometimes at strange hours to balance better with your life. It also requires listening to your body, because pushing through an injury is different than pushing through a wall or discomfort. I completely understand the early morning workouts, and choose to do the same when I train because it means I can go home after work to cook dinner and spend time with my husband. Keep up the fire, you’re an inspiration :)

    16. I think the line between obsessed and dedicated comes with how tied to your identity the outcome is. I don’t think from what I’ve seen of your training that you overdo it. But if you let the results of one day, the race, negate all the fantastic things you accomplished while training, you might not have your head quite on the way you want it to be.

      I had a similar issues trying to BQ a few weeks ago, and I was (and still am to a degree) devastated. But I’m trying to remember that I built myself into a much stronger runner regardless of the fact that an icky stomach derailed my race.
      Judith recently posted..What’s My Problem?My Profile

    17. Your list seems mostly to fall in the “dedicated” column from my perspective but I can totally see how any one of those can be a fine line over to obsession… I recently had the most amazing run/PR at the NJ Marathon and was so happy mostly because I was so unsure how the day would pan out having had so much of my training schedule altered by our long cold winter. I immediately developed tendonitis in my ankle the next day and haven’t been able to run since (except for 2 attempts that failed miserably after 4 miles). It’s been a huge eye opener to see from the injured runner perspective just how obsessed (or maybe a better word is addicted) I was with running..I was supposed to run the Brooklyn Half and cried so hard when I realized it wasn’t going to happen…and I’m missing another race this weekend and 2 10ks in June and that full marathon in san francisco on 7/27 i registered for is now looking pretty much impossible. I’ll probably have to drop back to the half. I just bought my first bike today and I’m making it a point to consciously try to become a more well rounded cross-trained athlete moving forward and not getting so freaked out when I can’t run or I choose to skip a scheduled running workout. I’m not an elite runner and it’s not my job. It’s something I love to do and makes me feel good and while I’ll always enjoy seeing improvements in speed I don’t want to be obsessed. Great post Michelle! Very thought provoking and I know you made the right decisions having some girl time this past weekend.
      sally @ sweat out the small stuff recently posted..good news + bad news = just newsMy Profile

    18. This is such a well-written post, and totally relatable. I tend to toe that line as well and it is difficult. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t classify any of the behaviors you listed as obsessed. I think that getting up at 5 to run is being respectful of your family’s time! I recently read a blog by someone who ran 12 miles, taught a spin class and then ran 4 more miles “to watch the View”…that I would call obsessed.

      • I think that is a great way to put it. I was completely beating myself up in the fall for the handful of workouts I actually had to skip and there were several mornings where I really, really did not want to run but the voices in my head were overpowering :/ Thanks for sharing your thoughts!! =)
        nycrunningmama recently posted..The Line Between Dedicated and ObsessedMy Profile

    19. I admire you for all you do— your goals, your journey to reach them and your honesty on all accounts (physical and mental) for when you don’t. I also admire that as a mother you haven’t ‘lost’ yourself and continue to be a running mama. I ran Brooklyn this weekend. Was pretty bummed at first. All half marathons I’ve completed so far since the baby have been getting better and better. Before BK I was only 6 min away from my PR. Normally I like to run for fun and try to not get caught up with time. Shaving a minute ideas usually ok with me. But ever since the pregnancy I’m obsessed with getting my time back. And the bounce back has been good so far that I wasn’t expecting to feel the way I did at Brooklyn. I felt tired, out of breath, hot and under hydrated. I actually contemplated walking off. And you know I love my medals! I finished complete with a selfie at the finish. But when I got home I realized I wasn’t ok with it. I wasted 3 days pissy. But then I realized I needed to stop obsessing and remember I just had the baby 5 months ago. And just keep training. I love reading you’re blog. I consider you a super elite and it’s nice to see you succeed but also see you’re human and a mother :)
      Tara congemi recently posted..Sandy You B!tchMy Profile

    20. i dont think i have have been obsessed (have come close im sure- i think we all get to that point sometimes haha) but rather dedicated. my senior year in college we all went away for spring break together…it was like a group of 20 of my girl and guy friends. we had a ball. but it was also dangerously close to the boston marathon- i had trained so hard to qualify and was training so hard for the race. and here it was…7 days in the bahamas. so waht did i do? I didnt miss out on any of the fun. i did my longrun the day before we left and did another one they day after we got home (ugh that was hard haha) and worked out all week. i was actually kind of glad i worked out because we ate crap food and drank loads of alcohol haha. but anyway- i would do my workout in the morning before people even woke up. and by the time i was done and showered my friends were on the beach and i would join them and not miss a beat. i was happy that i was able to find that balance. i had the best time on that vaca and i trained. cant beat that haha
      Christina (Sisters Running the Kitchen) recently posted..Flywheel trumps SoulCycleMy Profile

    21. You are definitely dedicated! and I admire you for all you are able to do.
      Last year I desperately wanted to break 4 hours in the fall (which did not happen – DNF my goal marathon then ran my back up with 100 fever…ugh) I didn’t miss a workout for anything. I was so done by the end of last year I didn’t want to run at all.
      My goal this year is to find balance and ENJOY the process. I do not think there is anything wrong with not missing a workout or prioritizing it – as long as you are enjoying it (although we obviously have some days where it is tough to get started or don’t want to – that is normal). Some recovery days or easy run days I have been beyond beat lately because of work and I have chosen to reduce mileage or skip because in the long run I know it will be for the better – in the past I would have done exactly what the plan said come hell or high water.
      Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat recently posted..WIAW #2 – Clean Eating GoodnessMy Profile

    22. This is SO important, and something I have struggled with in the past….and could be on the same lines as you above when you said some would consider you obsessed right now. As an elite I am constantly trying to stand on that fine line between doing all the little things I can to be the best I can be, and letting it rule my life. A few years ago I know for sure I was obsessed, I ended up depressed when i had an injury, I was miserable and HORRIBLE to be around, I never want to get back to that obsessed again. Now I am grateful I have more balance, and I know I would not want to be a full time pro, because I couldnt handle it.

      Thanks for posting this, it is so interesting to see that others worry about this too
      Tina Muir recently posted..Stages in a Running Life; Pin it PartyMy Profile

    23. I can relate to the struggle! I have learned for myself that dedication to a goal often means NOT running, skipping a workout, or going easier than planned to avoid overtraining and injury.

      I believe now, that it you “must” complete the workout or get the miles in, or adhere to the training plan (or push even further or do more), and a little voice in your gut tells you “it won’t help you improve” then THAT is obsession.

      Obsession is “dumb” running, overtraining, strict adherance to numbers and specifics. Obsession does not lead to real improvement, in my own experience. I have been there! Self awareness is key. I need to list my goals and figure out the SMART way to achieve them!
      Michele @ paleorunningmomma recently posted..Food Diary of a Paleo Eating Running MomMy Profile