How to Balance Competitive Running With Life

Sarah Cotton
by Sarah Cotton
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How to Balance Competitive Running With Life

We all know life can be stressful. If you have ever been a runner with a competitive itch, you know that running, too, can be stressful.

The body handles a great deal of stress with every stride. In college at Georgetown, I frequently woke up before the sun and hammered out 10-mile workouts with my teammates before rushing to class at 8 a.m. On weekends, we raced our bodies into the well at track and cross-country meets, and we knew our way around the D.C. trails better than we knew the city’s roads. Now, I spend my mornings running to the highest peak in Arizona or into and out of the Grand Canyon with other professional ultra runners, before spending hours in my home office running my business. I’m not superhuman. What I am, however, is very in tune with my body. This is the key to balancing competitive running with life.

“Sometimes, running and life work in harmony. Other times, they seem to be competing in an unrelenting tug-of-war.”


Running puts (purposeful) physical stress on the body, but we cannot forget about the (not-so-purposeful) emotional stress of life. We’ve all felt the effects of rushing to finish a project at the last minute and then feeling physically spent after completing the task. You might have been sitting still for hours on end, but your body feels the effects of this emotional turmoil. Your body must recover from this in the same way it must recover from a run.

So, what do we do with all of this stress? We must learn to balance it. A common misconception is the idea that the more I run, the better I’ll be. I wholeheartedly believed this in college and then debunked it the hard way. With countless injuries and chronic fatigue, I realized I couldn’t do it all.

Running puts your body through “good” stress. The whole point of training is to put your body through stress so it can then recover and be better equipped to handle more stress. However, what we stubborn competitors often choose to ignore is the “bad” stress we also, inevitably, endure (i.e. the emotional stress that is a part of everyday life).

The body cannot differentiate between good and bad stress, and we must let it recover from both, lest we break ourselves down and find ourselves injured or over-fatigued.


These are some tips I use to keep myself healthy, energized and present in my running and my life.


Even professional runners struggle with knowing what is best for their running. This is where a coach comes in. With the guidance of somebody you trust, a lot of the stress of wondering if you should run today or take a rest day or if you should do a workout today or go for an easy run, is eliminated. With a coach, you are literally handing some of your stress off to somebody else who can (and wants to) handle it for you.


Life is unpredictable, so try to make your running as predictable as possible. If you can plan your family, work and social schedule to the best of your knowledge, then you can build in your running schedule. This takes away the stress of having to plan on the fly, and your routine becomes second nature.


Training is hard, but it should be fun. Running with others lets you share this very unique passion with likeminded people, and it holds you accountable when the going gets tough. Plus, doing hard things together can be very rewarding. Find a running buddy, or simply make time to share your running thoughts, worries and excitements with another runner.



If you forget all my other tips, remember this one: At the end of the day, your body knows what is best, and it will always try to tell you what it needs. If you feel pain, respect your body’s need for rest. If you feel tired, sleep! If you can’t rest or sleep, turn your running dial back.


Sometimes, things don’t work out the way you imagine. Maybe you planned on doing a workout Tuesday morning, but your kid got sick and had to stay home from school. Don’t worry about it — talk to your coach or adjust your own plan. Even professional runners have non-running related obstacles. What makes the pros unique is their ability to deal with the unexpected.

Sometimes, running and life work in harmony. Other times, they seem to be competing in an unrelenting tug-of-war. To get the most out of both, we must learn to listen to our bodies and find a balance.

Under Armour teamed up with POWDR Resorts to create the UA Mountain Running Seriespresented by GORE-TEX Products, an experience of a lifetime for trail running enthusiasts at the most iconic and beautiful mountain resorts in the United States. The race course locations feature diverse climates, four distances and varying elevations built to push athletes to their personal limits at every level. Register now for a summer you won’t forget.

About the Author

Sarah Cotton
Sarah Cotton

Sarah is a professional Under Armour ultra trail runner and a coach. Originally from Connecticut, and a recent graduate from Georgetown University, Sarah moved out west for the broad landscapes and the high mountain running. When she’s not on the trails, you can find Sarah with a camera or a paintbrush in hand. Find her on Instagram at @itssarahcotton, and on her website at