Runner’s Amnesia

I recently heard the term “runner’s amnesia” and it has had me chuckling all week.  If you are a runner or have ever run, you most definitely have suffered a case of running amnesia.

The onset typically starts when you first begin.  Each day you struggle to breathe and push yourself through a workout.  The entire time you curse yourself for ever considering running.  You constantly remind yourself how much you hate this.  You swear that when you get home you are throwing your shoes away and never running again.

Somehow, by the time you wake up the next day, you seem to have forgotten about that run and you are at it again, cursing your way back through.  In fact, you might even go out the next day and see a cute running top or a shiny new pair of shoes and decide that you must get those for training, despite having just said you would never do it again.


As a coach and a runner, the most common case of runner’s amnesia that I tend to see involves endurance races.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard about a runner crossing the line of a half marathon and swearing they will “never do that again” only to sign up a week later.  Even better is when they decide that “never again” meant they might as well tackle a full marathon while they are at it.

Years ago I proposed doing a marathon to my husband for the first time.  I told him it was a bucket list item that we should do.  His response was that he would train with me and run a portion, but not the full race.  Today we have done multiple marathons and together coached hundreds of half and full marathoners.  Funny how quickly things can change.

As a matter of fact, I remember the morning of my first (and supposedly only) marathon.  I was sitting eating a bagel and these strange words slipped out my mouth without me realizing what I was doing, “Next time we do this, we should……”  We both looked at each other and had a scary moment.  We both knew right then that there would be a next time.


So what is runner’s amnesia?  I believe that it is this wonderfully sick mechanism in our brains that allows us to suffer our way through a difficult run or event.  It allows us to curse ourselves, our bodies, and our poor judgement.  We can even say we will never run again or never do a particular race again.  And at the time, all of this is absolutely fair.  We are miserable.  Our bodies hate us, our minds hate us.

However, by the next morning, our brains have somehow erased most of those terrible memories or somehow recharged them so that we can laugh about how we stumbled across the finish line or threw up into our shoes.  Suddenly we are amused by our terrible experience.  Less than 24 hours later we think, “It wasn’t that bad!”  We start contemplating our next event or planning a revenge.


While it might be a safety mechanism in our brains that allows us to erase terrible, horrible memories, it also is that strange mechanism that makes us runners totally weird.  It allows us to forget just enough to get back out there and keep going again and again.

What is your best case of runner’s amnesia?  Were you ever unable to not completely forget a bad run or race?

20 thoughts on “Runner’s Amnesia

  1. I’m guilty! I said after last years Spartan Beast I wasn’t running another Beast again. I’m looking at subscriptions and planning training.
    I think runner amnesia can be applied to most forms of fitness. It’s the challenge, doing or improving better, seeing with we’re capable of and how it makes us feel that keeps us coming back for more!

  2. From about mile 18 to mile 23ish of my first marathon my mantra was “finish this and never again.” It took well over a year, but I signed up for my second marathon last night. Runner’s amnesia is real.

    Also that bit about the safety mechanism in our brains, from what I understand this is what allows women to go through the pain of childbirth and still want to have more kids. Though I wouldn’t know, adopting a kitten is as close as I’ve come to parenthood.

    • You are 100% correct. I actually almost posted that. After I had my daughter I couldn’t imagine ever doing it again but by the next day, I figured I could do it again. Our brains really are quite resilient. Congrats on signing up for another marathon. Now that you know what it is like, the experience will be much better!

  3. Yes! After my first half (Brooklyn), I swore up and down that I would never do another half again. Look at me now!

    But I did have such a traumatic experience at a race (it was SO COLD!) that I’ve never been able to bring myself to go back to that location (even to race during a warmer time of year or a fun run).

    • I totally understand. My experience at Grandma’s was so bad that I don’t think I would go back again. It wasn’t completely their fault. But the travel and cost to get there is so much that I don’t think I would risk it again.

  4. I’m sure I have had runner’s amnesia … but honestly I can’t recall. All I know is that I had to take the morning off so we could tag-team getting ‘first morning samples’ from our dogs … 🙂

    (It sounds like a joke, but really I don’t remember ever saying ‘never again’ or anything like that …)

    • I totally understand. Most of my amnesia has been rather minor because I really do just love running and lots of mileage. But I see so many runners who say never again, only to get back out there shortly after.

  5. It’s weird, I don’t really have runner’s amnesia, but I AM guilty of building something up in my mind to the point that I subvert my own happiness. let me explain: the day before the Twin Cities Marathon, I was just SO FREAKING HAPPY AND EXCITED to be going out to run. I wasn’t scared, I was just excited. Then I started running, and it was fine, but about 7 miles in, cue “will these miles never end” thoughts. Same with the Chicago Marathon! But the two marathons that I went into terrified, those miles flew.

  6. When I saw the title I thought you were talking about when you finish a marathon and can’t remember where you parked your car, how to get home, what city and state you’re in, etc haha. But I’ve definitely experienced this type of amnesia too!

  7. Those kinds of races… running for myself, I’ve always had amnesia. However, my senior year cross country, I ran my district race and failed myself and my team by not giving my best, and that’s not something you can ever forget. But it’s not like I said I’d never run again!

  8. I never forget a bad race. I have two DNFs, both ultras. I remember them fondly. What I learned from them made my 100K and 100-mile finishes possible. Plus I went back the following year and crushed them both. 🙂

  9. great point and spot on…it’s amazing what we can push through during a tough part of the race, or anything for that matter which might explain while we’re not all single kids 🙂 i’ve had marathons where i swore, literally and loudly that i was done done done, then signed up for the next one the next day!

  10. Just like “mother’s amnesia”, no way a woman would go through pregnancy again if our brains didn’t reset after having made such an effort ​

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