It’s been seven hours and fifteen days since you took your love away. Actually, it’s been five hours and 14 days since you, achilles tendon, prevented me from running. And much like we all experience, the first few days of surrendering to an injury were not fun. Not only because I couldn’t do that which keeps me sane but I ended up getting this one hit wonder stuck in my head for days on end. And as a result, I started to believe that nothing compares to you, running.
Enter New Year’s day, 2015.
I was pedaling away on the stationary bike, bemoaning my injury and the cross-training regime I was resorting to, when an older couple, who looked to be in their mid 80s, walked into the gym with their game faces on. They quickly took their coats off and he walked over to the treadmill. She, the rower. I was in between this power couple as I continued to pedal away. I couldn’t help peaking at them. He walked a swift pace. She continued to row without even turning on the television. After a half hour, he hopped off the treadmill and walked over to the weight machines. She still continued to row. There was no way these two were your typical new years resolution temporary gym rats. These were two people who were likely doing what they do every day. They were living. They weren’t running.
I think back to the time I went for my very first run in high school. Sure, it was an euphoria like no other, but could I have experienced that euphoria if I, say, did jazzercise? Is running special in this way? At the time, I didn’t care. I just knew I needed more of this thing called running. It created a sense of accomplishment with a side of exhaustion that was so soothing.
Many say that running can be like an addiction. Often, in a humorous tone. But what if there’s some truth to this? Over the years, I had this mindset that no other activity could compare to running. No other activity could get me in shape quicker or keep me as skinny. No other activity was deserving of me treating myself to delicious chocolate treats. The only high I could seem to get was that elusive runner’s high.
The only-running mindset can play tricks on you, much like how a drug addict continues to seek out that which gives the greatest high.It can cause you to make bad decisions, like continuing to run when injured or to ignore life’s problems to get your running in. Granted, a running addiction is nothing compared to a drug addiction. The point, though, is how are we supposed to live healthy, balanced lives if we are not open to all of the other fun, unique, and calming activities out there? If we believe nothing compares to running, is it possible to enjoy a lifetime of fitness?
The problem with putting all of your eggs in one basket
Sure, there is a camp out there that says you can’t become a better runner by doing ______________________ (any activity that is not running). If you are an elite or even a sub elite athlete who specializes in the sport of running then sure, you probably want most of your activity to be running. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t elites who use cross training. In fact, Dathan Ritzenhein is known for lots of cross training as a way to keep up high mileage efforts without all of the impact on his injury-prone runner’s body.
I had the opportunity to attend a meet and greet in October of last year with the great Deena Kastor and was surprised to learn that as she has gotten older, she has decreased her miles and now focuses on quality versus quantity. Granted, this meant going from 120 miles a week down to 70-90. But translate that to the level of us mere mortals and it makes you realize, you are good enough. In fact, I got the impression that Deena embraces all of life, not just running. She enjoys having an occasional beer and loves exploring new foods as well as traveling to different cities and running with us hobbyjoggers like it’s no big deal.
If you put all of your eggs in the running basket, you risk burning out. You also run the risk of depression and anxiety if you end up injured and running is taken away. During my most recent injury lay-off, I noticed feeling edgy and jumpy, thinking it was due to running withdrawal. However, because I was still exercising for at least 45-60 minutes a day, I reframed this experience as having more energy from low impact cross training. I might have forgotten what it’s like to feel refreshed and springy and mistaken it for being anxious and scattered. If cross-training leaves us with more energy, perhaps that’s a good thing for both our running performances and the rest of life!
Whether you are injured physically or mentally, one of the first steps to take toward healing is to accept all of the feelings that come with it. That can be hard when you’re used to running away your feelings. Self help author Melody Beattie states in her helpful daily devotional, The Language of Letting Go, that, “our emotional center is a valuable part of us. It’s connected to our physical well-being, our thinking, and our spirituality.” But many of us have been trained to tame or even ignore our feelings. According to Beattie, “We are neither weak nor deficient for indulging in our feelings. It means we’re becoming healthy and whole.”
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am still struggling with not running. Partly I am struggling because I am still learning how to accept my uncomfortable feelings rather than running them away. In fact, many of us have at some point used running to escape the discomfort that life often brings. In moderation, this can be helpful. But continually running away from these feelings and life’s problems is not healthy and no matter how much or how fast you run, they will catch up with you. Think of coping with emotions and dealing with problems as mental cross-training. And just think, if you are mentally healthy and coping well, running will surely be more enjoyable than if you’re always running in a stressed state.
Like the power couple at the gym, I want to be able to keep moving well into my 80s. I want to learn to embrace fitness for a lifetime and if that means cross training, or participating in stuff other than running and learning to cope better with life, I’m in.