If you run long enough, sooner or later you’ll be faced with every runner’s nemesis: injury. And not just an injury that requires you to stop running for a few days; I’m talking serious, debilitating, race-cancelling injury.
While the immediate concern to anyone is the loss of fitness (especially if you get sidelined in the middle of training cycle), a longer layoff can also take its toll on your attitude and outlook, which can be even worse than putting on a couple pounds or huffing and puffing a little harder when you finally are able to come back.
Here are a few tips to avoid completely losing your mind when you’ve been quarantined to cross-training for the foreseeable future:
Diversify: If running has been your only means of exercise, it’s tempting to try and find the One Thing that will replace it until you can get back to it. However, if you’re going to be on restricted running duty for more than a week or two, only madness lies this way. Vary your activities to keep from being bored out of your mind while you recover. Some suggestions are swimming & biking (and then you’ll be ready for a tri!), yoga, weightlifting, and the good old elliptical. If you’re rocking a leg/foot/ankle cast or are otherwise off your feet, you can still work your upper body with weights and an arm bike.
Stay involved: Just because you can’t run doesn’t mean you have to stay away from races. Races are almost always in need of volunteers to man check-in, water stations, or to help set up the post-race snacks. Working a race is a great way to give back to the community while keeping your motivation up by vicariously experiencing that race-day excitement.
Follow directions: Rehab exercises are boring and may feel completely pointless, but they’re important. If you do them as directed (doing too much is just as bad as doing too little), you’ll not only keep your current recovery on track, but you’ll reduce the chance of this happening again in the future.
Get creative: If you absolutely just have to run, ask your care provider if running on an Alter-G treadmill or in a pool is an option for you. Some facilities allow you to rent time on the Alter-G, which will let you run without putting all of your weight on your injured gams. Likewise, deep water running in a pool will allow you to work your legs and get your heart rate up without any impact. As some conditions could be worsened by low or no impact running, make sure you clear with with your doctor or physical therapist first.
Be patient: Your physical therapist and/or doctor may give you an approximate timeline for when you can get back to running. However, keep in mind that it’s just their best guess. Your specific issue may resolve quicker or, sadly, slower than expected. Likewise, once you are cleared to run again, you’ll need to start off slowly. Perhaps more slowly than you expected. Take a deep breath and trust in your treatment team: they’re there to help you walk the line between getting back to where you left off while keeping you from getting hurt again.
No one enjoys taking time off for (or coming back from) an injury, but sometimes you’ve got to do it. While it’s frustrating and disheartening when you have to miss a race that you’ve been looking forward to for weeks or months, just remember that there will always be another one.
Have you struggled with a frustrating and debilitating injury, or are you currently? How did it affect your state of mind?