Running, Nothing Compares To You?

My best Sinead O'Connor impression. No hair was harmed in the making of this post.
My best Sinead O’Connor impression. No hair was harmed in the making of this post.

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.

***

Lifetime fitness

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 only the oncoming cars knew an Olympic Bronze medalist and World Record Holder was on their streets!
If only the oncoming cars knew an Olympic Bronze medalist and World Record Holder was on their streets!

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!

Feelings.

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.

Are you?

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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12 comments

  1. Great post, and a great reminder for all of us! I love to run, but have learned from experience that my body needs other activities too, in order to stay balanced and healthy. Way too often I’ve waited until a running injury has forced me to cross train to see the value of giving my body a break from running once in awhile.

  2. I have been going through almost the same thing! This injury came out of nowhere and I wasn’t prepared to deal with a lay-off. I feel like my schedule revolves around my running and when I can’t do it I feel a little lost. I slept a lot more than normal. I was lucky that it happened around the holidays so I wasn’t on my normal schedule anyway and my sister was around or my husband was home so I could get out to cross-train. My life is so easy to get running in – treadmill in the basement, apparel and gear for all seasons, etc. But to cross-train I have to go to the gym, so I can only do it when they’re open and I can get there. Plus, it just doesn’t fulfill me like running does and I’m left with anxiety about not only not having running, but how much further behind I’ll be when I get back to it. It can be overwhelming! But I found some zen in trying to appreciate a break and I think I succeeded for the most part. And over the last few years I’ve generally tried to be more balanced with running – fitting it in to a fulfilling life rather than it being my sun. I’m a work in progress 🙂

  3. I hear ya Salty! This time around was the best yet but still not without challenges. The real test will be how we handle coming back. It seems tricky. You feel good so you run harder and more when really it’s best to ease into it. I guess we’ll find out soon! Good luck, my friend.

  4. I love that picture of you and Deena!! I relate SO much to this, and have been thinking a lot about what lifetime fitness will look like for me as I age and deal with less cooperative joints and tendons. One thing I will say is that after cross training (biking, stair walking, weight training, pilates, elliptical, pool running, yada yada) exclusively for 6 weeks, there is still nothing that came even close to the joy that running gives me. Nothing. I did get twitchy and frustrated in those 6 weeks and I was thankful to have those much needed fitness outlets, but I missed running so much. I counted down the days until I could do it again. The word addict did come to mind in that time. There was just something about lacing up and running out the door to my favorite trail that nothing else could touch. I am hopeful that (whenever we get decent snow/trail conditions) I’ll be able to grow to love skate skiing as much as running. I’ve heard it’s similar enough (being outside, getting into a rhythm/flow, a kick butt cardio workout) that it can mirror the feeling of running. I know I won’t be able to run 5-6 days a week forever, but I can for now, and I’m definitely appreciating it more than ever!

    1. I went for a walk yesterday because I was bored of the stationary bike. It was like a walk was a tease for running again. It was so hard to hold back! Good luck with the skate skiing. I’ve heard that, too. But the same is said about swimming and biking. Sure, they do release endorphins but it still isn’t the same!

  5. Great post. I’ve been having similar issues. For me the issues in the last few months have been with butt, knee, and now, broken toe. Funny how we can run for years in a state of injury-free bliss and then have a period where we can question our sanity without it.

    You are right, of course, that just because you are limited temporarily doesn’t mean you need to sit on the couch eating chips and watching re-runs (I say this as I just finished a three pack of McD’s cookies).

    I’m planning on taking up inline marathoning to hit some different muscle groups later in spring. However, in a few hours, I have a date with the rowing machine. Thank you for the affirmation that progress isn’t a straight line.

    1. Broken toe?! Oh no, good luck with healing. Cookies are a great start though! I am I’m being serious…yum! Thanks for stopping by and keep us updated on your progress, Kathy!

  6. Nothing will put you more in to the “listen to your body” state of mind then an injury. Last September of 2013 I was diagnosed with a pelvic stress fracture. I was on the DL for 14 weeks. I learned a lot about myself with that injury. It changed my life in so many wonderful ways. I went through all the stages of grief, really – you know- denial, anger, acceptance. I sobbed when my orthopedic doctor told me that it would be a minimum of 8 weeks. Sobbed. I was in the midst of training for the Columbus marathon (which was going to be my PR marathon). I knew something was creeping up but I refused to listen to my body and just kept pushing. When I finally reached the acceptance phase and got out of the “feeling sorry for yourself rut”, I took up three new sports (well, one a practice really). I started swimming, which I am not a huge fan of, but WOW, what a hard workout. I started going to yoga, which really helped my overall mental health. I started rowing, which, if you have never tried, is a fantastic workout. I burn at least 800 calories in 50 minutes. I have to believe that being on the DL also brought the greatest gift that I have received – our fifth child. He was a complete and utter shock and surprise, but he is the love of my family’s life. He is truly a gift from God. I never had regular periods, and they miraculously came back when I stopped training and running. Cue baby number five (and kind of a “whoops” moment). Hindsight is everything. Would I be in the same spot I am right now if that injury didn’t happen? I know I wouldn’t. I am 11 weeks postpartum right now and I am frustrated. Frustrated because many of my friends are training for marathons and I am lucky to fit in 3 or 4 miles here or there. I ran 6 miles last week and my body hated me for days after that. My body just isn’t ready – and….I am LISTENING to it this time. I am happy with those 3-4 miles simply because it brings me a peace that only running can. It is another love of my life that I don’t ever want to miss again, if even for a few weeks.

    1. Wow, Michelle! What an exciting and emotional past year and a half! Congrats on baby #5 and also finding joy in other sports. I will try rowing soon (didn’t want to aggravate the Achilles on the push-off) but I do hear it’s a great cardio workout. As we age, it seems like it becomes a bit easier to part with the competitive side and find peace with the side that wants to just be able to move as long as we are able to in this life. Happy new year!

  7. I love this post SO much, and here’s why. 1. Been there. My labral cartilage injury back in 2012 kept me from running for a YEAR. 2. There right now. Minor stress fracture in the foot means no running but oodles of bike trainer time, swimming, and strength training. I have finally learned to embrace the suck. I want to be like that power couple! Thanks for writing this.