Workout Wednesday Vol. 22: The Joy of Being Injured

If you’d asked me six months ago if I could find any joy in not being able to run,  I would have said no.

I would have been wrong.

I’ve been injured since the end of February. I’ve run a mile or two every so often since then, but every time I’ve tried, my ankle has told me to back off. As frustrating as it has been not to be able to do one of the things I love best, it hasn’t been horrible. In fact, there has been way more joy over the last six months than I would have imagined.

No Running = No races = No pressure.
Not being able to run means not being able to sign up for races, and as much as I love the fact that that’s what gets me up at ridiculous o’clock to squeeze in a workout, it’s also been a bit of a relief to take the pressure off. If the baby is up in the middle of the night and I need the extra hour to sleep (or drowse, since let’s face it, there’s no sleeping when your 3 year old is yelling for breakfast, and while we’re on the topic, maybe I should just keep a box of granola bars in her room?), I can do it without fearing that my world is going to hell in a handbasket, or plotting the precise moment the kids are in their beds so I can get my workout started at the dreadful hour of 7:30pm.

No Running = Other workouts!
There are, it turns out, a million ways to break a sweat and decompress mentally without running! I’ve been swimming at our local 50-meter outdoor pool (which I cannot believe I’ve never used until now, considering this marks my eighth summer in Boulder). This spring, I did a fun outdoor bootcamp class twice a week. I’ve also been… walking. Up to now, I’ve enjoyed walking only as a means of transportation, a way to spend time with a friend, or as a pregnancy workout. I am not sure what changed, but I am finding that walking works for me as an occasional form of exercise. I don’t like to listen to music or a podcast while I walk. I just walk. When I was visiting my family back east, my sister let me use her YMCA guest passes, where I enjoyed Body Pump and Zumba.

No Running = Biking!
I totally believe that whenever a door closes, another one opens… Not being able to run has gotten me back on my bike, and I am loving it. We got a gently used double Burley trailer on Craigslist and I have been biking the girls nearly everywhere we go. At first, it was daunting, considering Lady Bug doesn’t walk yet, and as roomy as the Burley is, there is no room for a stroller. Plus, getting everyone out the door involves not just the requisite shoe finding, diaper changing, snack packing, hair brushing, and potty reminding, but also the donning and buckling of helmets, remembering the U-lock, attaching the Burley securely to the bike, and allowing extra time for the bike ride as opposed to a car ride. However, once I got used to it, it became the new normal.

As an added bonus, there is no more efficient workout than schlepping two children by bike. Also, there is no greater mental challenge than biking uphill on a hot day towing a screaming baby who wants nothing to do with her helmet (which is non-negotiable), and a toddler who has just informed you that she has to go potty, NOW.

All this biking has inspired me to sign up for a biking event, an all-women’s metric century (62 mile) ride, at the end of this month. As much as I love spontaneity (see #1), I thrive on having a specific goal to focus on. I know I have the fitness to do the ride, but I need to get my body used to spending all that time in the saddle. With that in mind, I was up and out the door well before 6am the other day. I came home at 7:30 feeling refreshed, having watched the sky change from blue-pink to bright blue to light blue, and wondering why I don’t hop on my bike for a ride in solitude every single morning.

No Running = Motivation to Fix Running Problems
Ok, physical therapy is not exactly joyful, but it’s necessary and I am hopeful it’s going to put me in a position to run way more efficiently than I ever have before, once I’m ready again.

Gait analysis was something that was always on my list of things to do, but it was at the same priority level as deep cleaning the oven and reorganizing my sewing area, eg)not happening in the foreseeable future. Besides, I thought, if it wasn’t broken why fix it. As long as I was training, my run times were improving. That is, until it hurt too much to run at all.

I’m thinking my issues have been brewing for a long time, and my body was able to compensate until it finally gave out. I’ve been going to physical therapy for a few months to address my issues and it has been enlightening, to say the least. First, I learned that my single legged squat is downright ugly. Considering that that one movement is the basic foundation of running, that fact alone is No Bueno (not a clinical term). Meanwhile, a detailed video gait analysis revealed that my run form is seriously lacking. I had no idea what I actually looked like when I ran, up until now. I have no idea how long it will take to un-learn the bad habits that got me to this point, but I am working on it, one glute-burning, hip-engaging exercise at a time.

What about you? Have you been injured and unable to do the workout(s) that you love? What helped you cope?? What unexpected joy did you find in the experience? 

Copy of OCT

Sweet Reunion

Yesterday I ran about four and a half miles outside. This wouldn’t be noteworthy, ordinarily, except I’ve been injured for nearly two months, which meant I had to stop running. I recently tried running a few times, just a few miles here and a few miles there, and only on the treadmill, so that if my hip bothered me, I could stop immediately. There are worse things than sweating in my basement with episode of Parenthood. Still, I longed to run outside. Up until today, the last time I ran outside was the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Maybe it sounds obsessive and strange that I would know the exact day that I last ran, but it wouldn’t be wholly inaccurate to say I’m obsessive about running and a little strange about… many things.

If you’ve ever been dumped and you were heartsick about it and you replayed all the events leading up to the breakup, asking yourself, What did I do? What did I say? Was I too much? Was I not enough? Was it the way I pronounced “Jeter”then maybe you can understand why I remember that last run, and all the runs immediately preceding it so clearly.

If you’ve ever replayed the last time you and your ex were together in your mind’s eye a thousand times, shaking your head every time, bewildered, because at the time, you had no idea it would be the last time, then maybe you can relate.

If you’e ever kicked yourself for having taken your time together- especially that last time- for granted, treated it as if it were just like all the other times, and wished you’d not been so blind, because then maybe, just maybe, you could have prevented it from crashing down all around you-  it’s a lot like that.

Yesterday morning, I sat on the edge of the bed and put on my favorite leggings, along with a base layer and my trusty, black Brooks long sleeve half zip top. And even though I wanted to go out and run on the road, I also wanted to do anything but go out and run. I felt blah. The sky was low,  flat, and, gray. My mind was cloudy and my body felt heavy.

I’m very tired and I have been for months. Even though I didn’t think I could withstand sleep training our second child, it has come to that. For the past few nights in a row, instead of waking twice a night to quickly feed her and go back to sleep, these past few nights, I have lain awake in the dark, listening to the her cry while my heart breaks, my blood pressure rises, my hair grays, and the wrinkles burrow ever deeper into the skin around my eyes. Dan suggests every night that I sleep in the guest room, where the sound would be less intense, and for reasons I don’t totally understand, I would rather hear exactly what is doing, even if I’m committed to ignoring it. Like I said, I’m strange.

I had hoped against hope that Lady Bug would surprise us. Maybe, despite her mercurial disposition, she would learn to put herself to sleep easily in just three nights, as the books and even my sister suggested was a real possibility. We are not so lucky. I am still exhausted.

I stepped into the chilly air and though my legs felt like lead, I took a step. And then another. And another and another and another until I forgot that I was tired. I forgot that I didn’t really want to do this. I forgot about how badly I wanted a cup of coffee (or three). It was just me and the road the sky, footstep after footstep. I like zoning out on my treadmill and watching an episode of Parenthood, but nothing will ever take the place of fixing my gaze on the mountains and breathing in the fresh air.

When I returned home, a layer of moisture lined my forehead where my hat had rested and sweat lined the edges of my sports bra. My mind was clear and my heart was light.  My world felt right again.

If your beloved has ever wrapped you up in the warmest, tightest embrace after a long time apart, and you nestled into his chest and took a deep, long breath of his familiar scent, and you felt like you were home again, then you know what I’m talking about.

Workout Wednesday Vol 15: Coping with an Injury

Workout Wednesday Vol 15:  How to Cope with an InuryQ: I’m injured and I’m freaking out!! What do I do??

A: This question has personal significance for me, since I am injured at the moment. Boo. My hip had been feeling a little sore for a while, but running didn’t seem to make it worse. So a couple of weeks ago I ran for 80 minutes on a challenging trail because everyone else was doing it and the next day it hurt to run on flat pavement and it even hurt to walk. It hasn’t been right since then. I’ve laid off running since then. When it felt better, I ran a mile and then it hurt again, so I’m back to laying off. I’ve been biking, TRX’ing, and swimming instead. I have a bike set up on my trainer and a TRX in the basement so those are very time efficient workouts. Today I biked to an appointment. I love when I can exercise and go somewhere at the same time.

The bad news I am going to bail on the 5k I signed up for this weekend. The good news is, there are many ways to cope and none of them involve Bon Bons or Lifetime movies.

This article was originally published in the October/November 2014  issue of Colorado Runner Magazine.

The sooner you stop beating yourself up about your situation, the better. While none of us has an injury-healing magic wand, we do have the capacity to cut ourselves some slack. If you’re injured, you’re already in a rough spot. Let yourself mope, throw the seasons’ goals out the window, find another hobby, and remember, you will run again someday.

Take a deep breath, and remember…

It’s ok to be sad
Of course you’re going to be sad if you can’t run. Running is what you do, after all. How sadness manifests varies from runner to runner. Some of us will analyze the injury the way we would a failed romance, trying to pinpoint the exact moment things went downhill, or recalling all the red flags that are now obvious, in hindsight. Some of us will wallow in our misery, listen to Nick Drake, and eat our secret stash of Girl Scout cookies by the box. Some of us will complain. And while there is nothing wrong with that, proceed with caution if you choose to share your feelings with non-runners. They will be as sad to hear the news as they were to hear of Gwyneth and Chris’s conscious uncoupling; They will get that it sounds sad but they won’t begin to comprehend the situation. No matter how you express sadness, allow yourself to feel as sad as you need to.

It’s ok to bail on a race
Once upon a time, I injured my hamstring. Though the pain grew progressively worse, I refused to admit I was injured. I told myself it was just an aggravation and ran the Fourth of July Four Miler I had my heart set on anyway. I paid dearly for my folly. After that fateful race, it was a year, hundreds of dollars worth of physical therapy, and hours of home exercises until I could run again, pain-free. Here’s a little secret: Your body doesn’t care whether you’ve already paid for the race, whether all your friends are going to be there, or that you desperately want a chance to PR. Bodies are inconsiderate like that. Even worse, if you ignore your body, it will exact revenge- maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually, you will suffer. These days, at the first sign of any nagging aches or pains, I skip at least a day or two of running, and I avoid racing- even if I’ve already paid my registration fee.

It’s ok not to embrace your inner Buddha
Being in the now is great- unless you’re a runner who can’t run, in which case, now is horrible. It’s ok to feel that way. Present moment be damned, you are freaking out because you have no idea when you will be able to run again, which means you have to modify or cancel your carefully planned race schedule. What’s a runner to do? Lots of things, actually. Physical therapy is a great place to begin. A physical therapist skilled in sports rehabilitation can diagnose and treat you, or will be able to tell you whether imaging, such as an MRI, or consultation with a sports medicine physician is necessary for a diagnosis. You could also try acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic. Every body is unique and what works for one runner may not work for another. That said, if you are overwhelmed by all the choices when choosing a care provider, obtaining recommendations from other runners is a good starting point. Once you start on a course of rehab, you might find your ice bath or your deep tissue massage is the perfect time to get in touch with your breathing and focus on the present (excruciating) moment… Or, more likely, you’ll want to use that time to daydream about the races you’ll run once you’re back in the game.

It’s ok to get distracted
Nothing can replace the joy, the relaxation, or the sense of accomplishment that running brings. No matter what you do for rehab, time is often a necessary salve for injuries. While you wait, running will understand if you find another hobby. Spin class is a great way to maintain your cardiovascular fitness. Swimming, though logistically more complicated, is another great workout. Maybe now is the perfect time to buy a punch card to the local yoga studio or gym. If time is a constraint, search “workout at home” on You Tube and you will be bombarded by great workouts you can do in your living room with little or no equipment. If there’s a home improvement project you’ve been procrastinating, a craft you’ve wanted to try, or an instrument you’ve always wanted to learn, now is the time. Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to edge the backyard or take cooking lessons. Whatever you pursue during your hiatus, running will still be there when you’ve recovered, and you will have gotten out of your comfort zone and had fun in the meantime.

It’s ok to gain weight.
Yep, I said it. While most of us have no problem talking about how running elevates our mood, gives us more energy, improves our mental focus, and gives us a chance to enjoy the outdoors, we don’t love to admit we also love running because it helps control our weight. I know I’m not just speaking for myself when I say that one of the reasons I love running is that it keeps my jeans from fitting too tightly, even if I enjoy dessert or a second helping most evenings. If you stop running without substituting another form of exercise, or modify your diet, the simple fact is, you will gain weight. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you gain a few pounds. You will get back to running eventually. For now, consider buying a new, well fitting pair of pants or two. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’re not worried about a little muffin top. Just like being a fast runner doesn’t make you a good person, neither does a certain number on the scale.

It’s ok to lose fitness
Certainly, you can maintain general fitness and strength through cross training. While it depends on your body and how long you take off from running, chances are good that your running fitness will suffer, however. And that is ok. What you lose in fitness you will more than make up for in motivation when you make your comeback. The best things to ever happen to my running were actually eye surgery and having a baby (not at the same time). Both experiences required prolonged rest. Once I came back to training, I had a serious fire in my belly. While it took time for my fitness to come around after each of these events, the increases in my mental focus and physical energy were immeasurable. While I would never recommend anyone undergo emergent eye surgery or give birth as a training technique, a period of deep rest can have profound benefits. Think of this time off from running as a spa vacation for your legs and a meditation retreat for your mind. When you come back to running, you’ll be stronger, both mentally and physically.
As the famous adage goes, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” While it’s a fact of life that every runner will have to cope with injury sooner or later, how you cope with it is up to you. Allow yourself to feel grumpy and unmotivated, then do your best to move forward with your rehab, cross training, or even a new hobby. You’ll come back to running with fresh legs and renewed motivation.