Running is a lot like life, it’s unpredictable. As much as we train and prepare, sometimes things just don’t go as planned. In 2016, I did not get what I hoped for, I did not get to go to the Olympics, let alone the trials. I did not set any PR’s or even run a single race.
Instead, I was still dealing with my hamstring/hip injury from January to June, and logged the same amount of miles those six months as I normally could in 6 days. I was thankful to start building up slowly from June-September, then October came with a foot injury that sidelined me since. Although I may not have gotten what I hoped for out of running this year, I’m still grateful for the many experiences and lessons gleaned, not from running, but the lack-thereof.
There’s More To Life Than Running:
I can’t believe that just came out of my mouth (word vomit)…but actually it’s true. Taking nearly 8 months away from this sport has made me realize that yes, life goes on. When I think about it, so many amazing things have happened in my life since I first got injured–I got married, moved to Colorado, got a dog, made many new friends, took up art again, became an aunt, travelled, started working part-time, volunteer coaching with the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, and founded the Pikes Peak Elite Track Club. Okay, maybe working at Boulder Running Company and coaching cross country doesn’t exactly qualify as “life outside of running,” but the point is we all have other things going on in life besides our workout. Even as a pro-runner, you don’t spend 24/7 doing nothing but working out. Think back to life before you started running; while its hard to imagine now…you survived!!! Rediscover old passions and interests you had before running became a major focus in your life. This can help you fill that gaping hole that’s there when you can’t run.
Not Running Doesn’t Mean You’ll Lose All Fitness
One of the biggest things any dedicated runner struggles with is the fear of losing fitness when taking a break. There’s this idea that if you take more than a few days off you’ll quickly lose everything you’ve worked for, but that’s simply not true. I’ve learned that you really can maintain a great deal of fitness from cross training. If you don’t believe me, read about my former training partner, Colleen Quigly, and how she cross trained the bulk of her training leading up to her 8th place finish in the Olympic Steeplechase. The key is finding something you can enjoy and look forward to, that way you’ll be more willing to put in the hours. For me, the Elliptigo was a lifesaver because I could still get out on the same trails and feel almost like I was running, all while maintaining a similar heart rate to running.
Simply continuing a healthy lifestyle will also help maintain fitness, but it’s important not to go the extreme. I’ve met a lot of runners who fear that taking a break means gaining a ton of weight, and before they know it they fall into the trap of becoming obsessed with calorie counting, and restricting their diet to an unhealthy level. This approach is actually one of the worst you can take when it comes to dealing with chronic injuries. When your body is trying to heal, it’s crucial to be getting plenty of protein, healthy fats, and vitamins/minerals for recovery.
For me, I’ve chosen not allow my weight to become a major focus during break. I know if I’m putting in the work, simply buying healthy foods, and not getting lazy about meal planning, then I’ll be okay. I also purposely chose not to weigh myself every day or even week. I actually lost weight during the first few months after surgery since I was less hungry from not training as hard (also I lost muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat!) I’ve always believed that the less you stress about weight, and simply eat when hungry, the more consistent your weight will be. Even during the weeks I was not able to do any form of cross training because of pain, my weight never fluctuated more than 5-7lbs.
If you’re struggling to stay fit during a break, DON’T obsess over anumber on a scale. Instead, make measurable goals such as how high you can get your HR up, how fast you can swim 100m freestyle, or how many hours of sleep you can get.
Running Is More Than Chasing PR’s… It’s About the People
When I think back to my high school or college years, the first things that come to mind are not the times I ran, what the State or NCAA trophies looked like, but the people who were there beside me and those who helped me get there. This past year I had the pleasure of working with the University of Colorad-Colorado Springs as a volunteer women’s cross country/track coach. If there’s one thing that coaching had taught me, it’s that the people you meet in this sport mean more than medals. When you put aside your own goals and become focused on someone else, there is so much joy in watching them overcome their struggles and achieve greatness. Few times in my own career have I cried tears of joy, but in coaching I’ve already had several moments where my eyes welled up.
There are so many people in this sport who have stepped up this past year to help me deal with this injury. So many therapists, coaches, athletes, and friends who’ve taught me many other lessons about not only running, but life. As much as I wish I never got injured, I’ll never regret it for the people it has brought into my life.
Running after all, is like a box of chocolates, and although I know it may not go as planned, I’m excited to see what sweet surprises 2017 has in store.