It’s all too easy to let an injury set you back. All too easy to use it as an excuse to slack off and not replace pounding the pavement with alternate activities.
And some slacking, I think, is allowed, especially as you adjust to the new reality of not being able to run. For diehard runners, this is not an easy adjustment.
Running defines our days, our weeks, our months, our years. Without it, you feel in limbo – uncertain of how to plan for anything when you can’t plan your runs and you can’t plan for races. Everything feels like it’s on hold.
But the most important step in the process is to accept that yes, running may be on hold, but that doesn’t mean everything else has to be, too.
And once you begin to fill those spaces, you will feel better. I guarantee it. No, a bike ride or a swim or a pool run or hours logged on the elliptical are not the same as a run – but they are the next best thing, mentally and physically.
My ‘down time’ from running has been anything but. I’ve been lifting weights, I’ve been hitting the elliptical and the rowing machine, I’ve been taking bike trainer classes, I’ve been swimming so much I constantly feel slightly waterlogged.
None of it gives me the same emotional rush that I get from running, but all of it helps me remember that even though I can’t run, I’m still a runner, and I’m still an athlete, and every weight I lift and every stroke I pedal and every lap I swim is a step back toward rediscovering that running self that I feel so lost without.
And the good news – the best news – is that all the cross-training not only fills the void, but it goes a long, long way toward maintaining the fitness that I worked so hard to build up.
My return to running has been frustratingly slow in terms of miles logged, but what it hasn’t been is slow in terms of paces run.
Before I got hurt, my average ‘easy’ run pace was in the low 8s – 8:05 to 8:15 or so. During this rehab period, my easy run pace has been around 8:20.
Pre-injury, my long run pace was usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 8:20 or 8:25. My two most recent long runs (an 8- and 10-miler) were run at an 8:18 and 8:35 average pace, respectively.
Those paces don’t feel effortless, by any means, but they do feel comfortable. And to return to those paces so quickly after nearly 3 months of no running is absolutely a testament to the effectiveness of cross-training.
It saved my sanity, and I have no doubt that it saved me weeks and weeks of struggling and huffing and puffing my way through those initial comeback weeks. Runs that could have felt nearly impossible had I not cross-trained so wholeheartedly and with such dedication, instead felt wonderfully easy and fun.
If you’re down with an injury, don’t count yourself out. Remember that what you do now has everything to do with what you’ll be able to accomplish once you do lace up your shoes again.
The best cross-training options are pool running, swimming, biking, and elliptical. But if those aren’t all accessible to you, do whatever you can. Get your heart pumping, and keep yourself moving.
The road back from injury isn’t an easy one to travel, but put yourself in the driver’s seat and take charge, and it will be a much more productive and enjoyable journey.