What if someone, or everyone, is telling you to take a break from one of the most important relationships in your life?
What if that relationship isn’t with your boyfriend or wife or new bestie at work? What if that relationship is the one you have with running?
In every runner’s career, even those of us who embrace plenty of walking and sometimes never get above a slog, someone will tell us, “you need to take a break.”
It might be a doctor. It might be a therapist or a friend. It might even be ourselves. Nearly every runner out there will have to slow it down or stop completely at some point, and for a lot of us, that’s really, really hard.
Running is definitely a relationship. It can be a crazy, drama-filled relationship with all sorts of colorful characters. It can be a sweet romance that is hopeful and new. It can be a friendship of many years, where you take each other ugly parts and all. But for everyone I know, it’s a solid relationship. Like every relationship I know, it has its ups and downs. There are the good times, when you can’t get enough of each other. There are the boring moments, when you look elsewhere (cycling, I’m checkin’ you out). There are the tough times when you hurt each other and have to retreat to your corners and lick your wounds (or tape a heel). It’s a fluid relationship that takes work, commitment and sometimes a little time apart.
Whatever the reason for the break (an injury, an extended work trip, illness), there are ways to make the time off better and to come back stronger, healthier and ready for the next stage of the relationship.
So, what do we do when we have to cut off the relationship for a while? What do we do after we’ve said the famous phrase: Um…I need a break?
Here are my Top 5 Tips for Taking a Break From Running:
Realize the Reason
Look, any challenge sucks a little less if you have a clear idea why you’re doing it. It’s the same with taking a break from running. Most times, when we have to take a break, it’s not because we want to; there is a reason outside of ourselves suggesting it, pushing for it, screaming sometimes because we didn’t listen to their early, calm and rational pleas. If we look at the reason for the break, understand the value of it and embrace that it exists, we can bide our time a lot better.
Anger, frustration and irritation are normal feelings when we’re injured or sidelined, but they don’t help us get back in the game any faster. If you’re injured, realize what led to that injury and focus on building new habits to avoid it in the future. If you have life events limiting your schedule and thwarting your running routine, look at those events and understand why they’re important. You might be investing in family time or building a career. Taking a break from running to invest in something equally good isn’t always a bad thing. If you take a sec and dig deep (I know, you can roll your eyes), you can find a lot of motivation in using the time wisely instead of just slogging through.
Get a New Girlfriend
You know when a guy breaks up with you and gets a new girlfriend a week or two later? Yeah, do that. Make her kind of shiny and new. Seriously, though, when you’re a regular runner and you have to take a break, there is a gap. That gap needs to be filled. We run for all sorts of reasons beyond burning calories and getting our hearts pumping. Running calms some of us down from the chaos of life (have I mentioned I have 4 kids?!). I know people who run to sort through work issues or decompress after a long day. Whatever the reason(s) you run, there will be a gap to fill when you take a break. Think about how you want to fill it because if you don’t fill it, that break will really suck. This might be just the time to try cycling, swimming, walking or weights. If you’re physically able to try something new, do it.
Embrace the Break
There will be the times your doctor says to lay off all physical activity for a while. It sucks. Slathering it in frosting won’t make it any better; you just can’t sugar-coat this one. You have to sit out for six weeks and heal. You’ve got two choices here: resist or relent. I’m not normally one to relent, but in this case, resisting isn’t going to get me anywhere. If I have to take a full-on exercise break, I try to focus my energy on a new project. This helps keep my mental state in check, because as well all know, running is as much a mental game as it is physical. I focus on my piano or a new book or a project at work. I throw myself into it with some serious gusto, which helps the time pass quicker and lets me forget that I’m benched. And I realize that in embracing this break, I’m letting myself heal properly so I can avoid the same thing in the future.
Factor in Food
Many of us use running as a checks and balance system that goes something like this: I run three miles so I don’t have to eat like a bird when I go out to the Cheesecake Factory. I know I can’t outrun a donut, so I don’t ever think I can ignore diet, even if I’m running. But I do know that running burns several hundred calories. If I ignore that fact while I’m taking a break, the scale will creep back up. This is when we have to adjust our sails (which makes me sound like I’m writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul).
Seriously, though, it’s worth looking at our food intake and finding a few hundred calories to cut for a few weeks. It’s not forever. And it’s not about restriction or punishment. It’s just a tweak or two, and it’s for a specific period of time. Cutting out a snack or eating a smaller portion will limit the snowball effect of overeating and lack of exercise, which is hard to get back on track. Adjusting calories-in can help compensate for a break in exercise or for the fact that we’ll be moving slower and maybe less for a month or two.
Focus on Healing
If I’m sidelined from running because of an injury, I try to focus on healing. My body is telling me something that my doctor is probably also telling me, and if I don’t listen, I’ll be hearing this story again in the near future. The story is simple: heal. Rest. Stretch. Rehab. Focusing on anything else is misusing our energy. Sure, it’s okay to find a new exercise routine or assess snacking, but the overall focus really does need to be on healing. Doing what my doctors and therapists tell me to do is key. I’m no physical therapist or exercise therapist. I’m a mom with four kids and two dogs and a husband, hustling all over Phoenix, trying to survive 120 degree heat. I want to keep myself healthy and fit, which means pushing when I need to push and pulling back when I need to do that. I focus on healing in the moment so I can focus on pushing in the future.
Relationships aren’t always rainbows and sunshine. They all have ups and downs. Our relationship with running is no different. There will be frustrations, plateaus, injuries and splinters from being benched. That’s life. That’s what it means to be in a relationship. But like all relationships, if we can stick out the tough times and embrace the struggle, we come out stronger in the end.
These 5 tips help me remember the reasons I run, the importance of it in my life and the value of making the most of any break I have to take. By embracing the break and understanding the reasons behind it, I can actually use the time to heal my body, explore new projects or exercise and tweak my diet so my injuries or life events don’t spiral into a complete meltdown but might actually lead to something better down the road. Seriously, people, I’m turning that frown upside down!
Melissa does all of this from her heiferhood in sunny Phoenix, where her husband, teenagers and two crazy puppies remind her that we're all a little happier in a herd.