I’ve always identified myself as a runner. In fact, running was the activity that ignited my interest in all things health and fitness. I began running as a teenager and it quickly became a constant in my life. It was there for me whenever I needed it. I ran through my problems, when I was consumed with work or school, during relationship troubles, when I wanted to inspire creativity or when I didn’t want to think at all.
So many mornings I spent running along the dark streets of my neighborhood hearing nothing but my own footsteps. I’ve run along sandy beaches and through quiet woods and soft trails. In snow and rain. And I’ve also spent countless hours running on the treadmill.
I’ve often said that nothing makes me feel the way running does and that’s hard to explain. Yet, I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about and it may need no explanation at all.
Richmond Marathon – 2011
If you’ve been following my blog for some time then you may not realize how much I enjoy running since I don’t focus on it a lot. And that’s because my relationship with running has gotten quite rocky over the last few years. In fact, I intentionally avoided talking about it here.
I ran consistently from my twenties up until I reached my third trimester with the girls. Around that time I tore a muscle in my inner thigh and my hamstring (this did not happen while running!). This was a defining moment for me – everything changed after that. The further along I got in my pregnancy, the more stress placed on my hips and pelvis, and the more uncomfortable I became.
Once the girls were born and I was cleared for activity, I tried to get back into running, but it was still very painful. I felt broken. I was angry and sad, but I forced myself to run anyway (which, in hindsight, slowed my recovery quite a bit). After that came a series of injuries – one right after another, including bursitis and tendonitis. My hip and hamstring eventually healed after nearly two years, but I then developed knee and foot pain. I felt constantly inflamed. I couldn’t exercise without feeling some sort of nagging pain. I felt like I traded one injury for another and I was frustrated as hell. How could this be happening? On top of all of this, I felt extremely guilty for spending so much time thinking about myself when I ought to be focusing my attention on the girls. It was a tough time for sure.
I tried just about EVERYTHING to find relief, including physical therapy, meditation, massage, acupuncture, dry needling, turmeric powder and various creams, yoga, taping/wrapping, heat and cold therapy, and rest. The latter was the hardest one of all, but definitely the most important. I believe that every one of these remedies were instrumental in helping me heal.
Slowly I got better and my pain decreased significantly. I eventually got to the point where I was running regularly and felt well enough to train and complete a couple of half marathons. During my training I developed shin splints and calf pain that became so unbearable that I could hardly walk after my runs. I’d be left with pain for days.
At the start of the year (2016) I decided it was time to break things off with running. I hated to admit it, but I knew my body was trying to tell me something. Things had to change or I would keep getting injured. As part of my New Year’s resolution, I decided to focus my attention on making my body stronger, to give myself some time to [properly] heal. I gave myself permission to take time away.
I began to focus mostly on strength training. I lifted several times a week and I went to hot yoga regularly. And I eventually joined Orangetheory. Despite the fact that the class spends nearly 25 minutes running, the interval format never bothered my legs. In fact, I think it helped make me a better runner. I started to enjoy strength training like I never had before. I got excited when I started to lift heavier weights and when I noticed real physical changes. I appreciated yoga for the challenging poses and the flexibility it provided. Orangetheory changed the way I viewed exercise as a whole. I learned that I could combine strength and conditioning in one workout and get the best of both worlds.
When I let go of the pressure to BE a runner, I discovered other activities that I wouldn’t have noticed.
Over the last few months I’ve found my way back to running. I feel much stronger. I’ve noticed that my legs don’t ache after running and there is no more pain. I’ve focused a lot of my attention on recovery and I’ve been extremely cautious with my mileage and pace. So far, so good!
Matt recently asked me what I thought the keys to my recovery were. There were two paramount ones: (1) time away from high impact activities and (2) strength training. The only way I was able to feel stronger was to get stronger. But it was more than that. Once I gave myself permission to step away from running I stopped focusing on what I couldn’t do and started to focus more on what I could do.
I also noticed additional improvement by switching to minimalist/neutral sneakers. I don’t have much range of motion in my right ankle due to spraining it so many times and I was running in motion controlled, support shoes for quite awhile. I think this may have hindered my recovery since it kept my ankle so stiff. My physical therapist is a bit baffled by this since she would have recommended a support shoe for me, but since it has been working for me we are going with it. Today I mix up my running shoes and I alternate between Nike Frees and Vibrams.
Today, I make sure to focus on a variety of activities and to take rest days as needed. The other things that have helped me maintain my regime are monthly massages, strengthening my hips and hamstrings, and stretching. After every run I wear compression socks for at least 30 minutes. I self-massage in the evening and I foam roll like it’s my job. Every body is different, but I feel like I have finally found a good routine that works for me.
I’m sorry this was such a long post. I didn’t realize I had so much to say! I would love to know if anyone of you have or are currently taking a break from running. What activities are you focusing on? What’s been working for you?