Returning to running after an injury or other medically necessary break
By Stephanie Laska, M.Ed
PowerBar Clean Start Team Winner for the New York City Marathon 2017. Ambassador for the San Francisco Marathon and Berkeley Half Marathon, known for becoming “half” the person she used to be by losing 140 pounds and winning first place, Athena division, in her very first marathon (Modesto Marathon, 2015).
If you’ve been told that you can’t run for a period of time, let me first say this, “I’M SO SORRY!”
If you’re like me, running is so part of your routine, your being, your soul, that when you are forced to take a break, it’s utterly heart-breaking.
Last year I underwent major abdominal surgery. I may have a screw or two loose, but when the oncologist told me I couldn’t run (or lift weights, or do yoga) for a while, I was more upset about not exercising over the prospect of other failing health issues. (In hindsight, I think it was easier to worry about not running vs cancer).
Here’s what went through my mind, in no particular order:
- I’ll forget how to run
- I’ll gain weight
- I’ll lose my pace and overall fitness level that I’ve worked so hard to achieve
- This sucks
Maybe you are in a place where you can identify? No matter how big or small the break, most of us will need time on the bench during our running career. Here are 6 tips to get you through your running sabbatical.
- Preserve the habit or routine — I continued to lay out my workout clothes every night before I went to sleep. I put them on at the same time each morning and went out to “exercise.” (some days that amounted to walking around the block)
- Be accountable — I tracked my progress (of the activity I was permitted to do) using a week by week grid on the fridge for the world to see. It felt so good to see progress!
- Find a support system — I was surprised that my running partner Lori continued to show up for our Monday workouts to WALK NOT RUN with me (makes me cry thinking of that!). Additionally, I found an online support system of patients that had undergone the same prognosis.
- Find the right doctor — I needed a doctor that would look out for my overall recovery and support a return-to-running when it was medically appropriate. Note: I did not say go doctor shopping! You want a healthcare professional with your overall best interest in mind.
- Modify goals — This is a hard one to swallow, I admit. I’m the girl that thought I could run a marathon the day I was released back to the running world. Ultimately, your goals must change so you don’t injure yourself and put yourself back on the bench.
- Make the best of a crappy situation — I enjoyed walking with friends I hadn’t seen in awhile (shout out to Tamara!). I liked wearing different workout clothes that aren’t suited for running (hello tutu!). I walked some races (gasp!) and even stopped to take selfies with the infamous dinosaur that seems to follow me to every race.
You won’t be the same runner you were, but you will still be the same person. It’s going to be different. You will survive, because you are a runner deep in your heart, and no one can take that away from you.
“Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years!”