It happens to so many of us; we push our body faster and farther than we ever imagined it would go, we dream about race medals and and finally reaching our feel-great weights. Then, suddenly, we get sidelined. We get injured, or we get busy, and the running routine that we treasure comes to a screeching halt.
What do you do when your running life is stalled? Try not to panic. The gains in mileage, fitness, and confidence that you worked so hard to make won't vanish right away. There is plenty that you can do while you're sidelined to preserve your sanity and your strength, and bounce back strong.
If you're injured, talk with your sports-medicine doctor about what activities you can safely do. You may not be able to run, but there's a very good chance you might be able to walk, cycle, swim, use a rowing machine, or an elliptical trainer. Those kinds of activities will help you sustain your aerobic fitness while you can't run. If work or family responsibilities have crowded out your time to run, find small opportunities to sneak in activity whenever you can. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park far from the front of the store to give yourself an opportunity to walk.
If you've been running the same distance at the same time of day for years, being forced off that routine can make you feel off all day long. If you can't run, plan some other stress-relieving activity to do during the time that you would normally run. Ideally you'll be able to cross-train or strength train during that time. If that's not feasible, pick another activity that gives you some opportunity to decompress the way that running did. Spend time outside, weed the garden, use it as a time to connect with friends, or read, or watch a funny movie.
With a consistent strength-training routine, you can develop fitness even when you're sidelined, and reduce your risk of injuries after you hit the road. Talk with your sports-medicine doctor or physical therapist about which specific exercises you can do to improve any weaknesses that may be contributing to injuries. Find a strength-training routine that you can consistently practice two to three times a week no matter where you are. Make the routine as convenient and as enjoyable as possible. If it feels like a hassle and you dread it, you won't do it.
To avoid unwanted weight gain, you may need to dial down your calorie intake if you're not as active as you usually are. After all, if you're not heading out for that 20-mile long run on Saturday morning, you won't need that carb-rich meal on Friday evening, or that post-run sweet treat after you finish. Be mindful of the fact that without running as a regular stress release, it may be more tempting to reach for sweet and savory comfort foods when you're upset. To resist temptation, try to have a list of activities that you can do that relieve stress that don't involve food. Take a walk. Get outside. Read a book. Call a friend.
Often, runners try to pick up their running routine where they left off as soon as they're cleared to hit the road. Then they reinjure themselves. Don't make that mistake. Even if you've been cycling, swimming, or doing other cross-training to maintain your aerobic fitness, it can take weeks or even months for your muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments to get strong enough to handle running again. Start by walking, which conditions the muscles and bones and readies them to run. When you are ready to run again take it easy, and take walk breaks at regular intervals.Don't increase your weekly mileage or pace by more than 10 percent, week over week. Increase it less if you need to. You might consider hitting the track or the treadmill before you hit the road, as you don't have to worry about traffic or uneven pavement.
When you first return to the road after a layoff, it's going to feel tougher to gut out a much slower pace over a much shorter distance. And that can be very humbling. Rather than measuring your effort by pace and mileage, when you get back on the road run by time instead. Go for a 15, 20, or 30-minute run. Try to get into a rhythm that feels sustainable for the duration you intend to run, and try not to track your pace. It is far better to start conservatively, than to go out and do too much, too soon, hurt yourself, and get sidelined again.
Over-the-counter painkillers might make you feel better in the short term, but they can mask pain that tells you that you should stop. And studies show that painkillers can lead to GI distress. If you can't run through pain, don't run. Walk or rest instead.