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How To Stay Sane While Sidelined From Running

After a second failed IVF procedure, my body and spirit were battered and broken. I anguished privately, not wanting pity or to weigh down my friends and family with my grief. I tried to be strong, but between the vacillating hormones, feelings of isolation, and receiving yet another friend’s baby shower invitation, I had reached a new low. Running during fertility treatments is uncomfortable (and at certain points, prohibited), but after those treatments—especially the unsuccessful ones—running was an indispensable source of healing. Those solitary hours allowed me the time and space to grieve, to think, to cry (behind my sunglasses) and left me with a feeling of catharsis.

Everyone knows how beneficial running is for the body, but only those of us who do it understand on a deeply personal level how emotionally therapeutic running can be, and how good it is for the soul. In fact, my good friend Jason calls running “nature’s Prozac.”

But no matter how dedicated you are to training, there will inevitably be a time when you can’t run, however few and far between. “The only times that I haven’t been able to run were when I was postpartum and when I was in the hospital with my husband for 10 days,” says runner Kirsten Sanders. “During those times, I was so fatigued that I probably wouldn’t have been able to run even if I tried. I wrote a lot, drank coffee and slept when I could.”

What should you do to keep your body, mind and spirit in check when you can’t run? Try these quick strategies.

  • Work on focused breathing and treat this as time to be quiet. Let your mind clarify your thoughts and feelings. If it’s hard to find a place of solitude, lock the bathroom door. Sit on the floor to feel grounded. If you’re in a hospital with a loved one, visit its meditation room.
  • Stretch and breathe. If you’re able to, try a few sun salutations to start and end your day. If an injury prevents you from being on your feet, try some Pilates mat work to get your heart rate up. (Search YouTube for a workout or download an app for your smartphone.)
  • Walk. It’s lower impact but still yields many of the benefits of running. It also helps you reconnect with the aspects you might love from running: feeling the strength in your legs, listening to nature (or the thrum of the treadmill) or even the alone time.
  • Practice proprioceptive writing, which connects your thoughts to your physicality. Jot down your thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness way, trying not to let your pen stop moving across the page (or your fingers across the keyboard). Remind yourself that you are not writing for others to read; you are writing to think, process and vent, the way you would allow your mind to do so during a run.
  • Listen to your playlist. Let the soundtrack of your runs filter into your period of recovery. Whether you play it in the car on drives to doctor appointments or as you take care of mundane daily tasks, it can get you psyched for the day you’ll get back on your feet and take to the road again.
  • Talk to other athletes. Reach out to your running buddies—those women who know (or can imagine) just how frustrating it is to be sidelined. Let them be a source of support and a sympathetic ear. And when you’re ready to don your running shoes again, call them up for a tandem run.
  • Set goals. Whether they are large (“I’ll run a half by Easter”) or small (“I’ll walk one mile in 20 minutes after dinner), make SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely—goals for yourself. You need to feel a sense of accomplishment and establish benchmarks for yourself.
  • “Be patient with yourself and don’t be discouraged,” Sanders says. “Give yourself the kindness and love that you would offer a friend, and realize that a break won’t break you.”