I am by nature an optimistic person. An old boss of mine once described me as “relentlessly cheerful” which I took as a compliment (although his demeanor was something akin to Scrooge or Marvin the Paranoid Android!). There isn’t much that gets me down for long.
But for some reason, I struggle to maintain my rose-tinted view when I suffer an injury that stops me running. It’s not that I get depressed (it’s just an injury after all, not a life-threatening illness) but my enthusiasm for any sort of exercise wanes, and I start to worry that I will never be able to run again. I fall into a sort of torpor that leaves me sitting on the sofa watching rubbish TV instead of trying to find different forms of exercise that might be at least some semblance of a substitute for running.
Take my current injury. I strained my Achilles just over a week before the Cardiff Half and for a few days it looked as though I wouldn’t make the start line. But I did the exercises my physio told me to with religious zeal, stuffed ibuprofen tablets like Smarties (even though I rarely take tablets) and iced and rested like a professional athlete. I completed the half without too much discomfort and in a very respectable 2:29. Yes I was sore afterwards, but that wasn’t a surprise.
What was a surprise was my reaction. I stopped stretching, icing (after the first) day but have taken resting to the extreme! It’s been nearly 4 weeks and apart from swimming once a week I haven’t done a thing apart from a few half-hearted stretches every few days.
Why the change?
It took me a while to even recognise that I was turning into a sloth – after all I figured I deserved a rest after the half (and definitely did need to rest the Achilles) but how did a “rest” turn into becoming a couch potato?
So is it about motivation? I know I have always needed something to aim for, and the Cardiff Half had been my goal for several months. But I already have my next goal in the calendar (the Brackla Harriers Christmas Pudding Run) and it’s only about 7 weeks away. So it can’t be the lack of a goal.
Is it lack of alternative forms of exercise? Well it is true to say that training for the Half had meant that running was pretty much my only form of exercise over the summer and early autumn. In fact, thinking about it I realise that since I rediscovered my running “mojo” this time last year running has pretty much dominated my exercise routine. But it’s not like it’s the only thing I have ever done. I’ve done yoga, swimming, home exercise routines (with apps like Workout Trainer) and all with some degree of self-discipline.
So why haven’t I got off my sorry backside and done any of those things?
I think it is because they don’t nourish my soul in the same way running does.
Sounds a bit OTT I know, but getting out in the open air is hugely important to me (I spend all day in an office), as-is having time by myself. If I get in the zone when I am running, listening to the rhythm of my breathing and my footsteps can give me an almost meditative experience. Yoga comes the closest to this (the concentration on the breath and the movement) but I don’t do it outdoors. Getting out on the streets of north Cardiff, or even better up the Taff Trail to Tongwynlais and beyond, just take me away from the domestic environment and out closer to nature. I feel freer and happier, even if my muscles are aching and my breathing is ragged.
There is no obvious solution (other than some walking) but at least now I recognise one of the (many reasons) why running is the foundation of my exercise routine, indeed of my feelings of wellbeing. So, rather than focus on the fact that I can’t get out there….I need to refocus my energies on getting back to a state where I can get out there.
Which means yoga, swimming, stretching and those other things. But with a goal in mind.
To get back to running.