Staying busy, staying sane (while not running!)

The weeks since my last post, where I talked about discovering I had a metatarsal stress fracture have flown by.

Who doesn't enjoy aquajogging at 5:30am? Tip: outdoor pools = beautiful sunrises.
Who doesn’t enjoy aquajogging at 5:30am? Tip: outdoor pools = beautiful sunrises.

I have not been running, but I have been cross training. I spent the first 3-4 weeks of injury diligently and vigorously cross training, and felt pretty awesome. However, I soon succumbed to what I call “extreme brain fatigue” and rapidly lost my motivation.  For me, thee hardest part of cross training is that it is phenomentally difficult – if not impossible – to make each minute of cross training activity equal to each minute of running: I simply can not maintain the same heart rate while aqua jogging that I might while running. This imbalance in effort results in the need to cross train for a longer duration than what I would normally run for.  Aqua jogging for 1-2 hours every single day in the same pool, looking at the same four walls while the same half-awake teenage lifeguard stares moodily at you (the only pool patron), day after day, gets incredibly boring.

Luckily, just as the cross training confinement was becoming overwhelming, I was cleared to start running again. Now, I am trying to blend enough cross training to maintain cardiovascular fitness while gently increasing my time running to regain running fitness. I am also working on maintaining a core strength training and flexibility routine as part of being proactive about injury prevention.

In my past, I have had injuries that have driven me crazy. While training for the 2008 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, I sustained a stress fracture similar to the one I am currently healing from, but obstinately continued to run “through the pain” until I seriously fractured my foot. At the time, I was running full-time, was dead-set and focused on the 2008 Trials, and had no commitments other than being “an athlete.” I ended up injured, without a goal, and with nothing to distract myself from my injury and perceived failure as an athlete. The long months it took for me to heal allowed me to reflect upon how my choosing to be a full-time athlete, a decision I had thought would lead to great running and mental and physical focus, ended up being a lifestyle too narrow-minded and single-goal-oriented for me to thrive.

I have since come to understand that my personality does not respond well to a single-focus existence. Diversity and challenge, or, a ‘full plate’ is what fulfills me.   That 2008 injury was my last major injury, and I would like to think that I learned a lot from it: this time around, I have had plenty to keep my mind busy and fulfilled even while not running as much as I might like.

I wish!
I wish!

The major things that keep my mind from obsessing over my injury are my PhD work, my daughter, and my husband.

After taking the past year to be a mom, I began the third year of my PhD program in August, and I am now teaching and trying to get back up to speed on my research.  Both of these present unique challenges.  I am teaching a cross-disciplinary minority STEM education class, an exciting and – I think a terribly important – class in its pilot semester, which requires a fair amount of curriculum development on top of regular teaching duties.

The year away from my research has given me time to forget just enough to get me into trouble: file locations, key authors, data set references, the nuances of who said what at which conference and what software operation does the process I am envisioning…my sphere of knowledge is a bit foggy around the edges as I try to sort through what I do know, may have known, never knew, and what may have existed purely in my imagination. Oddly, one of the hardest – and most ridiculous – parts of being back at school is the sitting. Having spent the past year constantly walking, bending, carrying, and rocking a child, sitting in front of the computer, focused and productive is much harder than I could have imagined.

Smiles all around.
Smiles all around.

Also keeping my mind fresh and excited is my daughter. Now a toddler, she walks, runs, climbs with alacrity, and her opinions and desires are increasingly communicable.  Her arsenal of words and commands and her curiosity seem to increase almost daily. Her temper has likewise gained vocalism, and she has also discovered biting. I find this horrifying beyond description, but the wisdom of the internet and our day care instructors assure me that it’s a very common stage that will pass with guidance. As I see her growing and absorbing the world around her, I can’t help but slow down my sometimes frantic, goal-oriented self and take time to admire the world as seen through fresh eyes and felt by pudgy fingers.

Taking it all in (at 12,000')
Taking it all in (at 12,000′)

The support I receive on a daily basis from my husband is key in my mental health and physical recovery.  John is able to understand that the crankiness I exhibit on some days is really just my frustration over not being able to run, and not a reflection of my mood toward him. He gives me a certain look when I am being unreasonable about arbitrary things I can fixate upon (“I MUST reorganize every glass, plate, Tupperware in the house AT THIS INSTANT or life will not continue!”) and I know to take a deep breath, admit that I don’t actually need to hyper-organize my kitchen, and just get on with eating dinner.

Willow Lake near Kit Carson Peak, CO
Willow Lake near Kit Carson Peak, CO

Our weekends are usually dictated by my long runs, so John and I took advantage of the flexibility of my (non-) running schedule to spend our first night away from our daughter this past weekend. Leaving the babe at my parents’ house, we planned to hike Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak with some friends. While we didn’t make the summit, we did enjoy a stunningly beautiful, relaxing, peaceful hike, and truly enjoyed the time together to reconnect as a couple.

Invigorated from our alpine adventure, and feeling more confident in my academics, I’m looking forward to my careful return to running and training, and am incredibly glad to have so many wonderful ‘distractions’ in my life.

What do you do to distract your mind from an injury? How do you cope with the grouchiness that may occur when you are unable to run for a protracted amount of time?

2 thoughts on “Staying busy, staying sane (while not running!)

  1. Jenny

    I too struggle with the pool running! It’s Incredibly boring and thoughts of ” am I doing enough” continue to run through my head. I have been cross training for 3 weeks now and can’t wait to get back on the road before running NYC marathon. Good luck with your recovery!
    Run happier,

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