Saturday, January 11, 2014

What Happens When You Break the Running Habit

"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going." - Jim Ryun

I saw this quote posted on Facebook by Runner's World, and it really struck a chord with me. 

Motivation is a big factor in getting us out the door and running for that first time.  Or, it is the thing that gets us started again after a hiatus. We want to lose weight. We need to burn stress.  We want to change our lives.

That motivation, or enthusiasm, however, quickly dies away when the going gets tough. Things don't change fast enough, or perhaps we have unrealistic expectations.  Whatever it is, habit may be the only thing that keeps you going.  I know it has for me.

There have been so many times when I didn't feel like running, but I went through the motions because that is what I do.  On Wednesdays, I run. I might not feel like it all the time, but it's what I do so I do it.  The good habit that was formed over weeks or months might be the only thing that carries me through the rough patches until I can find my motivation or enthusiasm again.

So, what happens when the habit is broken for you?  With my IT band acting up on me lately, I have been forced to NOT run the way I want to. A habit that I had long taken for granted - and enjoyed - suddenly was no longer an option for me.  So, what does a person do?

As far as I see it, there are three options: do nothing and mourn the loss, replace the running habit with something else, or get a greatly modified run fix in to keep your hand in. Or, if you are me, you do all three.

When I first realized the severity of this injury, I recognized the importance of doing nothing.  I took a couple of weeks off and really just chilled out.  I moped about, felt sorry for myself, did all the usual things an injured runner does.

Thankfully, though, the do-nothing phase didn't last long. I am not a competitive runner. My ego doesn't feed off of my runs to the extent that if I have crappy runs I don't do them. (C'mon, we all know folks like that.)  I am a slow, not-so-good runner anyway, so - really - running while injured doesn't look too different for me than running while healthy.  

Immediately after getting over the mourning stage, I got busy trying to find something with which I could replace the habit of running, and I was surprised by what I came up with.

When I first set out to find something, I was looking for that magic cross-training elixir that would allow me to get my cardio fix and fill the void that running had left behind.  Really, I was looking for nothing more than a place holder.  I didn't want to give up my running habit, but I wasn't really running. So what could I find that would keep the habit going?  I tried the elliptical, rowing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, walking at incline and yoga, and I was disappointed when none of those really did it for me.  (Well, truly, skiing would probably do the trick, but it is so weather-dependent.) Oh, I enjoy them all to an extent, but they aren't running.

What I did find, though, was that I could use ALL of them for my purposes.  So, these past couple of weeks, I have simply been trying to maintain my six-day-a-week schedule of activity, giving myself one true rest day out of the week.  I don't stick to any one activity, though, but rather mix it up trying not to do the same activity twice in a row.  In this way, I have found that when the weather is right, I can ski or snowshoe, but otherwise I have rowing, yoga, and hill walking available to me.  I have been using the elliptical as well, but I am finding I think it aggravates the IT band versus helping it, so that is getting dropped for the time being.

Finally, I have found I just can't give up running entirely. As much as it might be advised, there is something that running gives me that I just can't find anywhere else. So, I have continued to run two to three times a week, just as long as I can manage comfortably.  Unfortunately, that amounts to about 2-3 miles at this point, but I'll take it.

So, am I a happy, content, easy-going, come-what-may runner-in-waiting?  Hell no! I am still mourning the loss of my running miles. I am still mad as a hornet that I am not out there. But, in a small way, I accept that this is the path I am on until I am not - whenever that may be.

I might be going about this all wrong, that's for sure. There are days when I doubt my choices.  Should I continue running? Should I do this cross-training activity versus that one?  I really don't know.  Only time will tell, I suppose.

In the meantime, I can say with all honesty that the one good thing that has come out of this is that it has spurred me on to finally devise a training log option that I like and can maintain.  It's simple. It's old school. It involves a pen and a day planner. But, it works for me. I am keeping a fairly detailed log on everything I am doing and how things are going. In this way, I am hoping to be able to - at some point - spot a pattern and figure out once and for all why I keep getting injured and how I can prevent it from happening in the future.

Happy Running!


  1. I found keeping a schedule really helped. Working out every day. Try pool running - that was all I could do when I was first injured (walking/biking bothered the same tendon, and I've never been any good at the elliptical). Pool running saved me, kept me sane, was the only thing that made me feel kind of like running. My longest sessions were 2.5hrs on Saturdays, mostly 1hr on weekdays before work, same as if I was running. I got a waterproof iPod shuffle case & headphones (x-1 audio) so I could listen to podcasts, got my own flotation belt (the ones at the first pool weren't good) and found plans online (if you want I can send you tips and sites). I truly recommend it. Wishing you the best in recovery & comeback - it's so very hard emotionally/psychologically on top of physically…remember you're going through biochemical withdrawal from all the good stuff your body does with a regular running habit. Hang in there!

  2. Ugh. Pool running. A friend of mine has offered to do this with me, and I have turned her down. I am SO not a water person - to the extent that considering doing this makes me shudder a bit. I suppose I should bite the bullet and do it, though. I have had so many people mention it. I would certainly welcome any tips you have. Also, I am afraid to ask, but how long did it take for your IT band to heal? And did you then have any recurrence?