August 23, 2012

Phasing Out

I haven't run in several weeks thanks to some persistent leg pain. I've been spending an insane amount of time cross-training (just ask my husband), but I've limited myself to shooting longing glances at the treadmill from my perch on the elliptical, and my Nike+ notifications have gone from "More miles this week than last! Great job!" to "Are you still breathing? Is there someone we can call?" It's been rough, but yesterday marked a breakthrough. I've discovered that every time I take a break from running for a weird pain (which has happened more often that I'd like), I go through three very distinct phases:

Phase 1: Denial
("It's just a little tiny pain, probably nothing... I'll just keep running and I'm sure it will go away... it's only getting worse because my legs are getting tired... I'm not a very strong runner if I let the pain stop me, I've just got to push through it... the only way I'm going stop this workout is if my leg actually falls off... I'll just take two Advil so that I'll be able to walk for the rest of the day")

Phase 2: Acceptance 
("Actually, this elliptical isn't so bad after all... At least I'm not outside running in the heat... That sucker on the treadmill looks pretty miserable, glad I'm not doing that... Why on earth would I ever think 10 miles was fun?... I'm not sure I ever want to run again")
Phase 3: Hesitant Rebound 
("I sort of wish I could be running right now... That treadmill looks kind of nice... I'd really like to try just a short run, but what if it's still painful?... I am actually dying to get back out there again, but I'm too scared of reversing any progress in the pain department... Just a few miles can't hurt, right?")
This time around, my denial phase was serious -- for weeks, I pushed myself to do a couple miles a day, ignoring the physical discomfort I knew would follow just for the mental comfort of continuing to run. I supplemented with cross training, stretching, icing, and lots of foam rolling, and honestly felt ok for a while, so I was hopeful that cutting back on mileage for a bit would fix the problem. Eventually, though, things got worse again and I knew I needed to stop completely.
After just a few days of mourning (and more than a little guilt), I plunged headlong into phase 2 -- thanks in no small part to the awful heat wave that hit around this time, I was actually thrilled not to be suffering through mile after mile of 100+ degree temps. Waking up each morning, I was relieved to head down to the air conditioned gym and a workout that, while still intense and seriously sweat-inducing (I have honestly never met anyone who works out faster, harder, or longer on an elliptical machine than yours truly), was less mentally challenging than pushing myself through yet another run. I stopped stressing about the miles I wasn't logging, the long runs I wasn't taking, and the races I had coming up. I was, frankly, quite happy to hit the gym once or twice a day and work out hard, but not have to run a mile.
Recently, though, as the weather has cooled off a tiny bit and I've been attempting to get used to a new gym, I'm feeling myself sliding towards the next part of my little running vacation -- the one that usually gets me back out on the road in a mentally and physically healthy place. Over the past week or so, I've felt a little less resistant to the thought of stretching my legs over a few miles outside. The treadmills have looked less torturous and more inviting (especially considering the new gym's lack of decent ellipticals and wealth of lovely looking treadmills). The itch has been building for days, but by yesterday, I was sure of it: I was dying to run again, even if it was just for 10 minutes. The only little problem with this part of the process is the nerves -- when I get to this point, I'm actually a little frightened to get started again. What if it hasn't been long enough, and the pain is still there? What if I aggravate whatever injury I had to begin with? What if, after a few weeks off, I just can't do it anymore? Lots of little nagging fears pop up every time I consider giving it a try, warning me to be careful and take things sloooowly. So as badly as I wanted to give one of the new treadmills a test run last night, I forced myself back onto my elliptical. Tonight, I'm going back to the old apartment for some more cleaning, and taking advantage of some time in the gym that feels more like home still. I think it might be the perfect time to test my legs with a mile or two -- on the treadmill where I've logged hundreds of miles in rain, snow, cold, and dark over the past two years. I'm nervous, but hopeful that this time around, phase 3 will ease me into a wonderful fall running season.



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