I Can’t Run For A While, So What Do I Do Now? Advice Please!

I love the natural high of exercise. To me, it serves as a kind of pseudo anti-depressant* that puts me in an instant good mood, and I like to alternate new workout plans to give me something to look forward to during dull or stressful stretches of time (like, say, the bulk of winter). For most of my life, largely because of Lululemon models that looked nothing like me and my overall hatred of gym class, I thought of myself as the opposite of a “fitness person.” I was on a sports team for a few years of high school, but I still felt like I’d never be someone who exercised of my own accord, and I dreaded “mile run day” in school like it was the plague. At that point, I figured I’d be doomed to choose between either a sedentary life or one full of countless miserable, wasted hours forcing myself to break a sweat when I’d rather be reading a book. I can’t pinpoint exactly when that changed, but sometime within the last few years, I started to kind of like going to the gym. I started to realize (and this is going to sound painfully obvious, so don’t laugh) that exercise is not just for those among us who are ultra-thin and have $200 Nike fitness gear, or something that only some people are “good” at. Instead, it’s an amazingly simple, egalitarian way to improve your life and practice keeping promises to yourself (for real, this was an actual surprise to me). These days, I get twitchy after a few days without a workout, which has me in a bind, because I just injured my foot and am totally out of commission.

Around the time I started actually enjoying my time on the elliptical, I started to explore other forms of exercise, and that’s when I got hooked. I went to my first yoga class with a friend and walked out feeling better than I ever had in my life. I’ve been practicing ever since, and it’s helped me in ways far beyond physical benefits. I started to walk long distances to every place I could. Then, a few months ago, I took up running, which is what landed me in crutches. I never, ever dreamed I’d be a person who ran recreationally, and despite getting hurt, I couldn’t be happier that I took it on. I don’t often run vast stretches — usually two or three miles around my local park’s running path and then back home, which is enough to make me happy. Over the past few weeks, I started to realize that I wanted to step up my game, and — this is the exciting part — that I actually could. I felt my lung capacity improving (that’s a real thing that I’m not just imagining, right?) and I started spending more time running outside, trying to make the most of the season before the coming winter forced me onto a treadmill. Since my dad’s death in August, my life has entered a strange period of upheaval. Facets of life that I thought were constants changed overnight, and things I never imagined would happen to me (both good and bad) have materialized out of nowhere. The changes have yet to let up, and the weirder it got, the more I ran.

Spending time in the fresh air of the park felt great, and it was especially rewarding on the days I wasn’t motivated but got myself out there anyway. It felt like a small favor I was doing myself to stay as healthy as I could through all the emotional craziness of this fall. I wasn’t going to die young like my dad, I thought, because was taking care of my heart (the man was incredibly athletic and died of a heart attack anyway, so this line of reasoning was totally moot, but oh well). My father smoked most of his life, continuing even after the first heart attack he had when I was a little girl. He ate like a college kid — baked beans, sugar cereals, milkshakes, an endless stream of coffee — and most people saw it as an endearing part of his charm. It surely was, but it didn’t do him any favors in the longevity department. It’s not as if he completely ignored his well-being — he went to check-ups and stayed physically active and stuck around for almost twenty years after that first heart attack, and I don’t believe that was solely because of luck. In fact, we later found out that on the night he passed away at home by himself, one of the last things he did was try to check his blood pressure. The batteries on the blood pressure monitor weren’t loaded properly, so from what we can tell, he wasn’t able to get a read when he was fiddling with it. Sometimes I can’t help but think about whether things could have been different if that machine had worked, despite how nauseous it makes me to consider it. What it also made me consider is amping up how seriously I take my own health, and on a more subconscious level, I think I started to wonder whether I could somehow amend what happened by trying to make sure my own fate was the opposite of his.

While I don’t want to put words in the mouth of my extended family, I think they felt the same way on some level. They saw my father’s heart attack, and my grandfather’s before his, and felt their own genetics conspiring to betray them. Like me, they considered the preventable parts of the equation, like my dad’s smoking, his less-than-ideal health insurance, and his relationship to exercise — and took action. My cousin launched a plan for the family to focus on fitness together by exercising throughout the week and holding each other accountable. She suggested that our project could culminate in participating in a race in my dad’s honor on Thanksgiving day. It felt like a small way to take control over losing a person we hadn’t been ready to say goodbye to, and for me, it also felt like an excuse to commit a little more heavily to the outlet that had gotten me through the worst of this year. On Saturday, with the race in mind, I went on my farthest run yet, and felt more full of energy I’d expected. It was amazing — but then my foot started to feel like it had some kind of muscle cramp. I woke up the next day and it still hurt, more than it ever had before, but for some reason, I chose that day to take it upon myself to put in my final registration for the race anyway. Today, a doctor told me I likely have a fracture and I’m now hobbling around on crutches. There was no intense impact or any direct cause that I can think of, just a small gnawing pain that grew bigger until my foot was suddenly screaming. Me, a girl who is freakishly paranoid about injuries, hurt herself doing an exercise she’d taken up in an attempt to make her body healthier. Oh, the irony.

It will take a visit to an orthopedist and several more days before I even know how long I’ll be off my feet, but it will likely be for several weeks. I’m kind of panicking. The race may be a no-go, but what’s even scarier is that my daily exercise routines are done for, and instead I may be stuck spending lots of sedentary time alone with my thoughts, which is not a great thing during this uncertain, isolating chapter I’m experiencing in my personal life. If I’m being honest, I also really don’t want to gain a bunch of inches from suddenly quitting on all that cardio (and it’s hard for me to admit I care about that!). I spend several hours every week exercising, and more often than not, it gives my mind a chance to process my increasingly confusing world. Each year when winter comes and the skies get gray, I become a different person. I become plagued by alternating anxiety and apathy until sunny spring comes back, and that was before someone close to me died. Besides therapy (which I have been eagerly attending since my dad’s death), I get through my winter blues by taking extra care of myself — namely, through the exercise I currently can’t do.

Working out felt like the one relief that couldn’t be taken away from me — it was a peaceful, guaranteed quiet time to reflect or to think about nothing at all. As the doctor pointed out, I’m lucky that I don’t need surgery, and that the injury seems to be pretty minor — but that doesn’t change the fact that I have no outlet for an indefinite amount of time. This brings me to my question for you: what do I do to calm my nerves if I can’t run? I can manage some variations of yoga, but most other exercise I enjoy can’t be done with an incapacitated foot. I’m a big believer in head-clearing rituals, and morning runs filled that role for me. What else can work in their place? Meditation? Random stretches? Reading? I’m at a loss here, and I’m all ears, Friskyers. Any suggestions? What do you do to chill out and let go of the stress of your day?

*Please know that I’m aware exercise doesn’t take the place of medication, and don’t mean to imply any different!

[Image via Shutterstock]