Again, a significant gap in my blogging occurred. Goal: stop doing that.
Reason 1: I quit my job. I also procured a new one, which is not, actually, in the operating room. It’s not even in a hospital. This is not the turn-of-events I expected when I submitted my notice. However, the nurse manager for the OR where I’d planned on working has painted a picture grimmer, more exploitative and repellant than the one I left behind. The further I progressed through the hiring process, the more convinced I became not to jump into that particular frying pan.
So instead I’ll be working at the clinic I went to as a kid, floating amongst their family practice, urgent care, sports medicine, and OB locations. It’s an unexpected career change, but that’s the price I’ll willingly pay to live and work in Fort Collins. Unlike Denver, most of its operating rooms are run by a single (ethical, nonprofit) corporation, and the openings for operating room nurses are not as numerous. Suffice it to say I am not so attached to the specialty as to work nights and weekends, and I look forward to resuming patient-education. Hopefully I’ll discover that acute care was never my forte after all.
Reason 2: To celebrate the end of my OR tenure (and the culmination of my hospital-nurse income) I got a breast reduction. I’ve lusted after one for years (over a decade), but didn’t recognize it as reality until getting the chance to participate in those procedures. I’ve made a good effort in the past at being a busty athlete (and also could not sustainably diet the bosoms away), but I’m already so much happier.
This segues into post part 2: what to do during prolonged breaks from running.
There are 2 types of breaks: scheduled and unscheduled. Mine is a scheduled break, as I had already planned for a month between jobs before deciding to have surgery. The caveat is that while I initially imagined a month of frolicking around mountain lakes, I am instead spending quality time on the couch, feeling lazy, indulgent, bored, and confined or trapped, in turns. The upshot of a scheduled break is, obviously, that you’ve given yourself time to anticipate these emotions, and know (approximately) when you’ll be free to go again.
In case of the alternative, you don’t have that luxury. Instead you’re blindsided by illness or injury. Plans are derailed and replaced by a runningless void for days to weeks to months. Whether or not they’re anticipated, breaks give your body a chance to heal and rebuild from what is a high-impact, and highly repetitive, sport. The mental game remains the same as you struggle to not run again too soon. Here’s how:
Set a realistic timeline. A mild ankle sprain should be given 3-5 days. A persistent flu or respiratory infection can take 2 full weeks. Anemia requires at least a month for symptom resolution, and as long as 6 months for full recovery. Return to exercise after surgery depends on the length and invasiveness of the procedure, and will be dictated by your doctor. Attempting to short-change your rest interval by running too soon will only prolong the process. So set your timetable, and stick to it.
Eat well. Just because you aren’t running doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to eat. Your appetite will naturally ebb and flow, and you shouldn’t gain appreciable weight if you respect it. The exception is if you have used running to maintain a chronic caloric deficit, and do not continue that deficit during your break. In this case, your illness/injury may well be caused by under eating. If you aren’t healing in the reasonably expected timeframe, you’re probably not giving yourself enough calories and nutrients to rebuild. Your body will require less food when not running, but you will still experience intermittent hunger and appetite spikes. Treat them appropriately, with [wholesomely sourced] protein, fat, and carbs.
Sleep. Like illness and injury, surgery is an incredible stressor on the body. For the first 4 days after mine, I regressed to the sleep needs of a toddler. I weaned myself off naps by week 2, but still experience limited energy. A day where I approach a ‘normal’ level of activity inevitably invokes a day of increased appetite and fatigue. This is a natural pattern of healing, and it’s helpful to remember that a ‘good day’ from one week will likely equate the low point of the next week, as healing continues.
Keep busy. There will be times when your brain and/or body will want to engage. Running satisfies both those urges, but you can’t run. Your running hiatus is an excellent time to delve into projects and hobbies that running precludes. Do the things you love to do that allow time to pass unmarked — other than running. Everyone should have a hobby outside of running, for the sake of avoiding insanity during rest periods, if nothing else. One of mine is painting. Painting and running come from the same energetic source (for me), so when I’m running a lot, the drive to paint dies off, and vise-versa.
Your ‘hobby’ doesn’t have to be something you’re already good at. Sign up for a month of language classes, or pottery, or cooking. If your break was unscheduled, look for drop-ins, and meet-ups. Teach yourself to knit or sew (or something). Explore new blogs, documentaries, and podcasts. If you’re not too debilitated, you can still exercise in ways that aren’t running. A broken foot leaves the upper-body and core unscathed, so why not try archery? Yoga can be a gentle reentry to exercise, with the healing perks of improved circulation and neuromuscular integration. Stress fractures aren’t worsened by rock-climbing (just don’t fall), and while a head cold might interfere with your trail running, you can still walk.
Whether you accept your break from running with enthusiasm and good grace, or sulk your way through, it will pass. It’s not a death sentence; don’t panic. Don’t binge on cake and beer – and maybe consult with your doctor regarding an antidepressant. Don’t under eat or over exercise to compensate. And finally, accept the time off as a drop in the bucket compared with the running career ahead of you.