For the past couple of months, I've been rehabilitating a pinched nerve in my neck. I have to start by saying that this has been the luckiest, most benign presentation of a pinched nerve: no pain, just some tingling and numbness. Unfortunately, I've had to avoid impact, and therefore running, while my body healed.
I'm starting to reacclimate to impact, adding a mile or a few to each day's training, and it's going well. I'm comfortable and happy while running, but I'm getting impatient during my non-impact cardio. One solace, while I am working through this natural emotional stage, had been that I have been very careful not to waste any time during my recovery.
It's easy to waste time while we are injured. Our favorite sport has been taken from us, and the temptation to throw a pity party is strong. So do it: meet your training partners for a coffee or a beer and indulge in your feelings. We've all been there. We'll commiserate. But then, wake up the next morning and recommit to you training and the new shape it has to take.
1. Do what you can do. So you can't run. What can you do? Walk? Bike? Yoga? We're all afraid to decondition while we're down, but we usually have strategies available to keep up our endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Do them, and avoid wasting time losing fitness.
Of course, some injuries put us on the couch completely. Give yourself a break about this. It takes more time that we think to lose the benefits of our long-term training. Besides, our bodies need to put the bulk of our energy in healing that injury. But when you start to come back, do what you can do. Just upper body fitness? Chair yoga? Go get it. It's unsatisfying in comparison to running, but it keeps us from losing ourselves.
2. Don't do more than you can do. I had several days along the way when I thought, "I feel fine. I could sneak in a run." It took a lot of discipline to hold back, but rushing a recovery is a total waste of time. Waiting to run took me a couple weeks. A setback would have cost me well over a month. That's a waste of time.
3. Do your rehab. Is it formal PT? Is it the strength conditioning we know we need but keep putting off because one more mile sounds like more fun? We have a block of time that used to be filled with running. Fill it with the prep for running, the support activities that will get us back out there and keep us fit. Best case scenario is that we develop long-term habits and continue to make time for these routines post-injury. But don't skip your rehab: without it, we're not strategically strong when we return. This leaves us wildly vulnerable to setback and reinjury, both a huge waste of time.
4. Fill your spare time with something meaningful. I've had a lot of training options available during my recovery, but I have also downshifted in my training intensity. This has left me with spare time each day, which accumulates into lots of time each week not running or training. I wasted a couple of those days on Netflix, but luckily the boredom set in quick, and I shifted that open time into more productive pursuits. I got a lot done, too:
- I inventoried my running shoes, replacing laces, orthotics and ice studs where necessary. I also replaced a couple of dead pairs I'd been holding on to sentimantally.
- I replaced the velcro on the grip harnesses for my walking poles. I've been avoiding that chore for years.
- Sorted and THREW OUT all those stinky, dingy race tees.
- I knitted a headband out of a merino yarn I've had for months. I made a pair of mittens purposefully for road running, because the wool is safety yellow, and had a lukewarm ambition to make a matching headband. Now I'm done, and it's warm and hella cute.
- Cut and sanded a replacement fiberglass tent pole for my wind shelter. I also took care of some tearing and wear in its fabric.
- Caught up on all my unread issues of Ultrarunning Magazine.
- Peeked at a ton of new training plans. If I'm already reevaluating my fitness, why not explore all my options?
- Tried a ton of new recipes, some for nutrition on the run, some for the meals afterwards.
- Spent time with family and friends. I can sacrifice this too often to my training schedule--without any training on the schedule, what was holding me back?
Being injured can feel like a profound waste of time. It's definitely a bummer, and we're entitled to our frustrations. Ultimately, though, we're in charge of our downtime and our recovery. I find that I bounce back faster mentally, and sometimes even physically, if I work to eliminate wasted time. For me, it's a way of taking control back in a frustrating situation.
What are your tricks to stay focused and stop wasting time when you're injured?