Dear Marathon Mom,
Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. At least, that’s what it feels like. I’ve had a nagging hip pain for about two months and finally broke down and went to the doctor. It’s a small stress fracture. The doctor ordered me not to run on it at all for 8 weeks, and then I have to come back very slowly. I am not a patient person, and I have no intentions of just sitting around with my thumb up my you-know-what waiting for this to heal. Of course, I’ll follow orders not to run for two months (I’m not dumb enough to make it worse on purpose), but I’d like to do some other activities that will maintain my running fitness level without aggravating the stress fracture or slowing down the healing process. Any ideas?
Dear Stressed Runner,
The fates have brought us together. I have faced a very similar issue a few years back and offer you all of my empathy. Frustration doesn’t even begin to express what it feels like to be held back from something you love – something you feel you need. I’m so sorry to hear that you have a stress fracture, but the good news is that there certainly are alternative forms of exercise you can do to maintain your running fitness while your hip heals.
Have you busted out your suit and goggles yet? If you don’t currently have access to a lap pool, please strongly consider joining a gym for a few months, or look into lap swim times at a community pool or college. Swimming is an extremely efficient whole-body cardio workout that will maintain your running muscles, as well as strengthen some new ones that will only aid in your return to the roads. The view may not compare to outdoor running, but there is definitely something therapeutic in the monotony of lap swimming; after a few laps, your muscle memory kicks in and your mind allows you to wonder more and work out whatever issues you want or need to. It’s a lot like running in that way.
Cycling is another highly effective cross-training activity for runners. For those of us who are not as confident on a bike as we’d like to be, a stationary bike at the gym or an at-home trainer for your bike will work just as well. I used to set my bike up on a trainer in the living room and watch a show while I cycled. It passed the time faster, I finally knew what the hell people were always talking about on Facebook with the latest shows, and my butt was never firmer. For a more beneficial cycling workout, include intervals, such as peddling repeats of one minute hard followed by one minute recovery for at least 20 minutes.
Let’s not forget, of course, running’s closest cousin – walking. I know that many runners scoff at walking as inferior, but that’s simply not true. Walking is another fabulous cross-training activity for runners, as it works many of the same muscles but is far gentler on your body. Hell, if you can get over your self-consciousness, get out there and power walk. You don’t necessarily have to get a paper jacket and join the elderly woman’s walking group that meets at the school track at 4 a.m…..although, I must say, those women are quite nice and have a lot of good advice.
Finally, I will suggest you take advantage of this forced break from running to step back and reassess your approach to running. How did the stress fracture occur? Are you over-training? Are you getting enough calcium? Do you have a healthy, well-balanced diet? Are you taking the best care of your body that you can in order to keep it healthy for this sport you love? I am only speaking from personal experience that, odds are, the stress fracture is your body’s last ditch effort to force you to pay attention to a need that is not being fully met.
Take care of yourself. You deserve it. The road will still be there in 8 weeks.