How many times have you had to start over this year?
How many times has an unexpected curveball forced you to pivot from a carefully designed plan? Whether you had an injury, needed a “life break” from running, or contracted COVID-19, a lot of different emotional responses can come with that territory, and they’re worth exploring: How do you start over?
Over the summer, I experienced my first running DNS (did not start). How did it happen? Well, my plan was to run Grandma’s Marathon when I landed in beautiful Duluth, Minnesota, back in June. A Lake Superior breeze, a clear blue sky, and forecasted temps in the 50s on race day would hopefully make way for a race PR or, if nothing else, a day of fun running alongside so many others who trained for months.
But the day before the event, I came down with COVID. No way, not me! I thought. But if it is so, after spending money to travel, I’ll just run socially distanced from others. Ultimately, I didn’t follow through with this silly idea; instead, I sat out the race as I let COVID run its course. No PR, no midrace high fives, no postrace stories to share with others. I knew I had to follow the directions of my doctor so I would be back to my “same” running self. It would only take some time.
So how do you make peace with feeling like your body is ready to race, with all travel expenses paid, but unable to line up at the start due to illness?
Bounce Back From an Illness, Injury, or Mental Break
The most important thing to do before returning to running after COVID: consult your physician. We now know a lot about COVID, but we still don’t know everything. New research is coming out all the time, so the guidelines prescribed today could change tomorrow. Stay in close communication with and follow the instructions of your doctor.
Once your body is back to 100 percent, go into planning your next venture. Do not self-sabotage your return to running by thinking, “How could this have happened?” These thoughts and worries are roadblocks to your triumphant return. Focus on what you can control.
It is very hard to be patient after injury, illness, or brief breaks in running. You want to return to being on the balls of your feet with the air moving past you as quickly as possible. But wait! Though I’m right there with you, what I tell myself nowadays is, “PJ, you can’t rush well-being.” While I originally told myself that I cannot rush PRs, I know that PRs are only a byproduct of daily building blocks, little things, and overall well-being. By following prescriptive, physician-led advice, I know that my version of running success will be here before I know it.
It’s important to follow a well-rounded fitness regimen made up of proper hydration, nutrition, strength, cross-training, recovery, run training, and a balanced lifestyle that supports your efforts. The comeback process is an opportunity to reflect before you jump back into the deep end.
What can you do better? For me personally, my overall nutrition and sleep could use some improvement. From snacking on the go or working from home (where the pantry is all too close), I know I have to better balance my diet and help fuel areas of my training that will need extra support while I recover. If you’re coming back from an injury, consider how certain foods can leave you feeling inflamed, bloated, or sluggish. Reset, and practice making even minor improvements in more areas of your running lifestyle.
As you return to running, it goes without saying that your timeline—like your race day—is yours alone. There will be times when you’ll be outrun by those you previously kept up with. There will be times when the same old route you’ve logged hundreds of miles and repeats will now feel slightly harder. It’s okay. That’s the beauty of this sport. These are simply minor setbacks before a major comeback.
Now go have your comeback moment!
A frequenter of many community running groups and leader of his own community group in his home of Austin, Texas, PJ is an RRCA and UESCA certified running coach. Community and uplifting others are pillars that drive PJ while he supports RW+ members, leads friends to PRs, and chases his own race goals.