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It’s a playful joke in the Physio world that if you’re going to have a client cry in an appointment they either have something seriously wrong with them, or they’re an injured runner. So why do we get so upset when we can’t run?
I remember one injury that I found particularly devastating. It was my third attempt to train for a marathon. For those of you who don’t know I spent 5 years trying and failing to train for a marathon after I took up running. Every year I downloaded a cookie-cutter plan and followed it to the letter and every year I got injured.
On this occasion, I was staying with my then-girlfriend, now-wife at her Mom’s house in Kincardine. It’s a beautiful little lakeside town in Ontario. I ran through the trails behind her house to the beach on Lake Huron. As I ran along the beach I noticed a pain on the top of my left foot. It quickly got worse and I started to limp.
I decided to call it a day and walk home. This was quite irritating as it was a 90-minute walk back to the house. I clearly remember trying to walk down the stairs in her Mom’s house the following morning. I was unable to put my full weight on it and had to use the railing. I knew immediately that I was going to be out for at least a month. It was only a couple of months before the marathon so I was going to have to pull out. Again.
If you think back over the moments from your life that you remember most clearly, you’ll notice that they’re all extremely emotional. I remember that event so clearly because it packed such an emotional punch for me. I also remember being pretty down for the next month or two, until I was able to get back to running.
I’m a Runner
When I worked in the clinic as a Physio I noticed that injured runners would often identify themselves right off the bat. I’d open with my usual “What brings you in today” and runners would often reply “I’m a runner and I’m training for a marathon” or “I’m a runner and my knee hurts after long runs”.
This doesn’t happen as much with people who play other sports. People who play golf or hockey or soccer don’t refer to themselves as “golfers” or “hockey-ers” or “soccer-ers”. I think there’s a lot of identity wrapped up in being “a runner”. So when we get injured and we can’t run, it’s like we’ve lost a piece of who we are. I think that’s why we get so upset. But why do we see it this way?
Running Is My Linchpin
A linchpin is a small fastener that’s used to hold a wheel onto its axle. They’ve been around since the 14th Century so I’m guessing they were originally designed for horse-drawn carriages. Essentially, if you remove the linchpin the wheel will fall off and the whole machine is rendered useless. It’s a small but vital part of a more complicated system.
Running is my linchpin. It’s a small part of my life but it’s vital. The first (and most obvious) role that running has is that it keeps me physically healthy. Running is my primary form of exercise and the main reason I run is to stay healthy. I want to live as long as I can. I want to be around to see my kids grow up and then hopefully their kids too! If that’s what I want I’m going to have to stay healthy.
The second most important role running plays in my life is to help me with my mental health. Most of the runners I work with say this is the primary reason they run. They often refer to it as their “me-time”. This doesn’t resonate with me so much. Probably because I do 90% of my running while pushing Lachlan in the stroller and dragging Socks along by his lead. Not exactly “me-time”.
However, running does form an important part of my routine. I’ve noticed that routines seem to be really important for me. I get stressed out and kind of restless when I don’t have a regular routine to follow. I run 4-6 days a week and strength train on the other days. This gets me working out every day and forms a kind of backbone to my week.
Another less-obvious role that running plays in my life is to help me show up as my best self. Whether it’s as a coach, a physio, a colleague, a team leader. Or even as a Dad, a Husband, a Son, a Brother. I’m just a more balanced and capable person when I’m running regularly. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination (my wife would happily attest to that). But I know I’m much worse when I’m not running.
Another reason I value running is that I can set an example for my son. Since Lachlan showed up a couple of years back, it’s been way harder to fit in my runs. But I want to show him that working out and being physically active is something you have to do for life. It’s like brushing your teeth or showering. It’s not a “nice-to-do”, it’s a “must-do”.
Kids watch what you do and Lachlan is going to watch me do a ton of running. I don’t know if that’s what he’ll be into, but at least I’m setting the example that physical activity is an important part of a fulfilling life.
And finally, I think running races in particular allows me to practice tons of really useful skills. I get practice setting goals that are ambitious but still achievable. I have to make a plan and be disciplined enough to stick to it. I also have to be willing and able to modify the plan along the way. Even really tactical things like planning my schedule and routines so that I can fit my runs.
I can’t think of an area of life that wouldn’t be positively influenced by practicing these skills.
So Why Do Runners Get So Upset?
When I think back to that moment on the staircase at my mother-in-law’s house, I still feel the emotional weight of realizing I was injured yet again. I don’t think I could have verbalized it at the time, but I think deep down, I had a sense that my linchpin had just been pulled out and the wheels were about to come off.
We get so upset because we realize what an important role running plays in our life, even if we can’t exactly explain it to our non-runner friends.
I eventually got to that marathon. It took me 5 years of getting injured every year, but I learned a lot along the way about how to manage and avoid running injuries. One thing that I found particularly helpful has been periodizing my year.
Most recreational runners like us haven’t even heard of periodization. Those that have understand it to be a very complicated system of focusing on different aspects of training through the year in order to peak for a goal race. I’m not talking about anything so complicated as this.
Rather, I just think about having “themes” for the different seasons of the year. I use this strategy with my athletes too. We’re coming up to winter here in Canada. My theme for winter is usually strength. I usually hit the gym 3-4 times a week in the winter and concentrate on making my “focus-lifts” stronger.
The theme for the Spring will be specific training for whatever my first A-Race of the season is. In the Summer, I usually adopt a “maintenance” theme. I try to maintain the strength and running fitness that I built earlier in the year, but I also try to make time for hiking and camping and other recreational-type stuff.
In the Fall, there will usually be another race-specific theme and then we’re back into strength training for the winter.
It’s a very simple system, but it helps you avoid injuries or burnout. You get strong in the winter so that your body can handle hard training later in the year. In the summer, you take your foot off the gas a little with the running so that you don’t burn out. In the Spring and Fall, you’re pushing hard for race performance.
This contrasts with what I see from most recreational runners. They do no strength training in the winter and dial back their running volume because it’s cold. Then they run tons in the Spring (and often get injured). Then they take the summer off to spend time with their family and ramp up the training again really quickly in the fall to get ready for another race. No wonder runners get injured so much!
I’ve been following this simple system since I ran that first marathon 5 years after taking up running. It’s been almost a decade now and I haven’t had an injury serious enough to have to stop running. This is really good news for me because running is my linchpin and I get really upset when I can’t run because I’m injured.
I think running might be your linchpin too. It helps you stay physically and mentally healthy. It helps you show up as your best self for your family and in your work. It helps you set a good example for your kids and allows you to practice skills that help you grow as a human being.
Remember how important it is. It’s your linchpin.
If your linchpin has been pulled out and the wheels have fallen off, we can help. Just click the button below to book a free call and you can tell us all about it. And yes, it’s OK if you cry.