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The Obsessed Fortysomething Runner: What I learned from not running for a month

I had a nagging case of (left) Achilles tendinitis for a good part of 2015, which I think dated back to around the time of the Rum Run (aka the world's longest 10K race). It never got severe enough to inhibit my running, and most of the time it didn't even hurt me while running. At most, I would feel twinges for a couple of minutes. It was, however, tender to the touch, and definitely failed the pinch test. There were times when I thought I was just about over it, and then it came back, not with a vengeance, but something more than mere annoyance. I was feeling pretty good in late October, but then I ran the Halloweenathon twice and started feeling more stiffness and aches. Finally, after finishing the Turkeython, I decided to take a break from running. My hope was that I could just take 10 days off and then run the NaughtyorNiceathon. In the meantime, I happened to have an annual physical check-up, and I discussed the AT with my new doctor. I yelped out loud when he did the pinch test. His recommendation? "Lay off running for 3-4 weeks." Yikes! Between November 26 and December 17 (three weeks), I didn't run at all. I did 2 easy miles on the treadmill on the 17th, and then 2.8 miles along the beach (on pavement) on the 23rd, and 5.3 miles on Christmas Day. I didn't see as much progress as I'd hoped, so I stopped again until January 11. So, apart from the 10 miles on those three days, I didn't run between November 26 and January 11. What did I learn from not running?

1. I’m so glad I was able to cross-train

I think I would have been bouncing off the walls if it weren’t for the Concept2 rowing machine. I also have access to stationary bikes at the gym, but I don’t particularly enjoy indoor cycling, which is a little odd because I don’t mind indoor rowing or treadmills. The great thing for me about the Concept2 is that my rowing pace and calorie burn rate is pretty close to what it is for running, so I can get a comparable feeling of effort expended in the same amount of time.

2. Welcome back, DOMS

Rowing is great, but it’s not running. When I got back to running in January, I started off with an easy 5 miles at what was my long slow distance run pace. As far as cardiovascular conditioning went, I didn’t really feel like I had lost anything; the easy pace felt easy.

But, boy were my quads sore the next day! I haven’t felt running-related DOMS in about five years. When I went running again two days later, my quads let me know – during the run – that they were still mildly displeased.

3. It was easier to fall out of the habit of running than I expected

Before I took all this time off, I would’ve thought that I would be itching to get back to running as soon as I could. Maybe the holidays are the best time to take a break from running (or the worst, depending on how you look at it), but I found my attention easily occupied by board gaming with family. My boys really liked Car Wars (my dad found it appalling, but I tried pointing out how it develops skills at multivariate constrained maximization – i.e., make the best fighting vehicle you can with limited money and having to balance armor versus weight), and my older son started to learn about the Cold War when we played Twilight Struggle.

At the same time, the Concept2 began to exert a stronger pull on me. “Don’t risk retarding your recovery by going back to running too soon,” it cooed at me. “Why not sit down and enjoy some more TV while rowing?”

I’m not sure if I felt a loss of confidence about running, or maybe concern about whether I would be able to return to my previous level of running fitness. The fact that I was still improving at rowing compounded my diffidence. Fortunately, when I got back on the treadmill in January, I felt absolutely fantastic for the first mile….

4. A break from running is not the end of the world

This is probably the most important lesson I learned. I’m still easing back into running with just three easy 5 mile runs that first week. I’ll slowly shift my running-rowing ratio in favor of the former, and I’m sure it’ll take a bit of time to get back to where I can try to challenge my PRs, but it was a relief to see firsthand that people are right when they say you can (generally) get back to where you were before. Of course, that was just a month off for me, not a longer layoff, which hopefully I won’t ever have to deal with. But it does mean that it’ll be easier to take a month off down the road if doing so means avoiding a much longer amount of time off.

About Tung Yin (252 Articles)
Law prof by day, runner all the time. Got off the couch in January 2011 and have been obsessed with running ever since.

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