Balance and Running: Living a Healthy, Balanced Lifestyle

As I write this article, I am sitting in a coffee shop on a beautiful sunny day wishing I were outside. I’m week three into a calf injury that has sidelined me from doing anything except spinning easy on a stationary bike. I want more than anything to go for a run out in the sunshine, but, instead, I’m inside trying to heal. Although injuries are never a positive thing, they sometimes allow us to take a step back and evaluate. In my case, the injury has forced me to reflect on what’s important in my life.

I’ve realized that over the past few months running has taken a very central role in my life. Everything else revolved around running, as it was my top priority. Then, when I injured my calf, this life that I’d gotten so used to was suddenly taken away. I felt empty. Everything in my daily life was disrupted and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

I went through the stages of grief, starting with denial: I wasn’t really injured; a few days off and I’d be fine.

Next, anger: ‘Why did this happen to me? And why now of all times?”

Then, bargaining to my physical therapist: “If I take a week off of running now, can I race next weekend?”

Followed by depression: I’d wake up hoping that miraculously I’d be healed only to be crushed as I took my first few steps out of bed. I felt empty and just plain down for days.

And finally, acceptance: I admitted that I was hurt and moved on. There is nothing I can do except focus on the future and try to get healthy.

Once I came to terms with the injury, I was able to think about what I actually could do. Turns out, there are quite a few things. I’d let myself become so defined by running that I forgot about all the other things I had going on in my life. And believe me, there are a ton of other things I have to focus on. So why, then, had running suddenly become totally consuming? Why had it taken such a central role in my life? And most importantly, how can I restore balance in my life? I pondered these questions as I sat with ice on my leg. It struck me that I didn’t actually know how to answer my questions and needed an outside opinion. So, after a few calls, I made an appointment with a sports psychologist to try to determine how I’d gotten so far out of whack in my life.

My visit to the sports psychologist started with questions about my life and priorities. We discussed why I run and what it means to me. We also discussed other areas of my life and how to bring them back to the forefront. All in all, it was very beneficial to get an outside opinion.

For me, the reason running had become so over-consuming was partly because that was how everyone in my community knows me. They know Stephanie the athlete, not Stephanie the person who has way more to her than just running. When I became injured, the person that everyone knew was in jeopardy of becoming extinct (total exaggeration, but that’s how it felt).

The solution to avoid this feeling was for me to acknowledge the other things that had gotten lost in the shuffle. Easier said than done, especially in a small community where everyone and their brother asks me if I’ll be healed in time for an upcoming local race. A couple days ago, I started counting the number of people who asked me if I was going to race. I counted eight for the day. And just this morning, as I attended a local spin class, the instructor looked at me and asked, with her microphone on so the whole class could hear, if I was still planning to race. Grrrrr. All I really wanted people to do was ask if I was okay, not ask about my race plans, or lack thereof. I thought about making a sign or having fliers to pass out that explained my story so I didn’t have to keep repeating it.

During this time, I’ve been doing some thinking about what really makes me happy and what other activities I can do in place of running. This has led me to try a whole host of things that I never have the time to do. I made a couple recipes I’ve been meaning to try out. I went to ladies’ night at the spa with a friend and got a pedicure. I took out my art supplies and painted a bit. I read a book I’d been wanting to read for months. I cleaned out a cabinet in my house that was full of clutter. All things I’d been wanting to do but hadn’t been able to find the time. And in doing those activities, I was able to feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe I wasn’t actively bringing me to a more balanced state, but it was making me feel like a normal person again. I started to think less and less about running and being injured and more about the activities I wanted to accomplish throughout the day.

As I healed physically and mentally, I started thinking more about balance. How could I make sure to keep my life in balance once I started running again? I felt I had made progress and was living a much healthier, well-rounded lifestyle. My fear was that once I started running it would all be lost.

I met with a good friend for coffee to talk about this further. This friend is probably one of the most well-rounded people I know: she holds a full-time job as a freelance writer; she is the executive editor of a magazine she and her husband founded; she has two very active kids who are involved in more activities and sports than I can list; she is an accomplished endurance athlete who has experienced much success throughout her life; and most importantly, she is a good person and friend. I really look up to her and sometimes wonder how she is able to do it all. We chatted for over an hour and I left feeling like a weight was lifted off my chest. The most important things I took away from our discussion on balance were:

  • Keep everything in perspective. Only worry about what you can control and let everything else go. There is no sense in stressing out about things that are beyond your control.
  • Think about the big picture. What may seem like a huge roadblock right now will seem like just a hiccup in a few months. Focus on the ultimate goal, rather than getting caught up in small details.
  • Keep a positive attitude. Even when things aren’t going well, we have the ability to control our attitude. Simply staying positive can make a huge difference.

So my big question after this discussion was “How do I actually do this?” It seemed like great advice, but how was I supposed to translate that to real life? She advised I make a list of things that I’m looking forward to or goals I have for the future. That way, I would be able to look at my list and think more long-term, rather than right now. She also advised to make a second list of things that I had accomplished over the past couple years. As I started to recall proud moments, I realized that my list was quite long.

Just because I had an injury didn’t negate all the great things I’d done in the recent past. Heck, in the long run this minor setback won’t even affect my goals for the future. So what if I have to change my plans for a few months? It really isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it might be the best thing that could happen to me. It gives me a chance to take a step back and regain some balance in my life. And for this I am thankful.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • How do you maintain balance between running and all of the other aspects of your life?
  • What are some warning signs for you that the equation may be tipping in the direction of too much work, too much running, or too much of something else?
Stephanie Howe

, a coach and nutrition consultant at REP Lab in Bend, Oregon, started competing as a nordic skier and migrated to running in college. Stephanie now balances her schedule competing as an elite runner for The North Face, working at REP Lab and teaching at Oregon State University – Cascades in their Exercise Physiology program. You can learn more about Stephanie at REPoregon.com.

There are 17 comments

  1. Karen

    Really enjoyed this article, Stephanie. I could relate to what you said about people knowing you/identifying you because of running. There are not many people where I live who do ultras/100's, so I've become "that" person.

    It's sometimes a hard balance to strike because running has given me so much, so you keep going to the source. Finally did get burned out at the end of last year–just mentally fried and all the runs felt like bonks. Cut back and things came around.

    It's hard to say no to friends who invite you to run/train, but when it just makes me feel anxious because another day or weekend is consumed by it(and there were other things I wanted to do), well, that was another sign that another approach might be a good idea. I still often have the internal debate: "But how much longer will I be able to do this? Better do it while I can. But, if you're not enjoying it, if it's making you anxious…that's not a good thing…"

  2. Charlie M.

    Balanced running = Look forward to every run, but don't overplan

    Balanced work = Look forward to every work day, but don't watch the clock

    Balanced family = Enjoy the moments of grace, don't give in to homicidal urges :)

    Get well! (drink wine, eat cheese, etc. :)

  3. Jesse

    I think it's good to listen to what your mind and heart are saying in as much as we are taught to listen to our bodies. If you are finding yourself missing time with friends or other things in your life, then you're probably training more than what is good for your soul. Life is always gonna be a great balancing act, and figuring out how to accomplish that and achieve your goals, are learning experiences in and of themselves.

    As far as dealing with injury; I always use that time to focus on other things that can make me come back stronger. Maybe more strength training or flexibility work. Focusing on meditation or nutrition. Things that may get put to the side during heavy training bouts, but can be eternally useful in endurance training. If you push the envelope, it is without question that sometimes you will punch through, and learning how to recover from that is just as important. I hope you have a speedy recovery!

  4. Shelby

    It's so important to have multiple loves in life that bring you joy so that when one is taken away, there is so much left to delight in. Family, work, sports, hobbies — there's so much WONDERFUL out there.

    I've found that anything or anyone that becomes the ULTIMATE thing from which I derive my identity, value or sense of worth will enslave and crush me. "If I have ________, I'll be happy". Whatever _______ is, is what needs to be dethroned.

    Like 100 milers, it's mostly mental. Attitude is everything. Good luck in pursuing your own life's balance and finding peace in the midst of difficult circumstances.

  5. satori mystic

    Great article. This soul searching is what brought me to running in the first place. I broke my wrist at the beginning of the summer last year. Living in Colorado this was exceptionally heart breaking for a rock climbing mtn biker. Both sports that rely heavily on hands and arms. I went through the exact same emotional cycle, without the denial, no kidding myself that climbing and downhill biking were done for the summer after the surgical drugs wore off. It took me maybe a week after surgery to tell myself that I had to find something I could still do before I decided to not tell my doctor that I picked up trail running. It started with a simple hike up a 14er. And subsequent jog back down. My worthless arm resting in a sling never crossed my mind as the terrain rolled along. I didn't need anything; bike, climbing gear, camping equip… All my previous hobbies required stuff and things, running captivated my heart with its simplicity. I still avidly pedal and climb but ever since my injury running has been my "happy place."

  6. Lisa Farr

    Great and timely article, as i do the spin bike for the 10th day in a row, letting my minor stress fracture heal. I see that you are in Bend. Look up Jay Dicharry, PT at Rebound Physical Therapy. He is a genius. (all of us runners in Charlottesville VA were so very sorry to lose him to the west coast!)

  7. Jason

    Sooner rather than later we have to find peace with doing what we can with what we have and no more. Climb Mt. Fuji little snail, but slowly, slowly……

  8. Moogy

    Great article Stephanie! 8)

    For me, I am at times more consumed by work and running is that relief, that time to think, to release whatever is tipping the scale in the wrong direction.

    When I am at work, my mind constantly wanders to when I am once again able to hit the trails, smell that dirt, smell that cedar.

    When I race I do so more to enjoy the scenery, the mountains, to share in the enjoyment with friends, not so much to compete (well…maybe a bit) because when you work in academia, there is a bit too much of that.

    Try knitting…a few of my running friends do it and LOVE it. I think that this winter I might pick it up too.

  9. Will Musto

    It's interesting to read this; I'm on the other end of the spectrum. Former collegiate athlete, fallen out of shape a bit, spend a lot of time wishing I were back out there…but so focused on other things in life. Am I unbalanced away from fitness right now? (Whereas I used to be unbalanced towards being a fast runner.)

  10. Luke

    Here's a short article that I wrote as I'm currently injured:

    Losing my mindfulness

    I have been unable to run for the last few weeks. During this time, I have on occasion bored others with my frustration and/or wallowed in self-pity. So I thought I would write a little piece about my pondering about the mind, running and injury.

    Most people who love running, do so because when they run, they enter a different state of mind. The mind is calm and focused, rather than overrun with a constant chatter of thoughts. The benefits gained when running in this state outlast the end of the run.

    This is partly why a good run can set you up for the rest of the day, and despite feeling physically tired, many runners maintain a calmness and de-stressed feeling.

    This mind state that many runners enter during their runs is called mindfulness by some. It's the state of mind that people enter when meditating or playing an instrument or even cooking!

    Mindfulness when running involves a focusing of attention and awareness only on the act of running. Successfully entering this state can leave you feeling intensely alive, in a state that is free of time, free of problems, free of thinking.

    So, did I mention my injury? God it's been frustrating. Really got me down. Watching others enjoying a run in the evening sunshine…blah, blah!

    How did my injury occur? With a crack? Or a pop? A snap perhaps? No, my injury started to occur when I ceased to become mindful when running. Instead, thinking negative thoughts about how poorly my training was going, how boring the route was, or how much my Achillies, hamstring or other body part was hurting. It was negative mind chatter that broke my ability to listen to my body. So, even when my body was screaming STOP! GROIN MULFUNCTION! I just kept on running.

    So, I've seen the physio. I've got the exercises, I've got the stretches.

    However, the area I'll be focussing on most as I begin to run again, is the joy of running in a state of mindfulness.

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