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.