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Losing Fitness, Gaining Resilience

Losing Fitness, Gaining Resilience

For the next four to six weeks, I will not be able to run. I won’t be able to do much at all, actually, save
for some walking here and there. It’s not by choice; I’m getting surgery that will prevent me from
doing much exercise at all while I heal. I’m sure many fellow runners, exercise-enthusiasts, and restless
people would be freaked out at the thought of this—and trust me, I am freaked out.
The past couple of months have been a slow return to running after I took a significant amount of
time off of running due to an injury. But during that time I could at least strength and cross-train. The
thought of completely stopping all exercise when I’m lifting the heaviest weights I ever have, and I’m
just beginning to get back into consistent running worries me—how much fitness will I lose? Will my
body change? How will running feel when I get back, after nearly six weeks with no running, no cross-
training, no strength training?
I've signed up for a marathon in November and I want to be ready, healthy, and confident for it,
especially considering how much my body has gone through the past year, mentally and physically,
from injury and burnout. With this additional time off, I’ve been scared I won’t be ready to race 26.2
miles in November.
I meticulously counted the weeks from when I’ll be cleared to run up until race day. 25 weeks. Which,
in my humble run coach opinion, is quite a bit of time to build up a base and begin marathon-specific
training. It’s not like the years of running and strength training I’ve done are going to vanish in the
next month, either. And yet, I am still concerned. I am still doubtful of what my body will be capable
of, how much it can handle, and if it will break down as it has before. Thankfully, my run coach
always knows how to reassure me.
She basically ordered me to take the full six weeks off, even if I’m cleared to run before then. She also
reassured me that not only would I have plenty of time to train, but also that this surgery could not
have come at a better time.
I don’t remember a time in the last five years when I’ve taken a solid break from all exercise and just
rested. That is exactly why she thinks I need this time off. Yes, I will lose fitness; but I will gain so
much more in return.
The fact that I am so fearful of this time off tells me quite a bit about myself. It tells me that maybe
sometimes I don’t have the best relationships with exercise and rest. It tells me that I fear rest, that I

would rather run my body into the ground than be still. It tells me that the past few years, I have
probably overworked myself.
My body has indicated as much, too. I have had two painful injuries and missed the same half
marathon two years in a row because of them. Runs have stopped feeling as easy as they used to, as my
lungs and heart work harder than (I think) they should at paces that used to feel like walking. In all
honesty, I haven’t felt good on 95% of my runs since I’ve returned from my injury this year. Each run
is like a neon sign shouting at me to REST.
Like myself, athletes fear extended rest and how it may change their body composition. The pressures
created by social media and societal normalization of demonizing imperfect bodies cultivate a culture
where we associate rest with weight gain, loss of muscle definition, and diminished fitness, endurance,
and even self-worth. Those things very well might happen to me; I will probably lose fitness and
muscle definition. I might even gain some weight.
I’m not thrilled at the prospect of that. Coming from a background of an eating disorder and a long
road of recovery, I know I will never go back to that dark place. But I also recognize how those
negative body image thoughts and fears creep in, especially at the prospect of forced rest. It’s difficult
to admit as I enthusiastically inform and encourage loved ones to listen to their bodies, denounce diet
culture, and accept our bodies are different, with different needs, and we must treat them with
kindness. Our bodies do not deserve to be punished, and I will be conscious not to deprive myself nor
overcompensate with hard workouts and longer runs once I am cleared to exercise again. This time will
be a test for myself and how well I can embrace potential changes to my body while choosing to eat
enough, even when I am still.
I’m choosing to be optimistic about this forced rest, which I’m not sure I could do without the help of
my coach. I’m optimistic that maybe this is a chance for my body to adapt to the intense training I’ve
done, without interruption, and simply heal itself. I’m optimistic that my tendonitis could fully heal as
I’m chained to the couch for hours on end (although I will be jumping back into injury
prevention/physical therapy exercises the second I am ready). I’m optimistic that my first run back will
be my best run in a long time.
Besides the physical benefits I’m hoping will come from this month off, I think I need to teach my
brain a lesson about rest that I think many other runners could benefit from as well: rest is not to be
feared. Losing fitness is not the end all be all. It does not mean that you cannot get back to where you

were and even surpass that point. Regaining that fitness is much easier than it was to earn in the first
place, even with complete time off from exercise.
Most of all: your worth does not come from your level of fitness.
The idea that we can maintain peak fitness and only keep moving up from there is absurd. We need
time off to allow our bodies to heal from hard races or intense training cycles. We also need time to
lose some fitness and come back even stronger to training, rather than burn ourselves out before we
come close to our potential. The greatest elite athletes always take time off after races, knowing if they
don’t they risk injury or burnout. And even if you don’t get back to where you were or stronger than
that, that’s okay.
I’ve long suffered from self-comparison, in which I decide there must be something wrong with me or
my training that I can’t run as fast as I used to. But like I said, we can’t maintain a certain level of
fitness and go up from there forever. We have peaks and valleys, changing seasons of life and what we
are capable of or have time for.
Our bodies were not built to constantly keep going, yet I try to convince myself otherwise. There will
be periods in my life where I am forced to take time off—like now. This is a perfect opportunity to
prepare my body physically and mentally for those times ahead of me where running may take a
serious backseat. That is okay, because running is not my entire identity, but I will always be a runner
even when I’m not physically running.
I will always be a runner because of how vivacious and robust the running community is. Even as I
jealously watch runners around me enjoying spring weather that is finally coming in April, I can be
happy for them knowing I still have years of spring ahead of me to relish. As I watch the Boston
Marathon come and go in just a couple of weeks, I can still excitedly cheer for every runner and feel the
energy of the sport I love. I will still be glued to the screen watching my favorite runners like Des
Linden, Sara Hall, and Emma Bates, who have all overcome and learned from injury and hardship to
become the powerful inspirations they are.
While I’ve temporarily lost the ability to run, I will never lose the sensations of running alongside
people who love this sport like I do, whose pain I know all too well, and whose tears of joy and anguish
will bring on my own tears.

I think it’s important to remember no one is forcing us to run. No one is expecting us to run certain
times, hit certain mileage, and stay consistent except for ourselves. Our family and friends will love us
just the same if one day we decide to completely quit running. The world will not end from a week,
month, or a year off of running; this sport will always be there for us. It is something we get to do, not
something we have to do. Sometimes rest forces us to stop and appreciate that.
I know that the next time I am confronted with time off, I will embrace it with open arms after having
gone through this experience. I know I will come out of this surgery and time of rest on the other side,
completely fine and excited to run. Time away from something we’ve grown to love and do so
frequently can help us appreciate it even more. After all, distance makes the heart grow fonder.

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