Grit Doctor: Don’t be a cry baby - become a water baby
A busy woman needs to find an activity other than running that she can embrace with the same passion
Q Dear Grit Doctor, I have three children. I work full-time, I run regularly and I cycle to work. However, I had a medical mishap recently that has led to two sets of doctors’ orders and six months of medication, and I fear I might go berserk and gain five stone. In the short term I have to rest my leg until I can walk comfortably and not wobble after being up and about for more than an hour. I am not allowed to run for at least a month, until it heals and the first doctor fixes it for good. Well, I said to the second doctor, if impact is the problem, cycling should be no problem. You must be joking, he said, and explained very clearly – given the meds I am taking – the likely outcome of a tumble or a collision.
So I am in a bind. I can walk the children to school. I can walk the dog during their sports training. I can walk to the bus and get off a few stops before the office. But none of these is aerobic, none is as efficient as cycling, and I am not sure when I will be able to resume running into work two days a week.
Can you please help me come up with a way of exercising that I can build into my life? An Xbox programme I used to do in the mornings is too impactful. I am a useless swimmer. And I can’t imagine doing yoga as my head is too full: though maybe, now that I sit on a bus twice a day, that makes me an ideal candidate for it.
Yours sincerely, hopping gently from one foot to the other, Anon
A Ha ha: reading your letter I felt as if it was written by my Irish twin. The number of times I’ve tried yoga and complained that it does nothing for me, it’s boring, not aerobic enough and that I can’t empty my head for a millisecond let alone 45 minutes, despite the numerous attempts by my husband, sister and those close enough to cajole me into it. It just doesn’t cut it for me. Not now. Not this day. Not when I can run instead.
The thing is, if I were in your shoes, I wonder how I would respond. Because running is not only not an option for now, but in your case, it may be on the way out for good.
Gritty? Yes, but this being a potentially recurrent medical condition, it would be prudent to assume the worst – that you may never be able to run regularly again – and use that gritty factoid to spur you on.
Because with these newly gritted-up eyes, when you look at those yoga-esque/water-based-type options again, you will see them differently. Rather than dismissing them out of hand, confident that you are just waiting for the green light from your doctor to run and cycle again, you will have to look upon them as your only hope.
That will have a huge impact on your attitude and motivation; half the battle won already, and all generated by a simple shift in perspective.
On the piling-on-five-stone front, I beg to differ. A regular aerobic exerciser and mother of three post-op, you may well find the opposite applies. Your appetite will probably fall off a cliff as you no longer need all those extra calories to burn, so don’t worry about getting fat, just worry about getting well.
Nourish your body with plenty of lean plant-based proteins; for example, soya beans, fish, wholegrains, fresh fruit, leafy green vegetables and plenty of fluids, because you will undoubtedly lose muscle mass and your body needs the right fuel to repair itself.
And as an active mother in a full-time and full-on job, as well as nourishing your belly, you do need to get stuck into a low-impact sport that will see your speedier return to full health. For now, let’s leave the yoga to the yogis and try something that I am confident you will come to relish every bit as much as those runs and bike rides: swimming.
I know, I know, you tell me you are rubbish at it, but that is something that two or three lessons will very quickly rectify. Because many of us (myself very much included) make schoolboy errors in our stroke and style – let’s call them – which lead to extremely inefficient swimming techniques, leaving us paddling frantically, expending vast amounts of energy and getting nowhere fast. Not to mention feeling we are rubbish at the sport and “just can’t do it” or “don’t get it”.
No one wants to get involved in something they are crap at. Get good at it – quickly – and that obstacle is removed.
And it’s the perfect exercise for you, because it combines the aerobic intensity you crave but with almost zero impact. Go nuts and take a water aerobics class if that turns you on, or water polo, any other water-based activity; whatever it is, make that pool your new stomping ground. Oh, and do get involved at one of those pools that has a sauna/steam/dare-I-say-spa attached, and immerse yourself heavily in said activities: to unwind and convalesce. All essential components of the healing process.
So, while there is every reason to hope you can and will be able to run and cycle regularly again, you would be wise to find another activity you can embrace with the same passion.
That way, if you can run again regularly at some stage in the not too distant future, great. But by then, you will have added another sport – swimming – to your repertoire, which you can then use to complement those runs and ameliorate their impact, lessening the chances of further injury.
And if you can’t run regularly again, you will no longer mind, because you’ve found your new thing. The thing. Swimming like a dolphin now that you’ve got your stroke nailed. A sport that has you feeling so Zen, it may have you investing in a yoga mat.
The Grit Doctor says: Wow, I’ve almost talked myself into getting a swimming lesson.
Ruth Field is the author of Run Fat B!tch Run, Get Your Sh!t Together and Cut the Crap.