Cutting Way, Way Back on Running: One Year Out



My orange pal Strava tells me I have run 215 miles in almost nine months in 2018, which is about 24 miles a month—or probably what I used to run in an average week for years (decades?). That was before last year around this time, when with the advice of my doctor, I decided to scale way, way back on my running to eliminate constant back + leg pain, and to preserve my (one precious) body for many more decades.

There are many things I miss about not running 20+ miles on a weekly basis: feeling the sandpaper salt on my cheeks and neck on the post-run ride home; the unexpected places my head would wander at mile 12 or 15; post-run gulping a big glass of chocolate milk, then pouring another round to take up to the shower; planning my routes to avoid—or take on—the hills; feeling legit when I'm talking to somebody like Kara Goucher; the knowledge that I could show up to any town, at any time and find a race, pin on a bib and join my tribe. (Did I ever do that? Not really. But it's kind of like sushi in NYC at 3 am: it's oddly comforting to know it's available.)

Do I miss those things enough to give up the one thing I've gained in the year since I scaled way, way back? Um, no.

Because as I battled for months and months with my body and I just wanted it to do, everything around me grew denser and nervier. Strange metaphor, but go with me here: It was like I was living in glass jar. I could see the wide world out there, but physical pain and mental spinning were screwing on the lid so tightly, I wasn't sure it was ever coming off. Adding to the anxiety? Oxygen supplies were dwindling.

When I scaled way, way back, I figured out that not only does the top of the jar unscrew, I can actually climb out of the jar. And there's space—glorious physical + mental space!—out here.

That space is worth a full carton of chocolate milk.

I doubt my vertebra have found more room between them or the angry cluster of nerves have a new house in which to live, but these days, as I walk the dog and swim laps in the pool, I have this sense that I am standing taller, stretching out. My anthropomorphized version of this is that they are no longer cowering in fear, wondering when I'm going to launch into a run and start banging away at them again.

I'm no doctor, but hey: I live in this body, and that makes decent sense to me. (The endless glute bridges, clamshells and other PT moves probably help a bit too.)

These days, my selfie post-run smiles, like this one with Jessica after 2.5 miles for #MOMWeekend run, aren't masking pain.

As for mental space, making a decision is one of the biggest forms of relief going. It's the waffling that'll gnaw away at you—you can quote me on that one—and I waffled for over a year. With the pain gone, my brain and patience level have gobs of space that used to be taken up by obsessing over running, wondering when or if I'm coming back, what that will look like, what people will think, when the pain will return, etc.

That doesn't mean I have made time for 30 minutes of daily meditation practice (I haven't), or that I don't fret about when my next workout will be (I do). But the constant, low-grade worry that perched on my shoulder from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed—and then resumed the position in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep—hasn't been seen in about a year. Ditto for the endless tears I shed over it. I can still get plenty emotional, but running is no longer the catalyst.

Maybe that's why I feel like I'm standing up taller.

A familiar serpent shape for most of my runs, which are always in the 3-mile range. (Sometimes I mix it up and go north!)



Practically, what do you do on a weekly basis?

I relish my 30-40 minute runs, which I do about two times a week. I rarely run on pavement. For nearly all of my runs, I drive down to the nearby Highline Canal, a gravel, flat path, and run there. On the days when I get all maybe-you-should-go-longer-Dimity, I remind myself that nothing hurts. That I'm outside, running, in the air, under the sun, looking at the clouds, floating as best as I can on terra firma. And did I mention that nothing hurts?

I am definitely a go-for-it kind of girl, but I've gone for it too many times when it comes to running. I'm currently cool with folding my cards before the pot gets too large.

Other cardio: riding a bike (both outside, inside on the trainer, or at the gym on the stationary bike); stepmilling it; and swimming.

I strength train 2ish times a week for 20-30 minutes each. The longest I'll go is 90 minutes (60 of cardio + 30 of strength), but usually it's closer to 60-75, and I'm typically working out 5-6 days a week.

Does it feel empty not having a race to train for?
Yes, a little. But it also means the stakes aren't so high, time- and training-wise.

I don't have to plan my weekends or even, really, my daily schedule around my workouts. If I want to ride the bike at the gym and hang with Jason Bateman for an episode of "Ozark," that's perfectly fine. And since I'm already at the gym, I can do a few push-ups, planks, and one-legged squats and call it good enough.

And that's one thing I want to emphasize: good enough, turns out, is plenty good. I feel stronger than when I was I was solely focused on running. I feel pretty fit, too.

Is it running-specific fitness? No. Am I ready to hop into a 10K? No. Will I ever run another road half-marathon? No. But 6ish weekly hours of cardio + strength is plenty to make me feel like I haven't given up gallons of fitness just because I scaled way back on running.

One way to kill time doing planks: Try to get a good self-timer. (I was trying to get a shot of the knot on the back of my tank—I felt so stylish!—but the angle wasn't working for me.)

How do you motivate?
Pretty much the same way I did when I was training for something. For me, the physical benefits of exercise have always been outweighed by the mental. I sweat regularly for mental balance and the sake of my family, my coworkers, my friends, pretty much everybody who comes in contact with me.

Aren't you envious of other runners?
Of course. When I see a runner, I wonder where they came from, how far they've gone, if they're training for something. I'm especially envious of runners who look like they're running relatively easily. But looks can be deceiving—and for all I know, that person's hip/knee/ankle could be barking at them.

So what are you going to do next?
I truly don't know. Happily taking suggestions for adventures or races that don't bulk up on running. I'm thinking about maybe entering a sprint triathlon next spring, but that's about as far as I've gotten.

The other day (while riding the stationary bike at the gym), I was watching Eat.Race.Win., a documentary about the 2018 Tour de France and a chef for an Australian cycling team. In one scene, the team director, back in the car, was coaxing his rider to push to the end and potentially win a stage. "Your limit," he yelled, "Go to your limit!"

I got a little wistful: Aside from some harsh words during SwimRun, my limit and I, formerly BFFs, don't really chat much these days. But now I feel like there's plenty of time—and space—to spend some quality, (nearly) pain-free time together in the next few years.

Do you have space in your running these days?
If so, how did you find or create it?

23 responses to “Cutting Way, Way Back on Running: One Year Out

  1. Dignity, you are always an inspiration. Hearing about your journey throughout this year has been a real eye opener for me. You make me feel like it’s okay not to run because I’m injured but that doesn’t mean I get unfit or stop moving. You have really opened my eyes to the fact that other forms of fitness can be kinder to your body and yet keep me feeling good. I would love to one day still get out there and run but right now I can’t and I am happy with what I can do. Thank you for being our motivator and keeping us going. Your courage, your positivity are very motivating! Hugs!

  2. For different health reasons, I too had to cut way back on running. Since 2015 I walk most of my runs (I still dance, cycles, hike etc too). The transition from “runner since 1977” to “fill in the blank” was difficult at first. Now I realize that even though running is/was a huge part of my life, it doesn’t define my life and I don’t need titles to define myself. Thanks for sharing you story. Much love and hugs!

  3. Thank You Dimity for your thoughts and honestly. I love reading about your journey and applaud you for writing and tackling it so graciously. I’ve been running for decades and although I have taken a break or two for injury, none were as serious as what you had to face. I am so grateful and blessed to run and I love how you have adjusted and continue to live life to the fullest. Hugs to you!

  4. HI Dimity! Awesome naked share (but not really naked ’cause that would be just weird…) . I too scaled back on running in 2014 after running my one-and-done marathon. Marathon was a bucket list thing for me and I’m glad I ran it and I am certain I will never do another. I transitioned to sprint tri’s that fall and don’t regret a thing! I’ve done many more sprints, a few Olympics and one 70.3, loved all of them. There are some great tri’s up in the Boulder area, the Rez is usually a decent place to swim and the runs are usually on gravel.
    I was at Kara Goucher’s meet & greet at Shoes & Brews and you look great! Keep on keepin’ on 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for writing this, Dimity. After your swim/run recap, my main thought was – “she’s running again; I thought she couldn’t run. What happened?” I’ve got my answer, and I’m so happy for you and where your physical fitness life is right now. I’m living with a lot of your same thoughts as I recover from two knee replacements that took place 7 weeks apart this past April and May. I really, really want to be able to run again, despite all medical people saying “no way.” I’ve vowed to wait an entire year post surgery (June 2019 is my goal). If I could “run” a mile a few times a week, that will be heaven for me. Your story is my inspiration!

  6. What a great article. You look happy, healthy, and most of all…at peace. There’s so much to be said for making a decision and the weight it lifts off your shoulders. So happy you’ve found space where you’re at and I know there’s so much more out there for you to discover. I’m doing the HRT half marathon program and found that by putting pace and time goals(mostly) begins me, I am enjoying training so much more and have so much more mental space that is not worrying or comparing myself to others.

  7. Thank you for this, Dimity. I have had to really scale back my running due to hip and low back pain, and it’s hard, but fine. I have too much other stuff going on in my life right now to give the energy required to agonize over running, though my hip/low back issues do warrant some attention. For now, I’m trying to enjoy other things, but mourn what feels like the loss of my identity as “a runner”. Thank you for always being honest. You are an inspiration.

  8. Oops, didn’t think my first post posted so I did a second one. Sorry. Can’t figure out how to delete one of them so here’s a 3rd post, lol!

  9. So happy for you! You look super fit and fabulous too!! Aqua bike next?
    I am currently training for my 7th marathon and life seems to be getting in the way a bit, creating some space. I’ve changed my mantra from “good enough” to “your best is perfect” and that has also helped to create space and allow me to be grateful and run happy.

  10. Wow. So brave to write, Dimity. What a great piece, and thanks so much for sharing.

    I am , as always, in a very similar position to you..although I have not yet ‘unscrewed the jar’. A random, bizarre pain in my legs is still undiagnosed after 3 years of specialists (a doc now THINKS it is arterial in nature. He wants to do surgery, hoping it MAY improve. Um, no thanks). And then, once I decided to forgo things and just scale back a lot, a developed my first case of PF — which is taking longer to heal than the 4-6 weeks that my podiatrist gave me (we are going on month 4). I have taken up sprint triathlons, and will probably continue to do them, but I don’t get the same feeling as I did when I would get lost in the woods for hours. I miss sweating; my 30 min HIIT workouts in the basement just don’t cut it for my psyche. I would LIVE to scour over cool, interesting races, and then choose one for a goal and plan a whole girls’ trip out of it, picking out our VRBO abode and schedule a weekend’s worth of fun eateries to try. Now, months just go by without something just for me to look forward to. I have been desperately trying to find something to take that place. NO luck yet. Still not giving up. But I know, if I do end up stopping the chase, that I will come out ok on the other side, because I have known someone who has gone through it. Thank you.

  11. So happy you are doing well and are pain free! Yippee!!! You look super fit and fabulous too. Aqua bike next?
    I think I have space in my running mostly because life happens and my focus needs to shift based on whatever is going on. I’m training for my 7th marathon and allowing myself some grace when life happens. I shifted my thinking from “good enough” to “your best is perfect” and that’s created the space I needed to run happy.

  12. What a powerful blog post. Thank you for being so honest with us. I am slowly scaling back on my running bc of hip/low back pain. I am following your lead for 2019 and making it a year of adventure. I have my hubby 89% convinced to hike the Grand Canyon and the whole Mid Mountain Trail with me. I do want to do one more half as a farewell to racing.

  13. Great time for this article. I’ve been sidelined from running for over a month now with plantar fasciitis. PT two times a week accompanied with dry-needling for the last four weeks has not really help. Therapist has said it will probably be months before I feel any relief from the pain. I’m feeling sorry for myself. Reading about your journey back to running, even though we have/had different injuries, does give me hope. Thank you, Dimity

  14. Such a great read, Dimity! Can we talk about that amazeballs smile and those planking arms? Happy and strong, perfect combination.

  15. Thank you, a breath of fresh air for those of us struggling with how much space running is taking up in our lives, both mentally and physically

  16. This is so great to read Dimity. I know my running days are numbered myself. I’ll need a knee replacement at some point. I’ve done the whole cut back on running thing (for 12-18 months even). Now it’s just cycles. One year run, next year triathlon . I’m looking forward to focussing back on swimming and biking in another 4 weeks as this is the time my knee starts saying what the F are you doing. When I’m 4 weeks out from my race. The mental bargaining and negotiation is one I’m all too familiar with. I actually had that Runners high for the first time after an open water 1500m swim race this summer. And it gave me a glimmer of that space you talk about. Nope, it’s not the same as running but I climbed out of the water in tears saying I did it and was on a high for days. So 2019 is about triathlon. With minimal run training. None really for first 2-3 months. We’ll see xo

  17. Thank you for this update! I think of you often and I’m so glad to hear that you are in a better place now than you were a year ago. Sending buckets of love your way dear Dimity! You continue to inspire us.

  18. Thank you for this. I gave up running nine months ago due to hip and back pain. I had been a runner for over thirty years. I continue to grieve. I continue to miss it. I continue to look for something that is fulfilling.

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