What to Do When You Can’t Run

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As we drift in the Arctic sea that is the interim between the American cross country and track and field seasons, my thoughts settle on the therapeutic but frequently painful process of taking a break. Whether due to injuries or standard post-season recovery, not running is an integral part of training. For those of us who would rather be spewing vomit after intervals on the track than spending more than 48 hours without running, the tips below may help pass the time spent on break.

The Standard

The first item on every sidelined athlete’s to-do list is cross-training. What form that takes will depend on the reason for which running has ceased as well as personal preferences. In my case, I’ll often go surfing or swimming depending on the availability of the ocean or a pool. Both types of training are rhythmic, relaxing, and spiritualistic. As such, I spend most of my time in the water cursing everything and everyone around me for their serenity. For a runner, cross-training can never completely take the place of running, so let’s look at some additional ways to help us through.


If you’ve just finished a season, there’s bound to be something that doesn’t feel right. Whether it’s a full blown injury or just a tweak, working on recovery is always a beneficial pastime. That being said, after you’ve done all the possible exercises that the internet suggests as well as the ten new ones that you created, your body will probably still be craving the release that comes with a good run. What’s next?

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The Patch

One nicotine-patch-like solution is to wear your running clothes around the house or out on errands. By doing so you can stay connected to running without actually doing the deed. I often note how comfortable certain clothing can be when I’m not wearing it as I flail through the world like an escaped mental patient. Of course, if wearing running clothes leads to high knees and butt kicks in your living room, it’s best to take them off and put the straight jacket back on.

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The Microdose

If you’ve really got the itch and need a taste just to get through the day, hiking can be a pleasant way to pass the time. Trails and scenery may bring peace to a stormy mind. A babbling brook might dampen the fire that burns behind your eyes. A cold breeze can chill the fever in your brain. By walking, you allow yourself to slow down physically, mentally, and spiritually. However, it is possible that your journey will lead you to a steep downhill section. And your pace might just happen to transition into a light jog because the pitch demands it. Ten miles later when you come to with mud splattered up your back and a dazed grin plastered to your face, you’ll realize that you have a serious problem.


If getting out and about has proven to be too tempting, try a more relaxing, indoor activity. Watching a movie or reading a book can be a great way to stimulate the brain without physical activity. And, if you’re like me, when you find you’re unable to do so without pacing the room in endless circles, try pulling each individual hair out of your arms one by one. The pain will keep you alive until you can begin thrashing yourself with daily runs again!


As a side effect of taking time off, you may find yourself experiencing emotions again. Due to the exhaustive nature of training, strong feelings tend to be wrung from your body like water from a wet rag. Now that your brain can move past thoughts of food and sleep, take the time to enjoy some earnest introspection. Then, after you remember that your soul is actually a very dark and disturbing place, acknowledge that running is probably the best thing you can be doing anyway.

Will has been running competitively since high school, and is currently running with the HOKA Aggies, a post-collegiate club here on the central coast of California. With a preference for the humorous and the verbose, he enjoys playing the wordsmith almost as much as his daily runs.

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