Mitigating risk from my comfort zone

As I wrote last week, untangling my body image from fitness goals has been a difficult and triggering process. During my injury and for several weeks following my return to running, I felt good about my body. I ate what I wanted, without much second-guessing. I was running a bit, but also practicing yoga and resting as needed. I enjoyed feeling myself grow stronger without feeling tired. My main goal during this early recovery was to re-acclimate myself to running. I did not even measure my pace or count my miles. I ran for time and for ease. This was a lovely period.

Unfortunately, my competitive drive started creeping back after a while. For the past few weeks I have struggled to know how much I can (or should) push my body to increase my speed and endurance. Always in the back of my mind is the caution against returning to a life or restriction and overexercise. I want to stretch the boundaries of my current fitness, but I also want to stay in this happy mental space I have constructed, in which running is a fun addition to life and not the driving force behind my existence.

As I explore the possibility of running more, I am flooded with anxiety about what might happen if I use even a slight increase in mileage as an excuse to increase more and more and more. I am afraid of losing control. I am afraid of losing my progress.

At the same time, I am not content with my mileage or my pace. Running slow for short distances is relaxing, but only when contrasted with harder efforts. Easy runs become monotonous when they are the norm.

The few times in my life when I have been content not to vary pace or distance have coincided with vitamin deficiencies, illness, or impending injury. My desire to stretch out of my comfort zone, therefore, is a good sign of health. I am happy that I have a drive to improve, but I don’t know how to approach a change in training, just as I don’t know how to approach a change in diet, without inviting a relapse into maladaptive behaviors. I do not fully trust myself to make the right decisions.

My thoughts are tending to loop these days: I am happy that I have returned from my injury without incident; I am happy that I am growing stronger and enjoying running; but I want more out of the experience; I don’t know how to achieve more without the risk of losing the moderate behaviors I have learned; if I don’t expand my running regime, I will be bored and increasingly frustrated by an activity that usually gives me joy; but if I do expand my running, I might lose the joy and replace it with the anxiety of restriction and overexercise and, probably, reinjury.

I know I cannot remove the risk from this equation. It will remain. The habit of resorting to extremes is too ingrained in my life to be eliminated just yet. For now, I can try to accept that the risk of relapse will always remain. It was present before, during, and after my recovery from this year’s stress fracture. Risk has formed my recent running. So far I have done a good job creating a training plan that minimizes this risk, and keeps me healthy. I have found comfort in running again. Before my injury, running felt like a chore. My mileage was low, but I was still overexercising in that I was extending myself further than felt natural. Most runs required a pep-talk in order to leave my apartment. (As I mentioned above, this should have been a red flag that injury was looming in my future.) I do not want to return to that fraught relationship with running.

If I make small, safe changes (an extra mile here or there throughout the week) I can push the boundaries of risk from afar. Touching on the edges of my comfort, knowing I can retreat if I become uneasy. I am at the beginning of what I predict will be a long, possibly forever, process of being comfortable with moderation.



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