If you’ve been a runner for a while, you probably know this periodized pattern intimately: train, taper, race. Then comes recovery—a relative term for most runners—and you might repeat it throughout the year, crossing everything from 5K to ultra finish lines. Even if a race doesn’t go how you’d hoped, the train/taper/race pattern is naturally calming; you always have another shot at a finish line.
Until you don’t. And that runner pattern—and strong identity—that you’ve honed for years doesn’t fit anymore. Usually it’s a significant injury or illness that knocks you out, but it could be another life circumstance (a move, death, divorce or other big change) that unpins your bib for a long stretch. As a runner for over two decades, I am intimately familiar with this situation.
I survived barely running (read: <50 miles total) in 2017, and I’m actually looking forward to what this year will bring my way. If you happen to be on the same bumpy path that I have been on, I offer these 10 tips to keep your feet moving forward in whatever way you’re able with a smile on your face.
1) Acknowledge the situation
Namely, that running-wise, if you’re not running, your schedule will look different than what you know. That fact may make you cry or make you a little giddy with the lack of pressure. Either reaction is okay. But don’t just gloss over the situation while everybody, runner or not, is setting goals and registering for events. Whether you pull out a journal, talk with a good friend, or hold some focused meditation sessions, allow your emotions and your dormant endorphins some space for reflection.
READ MORE: Meet the Year with a New Attitude
2) Give each month a theme
January could be new beginnings—try some new classes at the gym—while February could be Push-ups Galore. (Hey, it’s a short month!) The sticky days of August call for water-logged activities (swim, SUP, kayak), while the stressful, dark days of December demand serious time in savasana—or at least a yoga class. Sounds a little corny, but having something fresh to anticipate when the calendar turns, even if it’s not a race, is always motivating.
3) Don’t sacrifice your sweat time
It’s easy to forgo lunch plans with your co-workers or justify the cost of a babysitter when you’re staring down a starting line. But your body, mind and spirit need a workout whether or not you’re pinning on a bib. You can obviously dial back the commitment—no need to get up in the wee hours for a 3-hour training run—but maintain the general spirit of your active lifestyle: most days of the week, 45-60 minutes.
4) Continue to track your activity
If you like to log your miles, instead log the duration of your planks, your vert on the hiking trail and any other data that makes you feel accomplished.
READ MORE: Smiling May Be the Secret to Easier Running
5) Accept that nothing else is running
Whether you genuinely love your miles or just love how you feel after your miles, running is the gold standard: super accessible; relatively affordable; a calorie torcher; good catch-up time with friends and/or podcasts/music; fresh air in spades. It’s all there.
6) Then find your Plan B
Whether you’re in a situation where you can still run (just not as often or long as you’d like) or running is a total no-go, you need to have another outlet that both brings you joy and gets you moving. That could be the elliptical at the gym (Netflix downloads are lifesavers!), a tennis league or ballroom dancing lessons. Find your Plan B, pen it in and don’t let it slide when life gets busy or your motivation wanes.
7) Get crazy-strong
I don’t know anybody, from elite runners on down, who wouldn’t benefit from more time focusing on strength. Do CrossFit or Body Pump if that’s your jam, but I find basic, body-weight exercises—push-ups, front + side planks, dead bugs, clam shells, squats, lunges, glute bridges—are plenty hard if done with proper form. Set up a circuit with 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off, and go through 8-10 exercises two to three times. I promise it will be almost as fulfilling and probably harder than your typical easy running route.
8) Volunteer at a race
This may sound all Pollyanna-ish, but it is truly fun to hand out water cups, cut bananas and cheer on your fellow runners. Ideally, you can sign up to help at a longer race (you’ll hear lots of great stories) or a race that draws a lot of beginners. You’ll be so caught up in the energy of helping people run strong, you’ll have zero time for woe-is-me moments.
9) Make adventure your new finish line
While there’s no chocolate milk and medal waiting for you at the end of a long hike, there’s plenty of confidence and personal insight to be gained through the miles. (Sound a bit like running? Yep.) Ditto for a bike ride, an open-water swim, a Nordic ski jaunt or anything else that requires wearing Lycra and going slightly outside of your comfort zone. I’m currently preparing to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, which requires as much training prep as a marathon.
10) Don’t ease up on self-care
The active lifestyle you’re going to continue this year (because you are going to continue, right?) still demands all the healthy habits your racing lifestyle did: plenty of sleep, smart nutrition, an occasional massage and, of course, some colorful capris, cushy kicks and other shiny new gear along the way.