I’m a member of a group on Facebook called Did You Run Today? (DYRT) As the name suggests it’s full of enthusiastic runners who share their running stories, log their routes and ‘got soaked in the rain’ photos. It’s nice to see the support given to beginners just starting out confused about footwear or tracking devices as the old timers dive in with lots of helpful tips and advice. There’s families running together and even the dogs are getting involved. The group has a fantastic energy and super friendly atmosphere that serves to motivate and support it’s members on their running journey, but what if you didn’t run today?
Running can be a fantastic addition to a healthy lifestyle BUT it’s also easy to get carried away with it. Running, similar to other forms of exercise, can be addictive and there are times we might run to make ourselves feel better when really what our body needs is rest, a gentle walk or a extra few hours in bed. However, the draw of endorphines and promise of a ‘runner’s high’ is often difficult to turn down. It might also mean that when we can’t run, due to injury or lack of time, we become frustrated, anxious, racked with guilt and maybe even depressed.
Born To Run
My gene testing confirmed an 80% endurance profile so perhaps it’s no surprise I find running effortless and natural. Running was the first form of exercise I ever tried and it changed my life. It gave me energy, confidence, happiness, purpose, routine and status. Still to this day, after expanding my exercise repertoire to include bodyweight training, kettlebells, yoga, boxing and resistance training, running still remains top of the charts. I’m definitely guilty of being a running junkie in the past and well versed in all of the emotions above. At my worse I remember visiting a loved one in hospital and feeling guilty that I’d skipped my run, I asked a nurse if my future visiting hours could be adapted to fit around my running schedule, needless to say she wasn’t impressed!
I decided to write this post after chatting with the DYRT founder whom Matt and I know personally. Ewan is a super nice guy and incredibly passionate about building healthy communities. He is totally switched on and understands health is achieved by building a strong foundation of movement, nutrition, mindset, relationships and lifestyle habits like getting adequate sleep and spending time outdoors. Yet it’s easy to get carried away and just focus on one aspect, like running.
I’ve made no secret of the fact there was a time I found running totally addictive and would feel totally pants if there wasn’t an opportunity to run that day, maybe even slightly panicky. It would dominate my thoughts and I’d be a right grump all day long 🙁 Running provides me with an entire mind and body makeover, when I step back indoors I’m ready to take on the world and feel connected with my body again. Bad hair days, blemishes and cellulite can all be forgiven because I ran today and feel awesome.
This is all very cool until you can’t run today, or the next day or the following day….or for any prolonged period of time.
After a series of injuries I had a long spell in my life where I couldn’t run. I’m a very typical runner in that I head off for a run with an end gain in mind whereby I’ve already set an intention for the distance, pace and duration and it’s difficult to detach from these goals. Come hell or high water I want to hit my numbers and ignore any feedback from my body including fatigue or pain. As a result I’ve pushed through joint problems several times on a run, reassuring myself that I’ll deal with it later (I don’t!) I’ve even hobbled out the door wincing and set off for a run shouting out to a concerned Matt “It never hurts once I get going…”
At my worst I was forced to take 18 months out from running with chronic knee pain and spend a small fortune on physiotherapy, osteopathic treatment, orthortics and hot yoga. I managed to fix myself eventually and take my first run again in Central Park, New York of all places to the sound of Coldplay, I’ve never taken recreational drugs but I can’t imagine they beat the high I felt when I ran that day.
Another issue us runners have is that we devote every spare minute to our run. Everyone is time poor these days and if I have 1 hour to exercise I’d rather spend 50 minutes of it running and 10 minutes in the shower, a possible plus side to my love of running is the speed at which I can now get ready, at least for Matt anyway :-). The more time spent pounding the pavements the better, often at the expense of a sufficient cool down. Many runners only service their body with a good stretch, massage and trigger point therapy sessions when there’s a niggle or injury sustained.
If You Can’t Run Today…
It may surprise you to know that you do NOT need to run. It’s not the solution to health or losing body fat, it’s a tool you can employ if you need. You should only run because you have the energy, motivation and most importantly because you LOVE it! You should feel happy before you run, not as a result of it, you should look forward to it. Running should not define you, it should make a positive contribution to your health alongside nutritious food, friendships, laughter, adequate vitamin D and so many other factors.
During my injury years I went off and trained in Nutritional Therapy and Functional Medicine which adopts a personalised approach to health and assesses your lifestyle, nutrition, exercise and even relationships in your life as these all influence your health and wellbeing. Admittedly, I started down this route on a quest to fix my injuries and get back to running, however, I actually began to discover so many more variables to consider when it comes to health and happiness.
So back to the blog title ‘what if you can’t run today?‘, maybe due to an injury, work or family commitments, travel or you forgot your gym kit when you left the house this morning ….argggh! There are still a number of things you can do that will have a hugely positive impact on your physical health and mindset that day. Check them out:
1) Eat To Improve Your Mood
One thing I’ve enjoyed exploring is why running made me feel so happy and good about myself and how could I support this by other means (in case I couldn’t run one day!) During exercise the body releases a substance called beta-endorphin, a neurotransmitter that binds to receptors in the brain and increases feelings of happiness, it also offers natural pain relief hence risky phenomenon of “it never hurts when I run.” Exercise also elevates the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter that induces a natural state of calmness. Studies have shown that people experienced a more positive mood for the entire day after exercising first thing, if you train in the morning you didn’t need a study to tell you this 😉
There is so much you can do with nutrition and lifestyle to elevate your mood naturally. I’ve covered this in a previous blog here but as a runner I was often focused on the carbs to ensure I could fuel my runs and in doing frequently derailed my blood sugar levels (which makes your feel tired, hungry and irritable) and neglected my protein and healthy fat intake.
Proteins, especially those rich in tryptophan like turkey, chicken, fish, cottage cheese and eggs, are important precursors for neurotransmitters that make us feel good. Tryptophan is especially good for healthy serotonin levels, this is our good mood brain chemical that also promotes healthy sleep. Healthy fats also form the building blocks of our hormones and neurotransmitters, oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are particularly beneficial as they also contain an essential fatty acids known as DHA that helps to improve cognitive function and alleviates symptoms of depression.
2) Dose Up On Dark Chocolate
Cocoa raises serotonin levels naturally and for runners there’s also the added benefit of antioxidants that help support the immune system, cardiovascular health and lowers inflammation. Cocoa also acts as a prebiotic which means it feeds the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. We have lots of recipes using 85% dark chocolate (rich in cocoa solids) or you can use cocoa powder to make smoothies and hot chocolate. If dark chocolate is a little too bitter for you then try mixing it with cashew butter, coconut milk or double cream. I’m always copying classic confectionary and creating versions with more cocoa content, check out our Dark Chocolate Raspberry and Pistachio Refrigerator Cake, homemade chocolates, Fitter Ferrero’s or Dark Chocolate MnM’s.
The key is to portion control so I tend to pop a serving in a ramekin or lunchbox and leave the kitchen 🙂
3) Slow Down For a Dose of Serotonin
A decent walk can increase serotonin levels by 100% if you couldn’t run today maybe just walk. I prioritise walking now over any other form of exercise, it helps that I have a Hamish as my personal trainer so there’s no skipping a session, however, even when we’re away without him I get up half an hour earlier than I need to, stick on my favourite tunes and explore the sights with a sunrise stroll. It can take less time than a run as you don’t need to change or shower at the end (take some natural tea tree wipes in case you sweat) you can just walk part of your commute or ditch the car when doing daily tasks like food shopping. It’s easier on the joints, digestive system and if you’re working around an injury it can help get the blood flowing.
4) Give Your Body An MOT
Hot baths, hot (or cold) showers, saunas and steam rooms all have a beneficial impact on the lymphatic system, support detoxification and boost the immune system. They can easily be incorporated into your day, improve muscle recovery and elevate your mood. If you’re injured make sure you do these daily to speed the healing process and pimp your bath with a good serving of magnesium salts to help restore your body.
5) Support Digestion
Running (and other intense exercise) can be a stressor to the digestive system. We always talk about the importance of gut health at Fitter Food and for runners the need to educate yourself about this is even greater. We’ve written about this here and here. If you can’t run today maybe have a go at making some fermented vegetables or order some online, grab yourself some unpasteurised apple cider vinegar to aid protein digestion and cook up some bones to make a broth or soup, we cover all this in Fitter Food Second Helping and you can also check out our Good Gut Guide.
6) Feed Your Joints
After all my niggles and injuries I prioritise joint health and ensure my nutrition is packed with the nutrients they need. Eating some good quality grass fed dairy packed with calcium and K2, making sure you have adequate vitamin D and collagen (either in supplemental form or from bone broth) are easy tasks to complete and will make a huge difference to the longevity of your running journey.
7) Nourish Yourself With Nutritious Carbs
Runners are notorious for relying on carbohydrates for fuel and sometimes the choices are lacking in vitamins and minerals. Choose carbs like sweet potatoes, quinoa, buckwheat, white potatoes, root vegetables and fruit that have some added nutritional benefits and minimise processed foods and flour based products which can have a negative impact on digestive and hormone health. Eating these on rest day can help fuel recovery and glucose is imperative for optimal immune function.
8) Give Your Head Some Space
Many of us love running because it’s a chance to clear our head and have some time out from daily worries and tasks. Taking ten minutes out of your day with an app like Headspace is essential to give your brain a break and little spring clean. When we’re busy running we don’t have time to sit still but today you can squeeze in ten minutes.
9) Laugh Out Loud
I’ve written before about daily habits to transform your hormone health and I was so surprised when researching this just how effective simple things like laughing are. Studies have observed how laughter releases endorphins, lowers the stress hormone cortisol and increases heart rate variability (which is a marker of your recovery). Its so effective it’s even been described as ‘inner jogging’. Singing, listening to music and deep breathing have a similar effect.
10) Login and Enjoy DYRT With No Strings Attached
To enjoy any online health and fitness groups you need to let go of any attachments to routines, goals and numbers. Some days your body may not want to run but you can still check in on everyone else and shouldn’t feel guilty or bitter, just enjoy the lift that good company gives you. If you can’t run for whatever reason do something to support your health that day with any of the above. The biggest epiphany for me over the last few years has been discovering all the wonderful ways we can be healthy and running is just one of them 🙂
DYRT Website: http://dyrt.io
NT Dip CNM, BA Hons, mBANT