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"Priming to Run" During Enforced Inactivity

I don't have any of the normal material to write about today: knees or paths or sneakers or the weather during my run. Just my experience of the past days. So if that isn't appealing to you to read, I totally understand. Feel free to go on to a more traditional post. :)

Earlier this week, I got some very alarming news: I could be a super-high risk of a cardiac incident, due to new information about my father's serious and heritable heart defect. I have had symptoms that could be nothing or could be a serious heart-issue, but given that I am a 36-year-old woman who doesn't smoke, hardly drinks, exercises regularly, is actively trying to manage my weight, and doesn't have diabetes or any history of heart problems- no one, including me, took my possible symptoms as a real threat. Well, now I officially have the "family history" and it seriously changes the odds.

My doctor ordered a bunch of urgent tests and referrals, and I continue to wait impatiently for them - on tenterhooks for more information. (It is a whole separate story to discuss my total impatience on this matter... and I do think being frustrated with the apparently slow turn-around is warranted in this case.)

I am forbidden to exercise at least until the test results are reviewed, most certainly including no running. I don't know if this will be a few days, or weeks. And the results may mean I have to wait even longer, if they are "bad".

So here I am, writing in order to help manage my anxiety and "keep my hand in" as it were, priming myself to run once it is deemed to be safe.

Did you know that even watching other people exercise (like sitting in your pajamas on the couch watching exercise on TV - that kind of seriously uncommitted involvement) actually sends sympathetic impulses to brain, which in turn make it more likely you will do some exercise yourself? The same type of thing happens if you simply wear gear that you associate with exercise. It's a great trick if you find it hard to motivate some day. Just promise yourself to put on your running clothes, even if you don't plan to step outside or onto the treadmill. Go ahead and sit; watch someone else workout, or read some forum posts or whatever. You may be surprised to find that your resistance lessens or melts altogether.

This is because your brain is pretty weak at distinguishing fact from fiction on a hormone and electrical-impulse level. What you imagine or focus upon has a similar impact on your brain and involuntary physical responses as what you actually *do*. Ever known someone to physically jump a little while watching a scary scene in a movie? Of course. It's an involuntary response caused by your brain "believing" the imagined threat on-screen. The same phenomenon occurs whenever you imagine things or focus on ideas that may not be what is actually going on in the moment around you. Putting on your workout clothes is a stimulus telling your brain you are focused on exercising, and so it starts to get ready - it's putting that principle to work for you in a good way.

Finding a way to get out there today really isn't my problem right now - my motivation is pretty good, but I am not permitted. However, I do fear that it will quickly become hard to motivate as my "down time" continues. I am accustomed to exercising 6 days a week. (I do strength training on non-run days.) I did so for more than a year in recent history, slid off the wagon, and clambered back on 4 months ago and was working out almost every day. I added the running back in 2 weeks ago. Exercise is not a state that comes easily and gratifyingly to me in the moment. It is a challenge I face buffered by routine, measured improvements, and self-satisfaction after I finish. (And occasionally that motivational trick above.)

I accept that I may have to rebuild my strength and stamina from scratch, or just about. It sucks, but it happens. For me, since my main motivations are based on measurable improvement (over the previous workout or week or whatever) and generally taking care of my health, having to start over again isn't really so bad. After all, the improvements will just come faster at the (re)beginning, right? It isn't like I am training to a deadline and have to "catch-up."

What really concerns me is that I might lose the mojo that gets me trying to exercise in the first place, after having to sit on my hands for an indefinite amount of time. I also don't want to reinforce the mental link between fear (of a heart attack) and exercise, which is so over-arching right now. I need to keep that commitment to exercise alive somehow.

My enforced sedentary interlude comes in some ways at the worst possible time. I NEED my normal life's routine to feel normal and safe, when life throws curve balls. My whole life's routine is important, from sitting in my favorite spot, doing good work, brushing my teeth, having my close friends, all of it. (To a degree, this is true of everyone, even when we long for a vacation.) Any break from routine causes stress, which I am naturally trying to keep to a minimum with a "dicky ticker". It is an extra drag that this particular change in my routine removes a significant form of stress management - exercise. Coupled with the discomfort and stiffness from unaccustomed inactivity, I feel like my stress level is just compounding hand-over-fist. I even can feel certain muscles in my back, shoulder, chest and neck clenching just writing about it.

Just when I need as much comfort as I can get, while I try to keep my heart-rate from spiking and my anxiety low! Grrr.

So I am taking some good advice from fellow forum members and writing anyways. I see it as a way to "put on my running gear" and generally keep running in my head. I am keeping connected, and focusing on how great it will be to run again. And reading about your successes (and trials!). ("Running, Running, RAH RAH RAH!"... *shakes pom poms*)

Now, I think I will go take a warm bath. With bubbles. Just because I can. We can call that a "run-substitute", right?

11 Replies

its great that you are still writing posts, it must be a confusing and scary time for you at the moment. your observations are very astute and carefully thought out, i for one found it very interesting. I've lost track of time on here tonight so will be signing off now but noticed your post and just wanted to send you best wishes. Hope you can get back to your running soon :)


Thank you Ali. I appreciate the support.


Likewise, best wishes for you in this difficult and worrying time. Are you able to do some gentle exercise like walking, yoga or Pilates? If possible, you could do some gentle exercise like this and then go back to the original program when you get the all clear?


Hi again Tanyag. At first I thought my doctor was really clear. He flatly said "no exercise", and I followed his instructions (since I was terrified of keeling over). A few days ago I was told by another med tech that light walking should be ok, and I started doing that. Certainly it helps!


That's fantastic news. If nothing else, getting outside for a walk will help lift your spirits, and allow you to keep working towards your eventual aim of running again by helping you keep the routine of taking exercise. Sending you a hug and best wishes. Thank you for posting: hope all goes ok for you over the next few days x


Thanks for sharing and being so positive. Could you do stretching exercises without any cardio input to at least keep your joints and muscles moving while you wait for your tests?

Let us know how they go.


Yes, I found I needed a little movement to keep me from going nuts.


Great to see you are still posting - please keep it up and let us know how you are. I do find your posts well worth reading. I'm with windswept1 and tanyag163 - could you do something like t'ai chi - it would keep your muscles toned without the cardio element and give you a reason for putting on the running gear. As to the mojo, I am sure once you get the all clear you will get this back - especially with everyone here to encourage you.


Thanks so much. I can hardly wait to get back into it.


I have just come in from a 90 minute group mindfulness practice and wonder if this is something that would be helpful to you at the moment. Specifically when that very understandable anxiety is rising. Helps keep us focussed in the here and now. It may be something you already know about but if not a quick search will come up with some guided meditations you might try.

I have not been out for a run over the last 2 weeks because I've had some kind go lurgy but I have also found some solace in reading other people's blogs and am now thinking about those of us c25k's who are running the Marathon today. I wish you all the best with the tests and hope everything turns out okay.


Thanks Lizzie. Mindfulness meditation is a great idea. I have used it before, and definitely benefit from the gentle reminder.


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