Atrophy from a 2.5 Month Hiatus from Running

I just did my second run since having to stop before my hernia surgery about 2.5 months ago.  I thought it would be interesting to share the areas of atrophy I’ve noticed – including some unexpected ones that may not qualify for atrophy in the medical sense so much as in the metaphorical sense.  These are really based on my observations from the second run alone since the first was so low impact that it hardly counts as a run.  It was more of a walk/job medly. The second had real running in it, with my pace getting down to the 7 minute mile mark, and even dipping below a couple of times, but averaging more like 7-8 when running and 12-14 when walking in between running intervals.

The Expected
Skeletal Muscles
This was no surprise. You stop working muscles, and they get weaker and smaller. I can see it all over my body in terms of size and definition. I also absolutely feel it today, one day after my first real run.  Stairs are a bit tough, and I didn’t move with what would describe as grace this morning (though a 35 min elliptical session helped add some grace back into my step).  While it stinks, this isn’t a huge deal, and I will get it back. One of the nice benefits of my high protein diet is that I see my muscles rebound really well once I start working them again.

This was also no surprise, yet definitely upset me more than losing muscle. You expect your muscles to shrink, but I don’t think most people include muscles like the heart and those you use to breath in that bucket.  Well, they do.  Like any muscle, reduced use will result in reduced performance and/or endurance. I definitely don’t have the oxygenation capacity I did before my surgery, which is clearly showing up in my endurance.  I could do a 5k run in the heat, hop in the shower, and be back into playing with my three year old easily. Let’s just say I needed a minute yesterday, and I didn’t do 5k (overall, or at a running pace). I also couldn’t sustain as fast a pace as I did, and my slow intervals included walking with some serious huffing/heaving breathing, whereas they used to be jogging without any real labor in my breath.

I will get this back, too.

The Unexpected (aka Metaphorical Atrophy)
I could have called this atrophy of calluses, too.  Basically, my feet have really toughened up from running.  While much of the surface of my mid foot pads are still tough, after my run, I had a blister on the bottom of each of my feet in roughly the same spot (just in front of the ball of my foot). And during my run, there was definitely a feeling of sandpaper underfoot.  High grit sandpaper, but sandpaper nonetheless.  This will get better as my feet toughen up again, but man do those blisters hurt!

This may technically qualify as atrophy, but I don’t know.  I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV.

Time Perception
This last one is definitely a metaphoric atrophy. That run seemed to last forever yesterday. I run a 0.6 loop in a local park, and I would eat those loops up before without even really noticing. I would lose count of how many I had done. Yesterday, I was acutely aware of each loop and how long it seemed to be.  I kept being surprised when my Nike+ Running app would announce my progress in 5 minute intervals, and I had only done X minutes each time.  So even though I knew my last check was 5 minutes earlier, I was still shocked it was only 5 minutes later. I kept hoping I had zoned out and missed a check in or the app had crashed, and I was magically 20 minutes farther along than I thought.  No dice.  It didn’t help that it was 93 and humid, but my last 5k was in 90 degree direct sun and was more like 6k because I didn’t realize I had passed my goal.

This will get better too.

None of this scares me or frustrates me more than in a little way just because I need to claw back the progress rather than continuing on from the great place I had been.  It’s ok – I will get there soon enough, and probably sooner than I think since I’m much smarter about how to do it now than when I did it originally.  I have

About bryan falchuk

bryan falchuk is the founder of, a certified personal trainer, behavior change specialist and the best-selling author of "Do a Day". bryan coaches people on their whole health - the physical, mental and emotional combination of wellness that we need to thrive and change our lives.

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