I hesitate to write this post for fear of sounding like a pretentious-know-it-all-elite-runner-coach. I of course am none of those things, but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion. And since this is essentially my soap box, I will proceed.
“Listen to your body.” It is good advice. If we didn’t listen to what our bodies were telling us, we’d end up running ourselves ragged, developing injuries, and eventually come crashing down as lumpy piles of human flesh. Lately, I have been hearing this phrase quite a lot, and it almost seems to be the new mantra in the self-help exercise world. I’ve seen it bandied about on facebook, twitter, blogs, even speaking to some other runners. Personally, I don’t mind the New Age, Hippy Granola, wannabe-Zen, catch-phrase, but I think it needs a little caveat, a but, an asterisk.
The problem is, that if all we did was listen, we wouldn’t get anywhere. Listening is great in that it alerts us to a potential problem; our job is to hash out the problem and react accordingly. Therein lies the real issue. Too often – I think anyway – people will pick up a knock or feel some tension or a sore muscle and take some time off, or ease up on their workouts. Our reactions tend to be way overkill. If every time we felt discomfort of some sort, we would stop. Our bodies don’t really like pain or hurt. Most first time marathoners vow to never run that far again. How many people would run ultra marathons if they just “listened to their bodies?” How about an obese person getting into a fitness program? I can’t imagine their bodies are happy with that feeling when they start.
Just because we feel something that might be out of place or uncomfortable does not mean we should stop – or even slow-up. Rather, I think we should push a little harder and see where it takes us. More often than not, those little nagging uncomfortable spots disappear; the sore muscles fade and we’ll be in the clear. When they don’t we can take it easy – but never stop. Eventually, over time, we learn to interpret what our body tells us, but it takes effort and a fair bit of pushing. A child will never learn to swim if they stay in the wading pool, likewise we will never learn to run to our full potential if we ease up when something ‘hurts.’ It takes time to learn your pain threshold and where that falls on the continuum of healthy pushing vs. overtraining.
There are no universal rules to learning your body and it’s messages. The only way is to push. So next time you listen to your body, and it’s telling you to stop – think seriously why it’s telling you to stop. Then go for a run.