“Listen to your body.”
It’s one of those phrases you hear a lot in running, especially in discussions around injury or when to take days off from training.
Bugger this for a game of soldiers, let’s stop running right now and have a jolly good lie down.
And, of course, it makes sense not to overtrain to the point where it’s counter-productive or to make an existing injury or illness worse by running through it.
But here’s a confession: I’ve never really fully understood the whole listen-to-your-body mantra.
What if your body says (as mine frequently does): “Bugger this for a game of soldiers, let’s stop running right now and have a jolly good lie down.”
Or even: “Who set that bloody alarm clock? No way am I getting out of bed at this hour for a training session.”
There have been plenty of times when if I had listened to my body I’d have given up or not even started in the first place.
And this whole “listening” thing becomes even more critical during a longer training session or race when you get to that point (and if you never do, then good luck to you) when you are completely and totally over the whole thing.
Your knees hurt, your quads are shredded, your feet are on fire and your whole being is screaming: “Stop this madness right now and never, ever do it again.”
It’s at that point when the last thing you should do is listen to your body. Of course it hurts. That’s the whole point. What you have to do is reach for that can of HTFU and keep moving.
(And if you know what that means and you’re offended, sorry. And, if you don’t … er … look it up unless, of course, you think you might be offended).
I’m in the middle of Eat and Run, a cracking read from legendary ultrarunner Scott Jurek. Jurek’s record over monster distances is awe-inspiring (he won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven times straight) and he is well known for the care he takes of his body and in particular the thought he puts into his (vegan) diet. But the flipside of all this is his super-human ability to ignore what his body is telling him in the middle of these brutal events and, no matter what, to keep moving forward.
Jurek’s book is littered with countless examples of this, including the 2007 Hardrock 100 mile event in Colorado. Two nights before the event he tore the ligaments in one ankle, horsing around with some kids.
“Pain electric-eeled my synapses,” he writes. “There was no way I could run the race.”
Then he took stock and told his body to shut up. He put a sleeve over the angle then “wrapped so many layers of duct tape that it was two inches thick. The last time I had seen the ankle, even after two days of treatment, it shined, purple as the inside of a thundercloud. It was so swollen I couldn’t see my anklebones.
“My injury provided a great excuse to lose. But I didn’t want an excuse.”
In spite of the excruciating pain, Jurek drove himself on to win Hardrock that year in a record-breaking 26 hours and 8 minutes.
By all conventional measures, even toeing the starting line was foolhardy. Jurek should have “listened” to his injury and backed off, giving himself time to recover. But he didn’t because he is a champion.
Now I’m pretty obviously no Jurek but is examples like this that keep me going when the going gets excruciating. On Saturday I’m due to run a 29km trail race, the Coastal Classic. I’ve trained OK for it, but have a nagging soreness in a hamstring (apologies for the detail – listening to someone telling you about their injuries is second in dullness only to hearing a recount of someone’s dream), which means I probably shouldn’t run. But I will.
I’ve listened to my body and told it to shut up.
Can you “listen” to your body too much? How do you know the difference between giving yourself an excuse to wimp out and when it’s genuinely time to stop?