This is a lot easier said than done especially if you are someone prone to illness, injury or a general dissatisfaction with your body. I have written about the mental aspect of running and even threw out the stat that 90% of running is mental. But what about that other 10%? I believe that the power of our minds is undeniable and yet I also know that we need to honor what our bodies are telling us.
In a recent race, I abandoned one of my biggest coaching philosophies, which is to listen to your body and adjust your run expectations accordingly. From the start of this race I knew that my legs just did not have any juice in them most likely a result of the 100 miler that occurred three weeks prior. I attributed my struggle to the early climb, my allergies being triggered and waited for the easy rhythm to kick in. As I started to descend the first downhill my fear turned into a reality. My legs were simply not ready to run the pace that I expected them to run for 24 miles. Instead of accepting my fate and enjoying the day I yelled at my body, slammed gels and prayed for something to change. Even with these efforts, I could not get my legs to fire and noticed that all of my stabilizers were incapable of doing their job.
I doubted my body the whole way, not because I cannot run 24 miles but because I was not running it the way I wanted. I lost the value of the experience brainstorming ways to try to fix a situation that was not broken. My body was doing what it could, which was to carry me the distance. It was uncomfortable doing it and needed to go about the effort at a sustainable pace that would not tweak any brewing injuries. However, when I got to the final downhill, my favorite type of switchback, I was determined to finish strong. I could hear the crowd and channeled my sprinting days as I turned the last corner.
Then everything turned black as I crashed to the ground harder than I ever have before. My calf muscles seized and I let out the most embarrassing scream that I could muster up. I looked up to see the RD heading towards me and all that I wanted to do was crawl under the vegetation surrounding me. Instead I got up, tried walking, then jogging, then stumbling across the finish line. I found the nearest chair to slump over with my head in my hands not knowing exactly what hurt the most. Waves of nausea alternating with shooting pain in my right leg continued for the next couple of hours. I could not put any weight on my leg and tried my best to hide from all of the other competitors asking me if I was okay. The struggle of my race was now a distant thought because the fear of injury had taken over.
Fortunately, I am not injured. I had to take some down time because of a fairly large hematoma on my upper thigh/hip area. More importantly, I learned another lesson in my 20 year career as a runner. My body needed more rest and it certainly was not ready to challenge the local speedsters for nearly a marathon. I had the gift of a morning on beautiful trails with a wonderful community and I failed to appreciate the moment. I tried to will myself to do something that my body was not capable of and the result was a close call with a long term injury. My body is strong, capable and has carried me through so much in my lifetime and I need to trust what it is telling me and stop being so damn stubborn.
So as much as we all enjoy challenging our physical limits we also need to relish in just simply being able to move. I believe that intuitive training and racing takes years to develop, yet even veteran athletes can make the mistake of pushing too hard. I encourage all of my athletes to know their bodies, which really means knowing when to hit the gas and at times when to chill in cruise control.