Every runner in history has heard, “well you ought to listen to your body” without a real explanation of how one truly listens to a body, and why it matters. We often hear that we should have been listening to our body after an injury or poor performance has already occurred. We listen for a few weeks, take care of ourselves, recover and then as soon as we are able to resume training, our resolution to listen to our body dissolves and we put the metaphorical headphones back on.

Last weekend a friend of mine was working on an audio project, the project itself is quite complex but it led us to spend much of the day simply listening and recording the most mundane of daily activities. Within a few hours I realized just how much noise I simply tune out, squeaky bicycle chain, jingling dog collar, airplane overhead, plastic bag flapping, kid jumping in a puddle. There is always plenty to hear, we just don’t actively listen.

We are all experts at tuning out the symphony of daily aches and pains, this is part of being a runner. If I skipped training every day when I didn’t feel 100%, I’d probably never run. The problem is when soreness becomes white noise.  The problem is when we don’t realize we’re exhausted because exhaustion sounds normal, when tuning out general soreness goes on to the point of forgetting what it was like to feel good, or when little pains we blocked out become doctor appointments. To some extent this is a delicate dance. Don’t we encourage turning a deaf ear to our bodies when they scream for us to stop halfway through a footrace?  Here, the problem and solution becomes fuzzy. Each runner has to decide what is normal training/racing discomfort/pain/agony and what is damage.  So… how do we decide?  How do we actually hear what our body is saying?

  1. 1) Don’t text and roll:  I’m guilty of getting back from a training session and being overwhelmed with emails or texts and feeling the need to respond to everything, so I do it during my stretch/roll recovery. DON’T. Emails texts and status updates will still be there when you’re done. Get on  your foam roller or whatever you use and work things out, just focus on what you’re doing. Do it slowly, breath and think a little about how your legs are feeling. This is where you can catch injuries before they keep you off the trails.

2) Warm up:  Lately the first mile of the morning run has been a solid minute to 90 seconds slower than my average pace of the full run.  It’s good to ease into the first steps of the run, and this will make you more aware of how your body is doing. Take your time, and take the first couple minutes of each run to feel your legs.

3) Porch it: Finish your run and let your self breath it in a bit.  Sit on your front porch, apartment stairs, car bumper, street curb or whatever you’ve got and take a breather.  Untie your shoes,  feel out any aches and pains, listen.

  1. 4) Record stuff:  Some of us use an old fashioned pen and paper training journal, some of us love the data that GPS and online training logs provide. Some of us have to use both due to fear that the interweb might one day suddenly disappear. Strava is a great tool, but many of us simply let the watch do the work. Write down how you feel, add descriptions on Strava or in your training log.  “Felt good” tells a lot, “Felt like death” tells even more. Having a running log of your heart rate upon waking up might take 30 seconds, but it will give you a lot of information about your health and running fitness.
  1. Finally, don’t ignore the warning light.  Some of us see the “check engine” light turn on and we immediate drive to the shop and figure out the problem. Some of us pop the hood, check the engine for leaks, change the oil, and pay a little more attention to our car.  Some of us never see the check engine light and end up on the side of the freeway with smoke pouring out from under the hood.  Give yourself a chance, spend 30 seconds after a run evaluating how you feel.  I think it will make a huge difference in the long run.
Posted March 1st, 2016 by David Laney