As much an art as a science …

Posted on September 23, 2012


I spent much of yesterday in the ER in Sydney … and let me tell you, Saturday mornings post Friday nights at an inner-city hospital are not the most pleasant of venues to spend your weekend!

I’m still not quite sure what the issue is.  I woke twice in the night prior with excruciating pain in my leg, a dull ache from ankle to thigh. By morning it was no better and I could scarcely walk. My over-analytical mind combined with the marvels of self-diagnosis via Google had me convinced I had DVT. I called Dana … my rock star friend, running buddy and luckily, a final year med student at Sydney University and shortly after, he was outside and waiting with wheels to take me to get it checked out. (Thank you Dana x)

Various tests ensued and whilst waiting for results and in between the sheer fascination at some of the nutters I shared the ward with, I thought about the importance as runners of listening to our bodies.  I’ve written about this so many times before and whilst I normally think I’ve mastered the art, I concluded that listening isn’t always enough … we need to interpret what we hear then throw in a cup of common sense and a pinch of past experience in order to make the correct call, to take the appropriate action …

Actually, I think many runners aren’t even quite sure what ‘listening to your body’ even means.

At the most basic level, it means being aware of what’s happening in your body as you run. The shortest description would be ‘if it hurts, try something else.’ It’s about learning to interpret the subtle sensory signals when we run …

Think about:

  • The feeling of your feet on the ground. Do they tread softly or slap hard?
  • How is your stride? Are you over-striding or under-striding?
  • How do your arms move?
  • How do your ankles, knees and hips feel? Do your legs feel like rubber bands? Gently returning some of the energy of your gait?
  • Do you feel a jarring force in your knees?
  • Does it feel like any of your joints are stretching too far? Are you swaying your hips to excess, resembling a model in a fashion show?
  • When you see your reflection in a shop window, how is your posture?

What about after a run, how do you feel?

  • Do you recover quickly or feel fatigued for the rest of the day?
  • If you have hot spots on your feet, the location can be used to identify gait problems. A bad back or neck is probably down to posture. A sore Achilles can be down to running on your toes. IT band issues down to your arms crossing the center line. Shin splints can be an indicator of over-striding.

There are aches and pains that you can run through and others you can’t. There exists a stark difference between feeling too lazy to train and feeling genuinely unmotivated because perhaps you’re in danger of falling off that tightrope between training well and over reaching or over training. And it’s all very well calling a training session quits but what about when you confront these issues in a race?  One that you’ve travelled far for and invested time, money and energy to participate in?

The goal is to push your body to its limits, but not beyond, to know when to push and when to pull. Running is an art form as much as a science and the better we become at not only listening to our bodies but in taking the appropriate action to what we hear, the more successful we will be, not only in terms of podium positions but more importantly in terms of having a long and rewarding lifetime of running enjoyment.

In my case, I didn’t have any pain prior to waking in the night.  I had a glorious run the day before with Dana and have had a very easy week. But perhaps I need to be better at taking holidays from training and allowing my body to really rest, recoup and recover.  Or perhaps I should have avoided two plane rides immediately following last weekends Sabah Ultra?

Now, whether I like it or not, I have no choice but to swap a few brisk morning runs for long, lazy lie ins, which is annoying when I have one of the world’s most stunning coast lines to explore right now. Just another lesson to learn I guess and as we all know by now, experience is the best teacher we can ask for …

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