This is the first post in a 6-part series about the essential elements to being a fitter, healthier, happier runner. In this series, I’ll talk about 6 elements that are key to many years of happy, healthy running.
Number one – Listen to your Body
You’ve probably heard this before (and you’ve maybe even heard it from me!), but I’m telling you again because it’s just that important.
Remember the days when people would say things like: “no pain, no gain,” “pain is temporary, pride is forever” or “if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not working hard enough”? Those days are over. We’re much smarter now.
Your body is awesome (don’t forget to tell yourself that from time to time!) and it will let you know when something isn’t quite right.
The thing is, we don’t always listen. With the many distractions and ongoing noise around us, it’s hard to pay attention. But if we want to be healthy, happy runners for life, it’s time to change our ways.
When you have a headache, you listen to what you’re body’s telling you, right? If you listen closely, you’re body isn’t saying take ibuprofen and move on. No. (This is what the marketers are telling you.)
Your body is likely saying that it’s dehydrated. Or not getting adequate nutrients from a healthful diet. Or that it needs more rest. Or a break from stressful events. It might even be saying that it needs to go for a run to move, recharge and be free!
If you’ve been ignoring your body for a long time, it might be tough at first to decipher what it’s saying. With practice, however, this becomes easy. Trust me.
Why is listening to your body so important in running and injury prevention?
Your body will give you early signs to change things before injury or illness strike. If you don’t listen, with time, injury, burnout or loss of motivation happens—sometimes keeping you from running for weeks or months. And that’s no fun.
Signs could be as subtle as having trouble sleeping. They could be a bit more alerting like having restless legs at night. These could be signs of over-training. But for long-distance runners, they could also be signs that during training you’re losing lots of essential nutrients that your body needs—such as sodium, magnesium, potassium, and chloride. If so, you need to think about getting more of them in your diet to replace what you lose.
You could also feel dull aches or pains which are often a sign of too much stress on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments too soon. If you feel this, listen closely. It might mean you need to take your recovery more seriously. Are you getting enough sleep and downtime? If not, it you may need to modify your training a bit to give you more time to adapt and recover.
Muscle soreness is also a normal response to training and should only last one or two days—maybe even three after new, harder efforts. It’s important to pay attention and learn as you go.
So how do you know what your body is telling you? Well, for starters, the fact that you notice the signs is great!
The next step is to ask questions and to experiment—in a healthy way of course! Think about what it could be. Are you drinking 7 or 8 glasses a day? No? Try that. Are you careful to eat a nutrient-rich diet? No? Try that. Are you sleeping 7 or 8 hours a night? No? Try that. Could you use more time away from work or your desk? Yes? Try that.
Next time you’re out on the run try to tune into your body. Do a full body scan from head to toe. Notice: Do you have any tight muscles, tension, or pain? Are you standing tall or hunching at the shoulders? Are you lifting your legs or dragging your feet? How are your arms moving? In sync with your legs? Do your legs feel light or heavy?
Scan your body and tune into it while forgetting about the noise and distractions around you. Try this regularly and see how it goes. You’ll hopefully learn a thing or two about yourself that you didn’t notice before.
We’d love to hear about your experience listening to your body. Let us know in the comments below.