I inwardly cringe whenever I hear the phrase “listen to your body.”
I realize the spirit behind the message is to be aware of your body’s signals and adjust your behavior accordingly, but there’s a big problem with that.
Your body is a liar.
And not just a liar. It’s a paranoid helicopter mom liar with OCD, paradoxically tempered with a pinch of stoned hippie and a healthy dose of stubborn toddler.
Your body craves equilibrium, safety, and protection. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight or speak in public or look out over the edge of a cliff, you know that your body will fight your brain every step of the way to prevent what it has determined as mortal danger around every corner.
It is a hoarder of energy, anxiously squirreling away every extra calorie for doomsday like a conspiracy theorist preparing for armageddon in a bomb shelter in the hills.
Your body hates change and wants everything to stay exactly the same always and forever no matter if it’s healthy or not.
Does your body want to push harder and harder in the last 5K of a marathon? Hell, no! Your body is absolutely convinced that YOU ARE GOING TO DIE! If you decide to “listen to your body,” you will stop immediately or at least slow dramatically, dashing any hope of finishing the race strong.
Does your body want to get up and run at 5 in the morning when it’s dark and cold and lonely? Of course not! It wants to stay in your warm bed where it’s nice and warm and safe.
How about after a long day’s work when you’ve got to squeeze in a workout before dinner? Do you think your body is going to tell you how great that plan is? Nope. Your body wants to sit on the couch with a family-size bag of Doritos while mainlining merlot.
Your body thinks running is a TERRIBLE idea.
Now, I know what some of the long-time runners are saying: “I feel better after a run!” or, “running makes me stronger which is good for my body!”
Yeah, that’s like telling a five-year-old to eat brussels sprouts with the oh-so-convincing argument that they’re good for you. It doesn’t matter if running is good for your body. It will not be convinced.
And for all of us that feel better after a run? We’d be lying if we said that were true every single time. A lot of times we feel better simply because we have stopped.
But what about those amazing runs where everything goes perfectly? The weather is gorgeous, our strides feel effortless, and we run without a single complaint from our lying, whining bodies?
Those happen because we’ve gradually tricked our bodies into believing that running is a good idea with consistent, progressive training.
Just like the little kids who eventually help themselves to an extra helping of broccoli on their own, we can convince our bodies to crave running.
We can over-ride our bodies’ signals of protest: sore muscles, tired legs, burning lungs, and reach of level of fitness and accomplishment that we never could have even dreamed of.
It just takes patience and practice. And a little trickery.
When you don’t want to run at 5am, but you do it anyway, you are not listening to your body.
When everything aches the first two miles of an easy recovery run, and yet you keep on going until you feel better, you are not listening to your body.
When you get to Mile 20 of the marathon and your quads are screaming and the soles of your feet are on fire and even your fingers hurt, you are definitely not listening to your body, which left to its own devices would never have even walked to the starting line.
Now I would never recommend anyone run through true pain (or fall into the deep fatigue of overtraining). True pain is very different from discomfort and you need to experience both to be able to differentiate between the two. It’s like learning to tell the difference between when a child is truly hurt or just crying for attention.
You have a relationship with your body and if that relationship is healthy, it is not one-sided. There is a give and take and while there is certainly some listening going on, your body needs to be told what to do.
And like a child, you need to love and care for your body and be amazed and grateful for all that your body can do.
But you also gotta to teach her how to love her vegetables.