Stop Listening to Your Body! It’s Lying to You.

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.

“Listening to my body” with chips and chocolate! After the race…

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.

At first.

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.

A lot.

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.







It’s Not the Legs or the Lungs; It’s the Brain

Running hurts.  That is the main reason most people don’t do it.  Sure, if you start slowly, incrementally increase your pace and distance, and choose to only run when it’s sunny and cool, you can avoid all but minor discomfort.  But if you want to achieve something meaningful, you are going to have to push beyond what’s comfortable.

So you train your legs and lungs with a steady diet of easy runs, long runs, and speedwork.  And you throw in a decent strength training session a couple times a week.  But how do you strength train your brain?  You can be in the best shape of your life physically, but if you neglect to actively work on your mental fitness, you cannot reach your full potential, both as an athlete and as a human being.

At the ZAP running retreat I attended last weekend, Sarah Crouch led a powerful class on mental strength and what it takes to push past your perceived limits.  Sarah is a 2:32 marathoner sponsored by Reebok who was the second female American finisher in the 2016 Boston Marathon.  She knows what it means to be mentally strong.

Each athlete has a different mental outlook and most fall somewhere on a spectrum of acceptance and avoidance.  Accepters understand on the starting line that pain is coming and they will find ways to push themselves through it.  Avoiders tell themselves that everything is great, they are strong and capable and all will go well.  Neither style, Sarah said, is better than the other and most of us have elements of both.  Knowing which side of the scale you spend more time on is very helpful in finding effective techniques to override the brain’s pleas to slow down.

For me, I have elements of both, but probably lean towards avoidance.  I always toe the line feeling like a badass ready to conquer the world.  I use positive mantras to keep myself even and on pace.  When things feel tough, I repeat things in my head like “calm,” “deep breath,” “you are light.”  Near the end of a race, I lock on a runner in front of me and pretend he or she is my prey that I am reeling in.

But I don’t always feel like this. Negative thoughts creep in that seem perfectly reasonable at the time.  “You can just stop, you know.”  Or, “No one cares how fast you run this.  It’s okay to slow down.”  Or, “you are going as fast as you can and you are still not going to get your goal.  Give up, already!”  The tough part is that all of these statements may actually be true and logical.  But they are sabotage to my race or workout.

So to combat these thoughts, I have given them an identity and her name is Nancy.  (It’s like the opposite of Beyonce’s stage alter ego, Sascha Fierce.)  I know that negative Nancy and all of her baggage are coming with me on the run (acceptance!).  She will show up at the worst time and gently tell me that everything is okay and it’s perfectly reasonable and smart to slow down.  She’ll remind me that I can get a ride back to the start at anytime or that I could even pretend to fall and end up in the medical tent.  Nancy is sweet and kind to me and she means well.  But she is pure evil.  When she comes, I can say hello and then shut the door in her face.

There are as many exercises for your brain as there are for your legs and I plan to continue working on them and writing about them.  We learned several more in Sarah’s session that I will definitely practice as I continue to get stronger.

At the end of class, Sarah asked about our goals and I got called on.  My A goal, as many of you know, if the stars are aligned and the weather is good and everything is perfect, is a 2:59:59 marathon.  Sarah looked at me, knowing my strengths and my progress over the last two years, said, “that should be your B goal.” My jaw dropped and I think I forgot to breathe for a moment.  To have someone of her caliber believe in me like that is something I will always hold with me.

Which means I have a new mantra:  “B goal.”

What about you?  Any mental strength tips that get you through the tough times?  Let me know!