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4 Lessons Learned from Listening to My Body

By , SparkPeople Blogger
After my thwarted attempt at running a marathon this spring, I gave up on running for awhile. I walked, I practiced yoga, and I rode my bike. I wanted nothing to do with running. 

That lasted less than two months. I missed the exhilarating feeling of flying down a hill, the sense of accomplishment when you reach the top of one, and the sound of my breath, deep and even, as I jogged through my neighborhood and let my troubles blow away.

I was slow to return, and I didn't set any goals. I started from scratch with a mile here and there. When I felt better, I slowly added mileage. With no pressure, no race deadlines and no plans in mind, I felt free. I fell back in love with the sport.
I did something else, too.

I started to listen to my body a bit more. Remember that quote I love and continue to share with all of you? "We don’t have to make such a big deal about ourselves, our enemies, our lovers, and the whole show." --Pema Chödrön

I started to apply it to running. I started leaving my music at home sometimes, setting out with no course or destination in mind, with no distance to reach. I ran at a pace that felt comfortable, until I felt like walking or going home. Sometimes I ran for 10 minutes, sometimes an hour--though that length of time came much later.

I stopped looking at abbreviated runs as failures. I stopped thinking of runs in terms of miles logged or calories burned. I stopped scheduling them, too.

I found that I started looking forward to my runs more. They weren't a chore, they weren't something to check off my to-do list. They were a treat, a respite from my overly scheduled, jam-packed, grown-up life.

After a great deal of research, I made the transition to minimalist running shoes (mine are the Merrell Barefoot Pace Gloves). (I'm no expert, so please know that this blog reflects choices that are right for me--I'm not offering advice. Please consult with an expert before you make any major changes to your fitness routine.) I also read the book that so many fellow runners have cited as a major influence on their running philosophy: Born to Run.  Footwear aside, the Tarahumara Indians and the American ultra runners featured in the book inspired me. They run to run, and many of them embrace the simple, tread-gently-on-the-Earth lifestyle that I value.

I'll switch back to regular shoes if this barefoot lifestyle proves not to be right for me. Until then, I'm very slowly and cautiously increasing my mileage and easing back into running. In shifting my focus from prepping for a race to just running to run, I've gleaned four lessons, just from listening to my body:
  1. Soreness is not an injury.
After so many years of not being strong, my commitments to yoga and running have paid off. I am strong. I can lift my own body weight in myriad ways, and I have run distances that I never imagined I could. Until recently, I didn't have much experience with injury, and I was unable to distinguish between injury and soreness. Every tweak, every twinge, every ache scared me. Was I injured? Would this ruin my race plans?

This SparkPeople article about post-workout muscle soreness helped me, but I benefitted most from the miles I logged and the hours spent on my yoga mat, getting to know my body. I learned to expect the tightness in my IT band after longer runs, which I combatted with foam rolling and yoga poses (Gomukhasana is my favorite!).  Spending time in backbends means sore quads the next day from pulling myself back up. This is normal for my body--and I know that now.  
  1. An injury doesn't always happen suddenly.
I suffered chronic stress fractures while training for the marathon. They were misdiagnosed as a couple of other things, but I know that lack of rest and overtraining were to blame. Each time I felt pain, I rested for a day or two, then immediately dove back into training, exactly where I left off. Sometimes I even pushed harder. Sure enough, within a couple of weeks, I was injured again. I knew the warning signs, but I wanted to feel strong and push through. This time, I thought, would be different. I was fitter and faster.

You know that old joke about the guy who goes to the doctor and complains that when he "does this" his arm hurts? The doctor says "then don't do that." When it hurts--not just soreness but pain--to do "that," be it running, yoga, whatever, I don't do it. Which leads me to lesson #3…
  1. Rest is good for you.
I have a rule that I don't skip yoga class unless I'm sick or traveling. Not for happy hour, a work dinner, or a bike ride with my boyfriend. I made the commitment to a daily practice, and I uphold that--my social life is scheduled around my yoga practice. I treat yoga like an appointment, and I don't let other things interfere because that is such an important part of my life. That said, I practice Ashtanga yoga, which is quite rigorous. I go to the studio four days a week, then practice at home another two.

Some weeks, I can't do my full practice every day. Maybe I'm stressed, tired or sore from another activity. I still do a modified practice, and I respect that some days my body needs to do less. I give my all to that abbreviated practice, and the mental and emotional benefits from the shorter sessions still give me that mind-body connection I crave from yoga. I know it's better to practice for less time but be 100% present rather than push through a longer session and feel terrible physically halfway through. This isn't an excuse, but it's a way to honor what my body needs.

Another component of Ashtanga yoga is built-in rest days--full and new moons, Saturday, and the first three days of your cycle. I observe these days, and rather than be harsh on myself for not moving more, I enjoy the rest and give my body time to rebuild and heal.

I apply that same principle to running. For me, resting more days than I run each week is the right balance. That's not to say I'm sitting on the couch eating candy bars on my rest days. Those off days from running, I'm at yoga, or walking or doing a workout DVD.
  1. Training plans are not etched in stone.
I told you that I'm slowly increasing my mileage. My longest run in the last few months was 5.5 miles. This week, my goal is to add another half-mile. Though I know that I can safely increase my mileage 10% each week (according to running experts like Coach Nancy), I'm taking the "tortoise" approach, ala my colleague The Slowest Loser. Adding a half-mile each week is gentler on my body and gives me more time to adapt to my new style. I'm still not focusing on speed, as my goal isn't to race but just to run.

This is a marked difference from my last training plan--four days a week, long runs every Saturday and short runs Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--no excuses and no changes. If the training plan said I had to run hills, I ran hills. If it said tempo run, that's what I did.

I'm not trying to say that I know better than the experts--I certainly don’t. But I know my body better than they ever will. I know my body prefers a thrice-weekly running schedule, with more rest days.

Some of my runner friends keep telling me to sign up for a race, but that's not a goal for me right now. (And the reasons behind it are another blog for another day.) For now, I'm going to keep running, focus on staying present and enjoy every step I take.
Right now my body is telling me this is the right thing to do. And I'm going to keep listening.
Do you listen to your body? What is it telling you today?

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KHALIA2 1/3/2020
To rest but my gym is open today, so I will be going! Report
Useful for me Report
Your body will definitely tell you when you're overdoing it and it is so important to listen to it. I'm resorted to spending time in the sauna to avoid muscle soreness after I work out. It really helps me. Report
The future ain't what it used to be.
- Yogi Berra Report
This is awesome. I totally listen to my body and exercise accordingly. I know the difference between soreness and injury. I know when to rest and when to push through. Good for you. Thanks for sharing. Report
I finished my first marathon yesterday. It was actually my scheduled Long Run in training for my "real" marathon in Savannah on November 5. I was supposed to run 26 today and Baltimore was having a race ... sooooooo. I wanted to go slow, 5 hours or more, and I did 5:32:46. But I got a medal so I guess it counts. Hey, if you run 26.2, you SHOULD get a medal!

But this I learned. It was not fun. After mile 15 it quickly got old, boring, hard, drudgery, work, etc. I wanted to hop on the bus at mile 18 but I didn't have any money. I was being passed by walkers (and old ladies with walkers!) by mile 24.

But I was in tears as I crossed the finish line.

After Savannah, no more marathons for me. Report
Well said! I have to take running that way too. My primary activity is biking, and I can do a lot of biking before I start to hurt myself. Running, not so much. Report
Thanks for sharing! I too listen to my body. There are days when I run 1 mile and days when I run 3 or 4. Some days I just walk. I did sign up for the virtual 5k run but hey if I end up walking it so be it! We are supposed to enjoy the exercise after all. :)) Report
This is so true. Thanks for the reminder Report
Awesome blog. I am currently training for my first 10km... I have been slowly building up to it fir a year now!!!!!! I totally listen to my body and I totally love to run, since I discovered I could run only last year! I love your thoughts on this. Report
Today my body told me I needed to go back to sleep after getting my kids to school rather than heading off on a run - I'm suffering from either a mild-to-moderate cold or severe seasonal allergies. The extra rest was quite a blessing! Report
Thank you. This message is just what I needed to hear. I'm taking my time with exercise too. I could barely walk for 5 minutes when I started SP in middle of February. I'm now walking 5 miles but have no set routine. Sometimes I walk just one day in a week other times I walk three or four times in a week and I'm okay with that for now. I've been in a plateau for three months now but I know I will lose the last ten in due time. So, thank you again for reminding me that I'm doing what works and is right for me at this point in time. Report
What a great blog! Just what I needed to read! Thank you :-)
I don't want exercise to become a chore so I don't really have a plan, I just do what I'm in the mood for that day. More energy means a longer walk, little time a shorter but more intense video... I'm flexible. And I enjoy it :-) Report
Terrific article. My body is telling me that I have been taking it easy a little too often and that I need to work harder.

I started wearing Merrell Barefoot Pace Gloves in June and LOVE them. I intend to buy a second pair so I can wear them everyday.......giving the other pair a day off!

Thanks again for an informative article. Report
I really appreciate this blog. I used to race a lot, but then got "psychologically injured"-- i.e., the fun had gone out of it, and I would feel bitter disappointment when I'd look at my watch at the finish line instead of feeling happy and accomplished. I took a lot of time off and recently did a couple of races that served as goals for me. I finished each race happy, but I took some risks that led to injury because I wanted to give it my all. I've had to take 4 weeks off from running, and I really miss it. It makes me wonder about running for a goal instead of just running for enjoyment. I prefer the latter, and I think I'll be able to keep it up for the long term (after I get over this injury, that is!). My goal is to be running into my 80s. Report
Nice article. I do too listen to my body. I have arthritis in my knees so when my knees are talking to me (they hurt) I don't push myself real hard. On a good day I will run 3 to 4 miles. But when my knees hurt I will run 3 miles and call it good. I do know that exersice is good for arthritis so I keep on doing it. Report
great blog. my body is telling me... more water.... and GET MOVING! I just joined spark people and I so happy to have found it. I need support and motivation!!! Thanks for your blog. Report
I so needed to hear this! I am in the process of healing from a patella subluxation and have been so frustrated that I can't run and that my body isn't healing as fast as I think it should. During the past 4 weeks, I've realized it doesn't matter how many miles I do or how many races I sign up for; it's all just for me in the end. And when I can get back to running, I will be in a better mindset. Report
Thank you. This is exactly what I needed to hear right now. I've recently lost my drive to run, and I think it's because I'm putting some pressure on myself with my first 5k coming up next month. I used to just enjoy going out and spending "me time" running, but lately it's become a chore...just like you said! I'm so happy to read that someone else, someone very successful in my perspective, has the same ups and downs. I think I'm going to try your tactic of just going and running to run, with no goals in mind. I like my music, but I also have tried running without it before and enjoyed it a little. I think I'll leave the HRM at home and just run for the fun of it. Thank you thank you. Report
This came at the perfect moment for me! I've always told others to listen to their bodies and then I didn't. I have had a back problem for a few weeks and was advised to rest. I did and then yesterday I decided it was time to go back to my complete cardio workout (no running, but walking fast on inclines). Well, instead of doing an abbreviated workout (which was what my inner voice was saying), I did the whole thing and then I couldn't move the rest of the day. Thank you for giving me a very good reminder of what I know is the absolute truth! Report
It's telling me to rest today; I just had chemo Tuesday, and I didn't sleep well last night.
I'd love to just stay home today, but I have a dentist appointment then I need to get a few groceries. Report
Your blog resonates with me. In my case, severe arthritis forced me to stop running...again. I had started again after more than two decades of not running, and it felt really good at first! Then knee twinges progressed to pain that made walking uncomfortable after the running endorphins wore off, and my ortho said "Don't do that!" So now I'm working on building up my walking speed, and I think back to runs of the recent and distant past. Like your experience, my favorite runs weren't training or races; instead, they were just running for the sheer joy of being outside. Thanks for posting! Report
Thanks for the lovely article. Today my body is telling me to rest, but I will resume tomorrow, though I did abit of walking in the morning. Report
Resonating a lot of what FITTOBE2 had to say, I'm a runner, just not anything more than a 5-mile runner and know I never will have the desire to be. I have learned and accepted what is right for my body. I'm working on what is reasonable for my body, goals, and my balanced lifestyle. When I started feeling pressured by others to do things my body just wasn't willing or able to do, things that generated problems in my overall balance in life, things that made me feel inadequate such that I felt like I wanted to withdraw from the fitness activities that I once loved doing because it was too intensive or too long, I knew I had to listen to my body and back off and get back to what I was doing in moderation to regain balance in my life and restore my love for fitness. It made a lot of trainers unhappy with me. I'm just amazed that the trainers I've had don't seem to want to work with me on my goals to be strong and toned. Once they see that I'm strong they want me to be the strongest. I'm not as young as they are. My body isn't built as they are. They start training me according their goals and expectations rather than my goals and expectations. I want to live a healthy lifestyle, be in good shape, maintain my weight, eat good healthy foods in moderation, feel great, be proud of my body, and most of all have a "balanced, healthy lifestyle". I want to be doing something healthy that I love and feel great afterwards.
If I listen to my body it says "Eat more cookies" so I don't pay attention and just do what I have to do. Report
Love this! So inspiring and helps me because I'm about to start running and I want to listen to what my body says. I think I can go farther than I previously thought but want to pay attention to soreness, injury, and give myself time to rest when needed. I also want to start doing more yoga. Thank you for writing! Report
Excellent article. Report
I am learning to listen to my body...Thanks! Report
I am not and never will be a runner. That said I signed up for the 5K your way rookie running challenge. I thought it would be great to test my resolve to see if I could love running. Well I'm at week 8 of preparation have not started the final run. In part because I sprained my ankle and running. I had no clue that the slight tugging sensation on my right ankle was telling me to stop. I just shrugged it off thinking it was the typical ache that I always experience when I run. Two days later my ankle was completely swollen. I went to the MD a week later who told me I had a serious sprain. That was about 3 weeks ago and I'm still limpling along. I rolled my ankle yesterday stepping off the curb and needless to say I'm back to square one. From now on I will listen to my body. Report
I think this applies to exercise & diet once we dont see it as a chore but as exhilarating & fresh we will reach our goals. Nice blog.... Report
I'm learning to do this more and mroe each day. I have a hard time sometimes reconciling what my body needs with what my brain wants. But I have to treat my body correctly if I want it to do what I want :) Report
Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to the next. Report
That sounds like what I do Suzymobile. I need to get my core strengthened again before I try running. Report
Great article! Running has helped me learn to listen to my body more than anything else I have done so far, hands down. I feel more connected to my body when I run, and as a result I'm more aware of what is 'normal' aches vs. injury to respond appropriately. Report
Thank you for sharing :) Report
I'm learning. Today is my rest day. I hope my muscle sore will disappear. Report
I'm learning. Today is my rest day! I hope my muscle sore will Report
Thank you for this post! I find that it's easy to get caught up in the plan or routine and forget about listening to my body. I've been jogging a little bit lately, but mostly just when I feel like it. I don't have a plan, I'm not training for a race. I just felt like running (to quote Forest Gump).

Great blog! Report
I'm learning. Today is my rest day! I hope my muscle sore will Report
I'm learning. Today is my rest day! I hope my muscle sore will Report
thanks so much for your blog! Report
Great words of wisdom for all of us, whether we are seasoned or new to working out! Some days my body just says "no, I need to rest" and not only do I have to listen to it, I find that I have to explain myself to others who say "WHAT, no workout today???". I have learned not to feel guilty, but to enjoy the down time, knowing that I will get right back to it when my body says "you go girl"!!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Report
A lot of people would be much happier if they listened to themselves--and not just about physical activity. It's funny-I was just thinking the same thing this morning, but about swimming. I'm not a good swimmer by any means, but think that if I just take it slowly, one lap at a time, my endurance will build.

And sometimes it is good just to move just for the sake of movement-without goals or parameters set around it. Report
I am learning to listen to my body also, from how tired I am, to when I feel full or hungry and when my body is telling me to excercise, however I don't know if I will ever be a runner. Report
Thanks! Report
Well, I'm not a runner and don't know if I'll ever desire to be, but in the areas of walking, cardio, miles, goals, etc., I have learned and accepted what is right for my body. I had to realize what was reasonable for my body, goals, and my balanced lifestyle. When I started feeling pressured (by myself), inadequate, and not good enough for the teams I was on, I left them one by one. I want to live a healthy lifestyle, be in good shape, lose weight, eat good healthy foods in moderation, feel great, be proud of my body, and most of all have a "balanced, healthy lifestyle". When I started feeling that my outdoor leisure walks in the woods wasn't up to par with expectations, didn't log a big calorie burn even if it was 1-3 miles, and wasn't cardio, and that I should have done more serious exercise with that time, is when I decided I was taking that aspect of my life too seriously. Even if everyone else is doing 5-10 miles per day, prepping for marathons, working out hours at a time, serious strength training, etc., it's ok to do what's right for me on a much smaller scale. I missed my outdoor walks and the healthy aspects that came along with them. I live in the woods, I love nature, I love that time alone to think, pray, enjoy God's creation, breath the fresh cool air. It's relaxing, calming, spiritual, and energizing. I crave that. No matter how fast or slow I walk, calories burned, time logged, etc., I'm doing something healthy that I love, and I feel great afterwards.
Thank you for your blog! Report
Listening to my body has probably saved my life more than once. I have heart issues, before I was diagnosed one day as I was coming out of a meeting my body felt...well it felt different. I listened and since then I keep listening. I have had stints and bypass but no heart attack and that was over 15 years ago.

Thanks for a truly wonderful article about something that is close to my heart {pun intended}

- Ralph Report
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