The unseen balance every runner needs
Of course us bipedal beings need balance in locomotion and nowhere more so than when running, especially competitively, even if you’re simply looking to push your performance over a few months, competing against yourself. Physical balance is essential to us humans.
Running does have another balance you need to note when engaging in the practice, especially if you want to ‘get’ anywhere. At least get somewhere uninjured. Rare the one who remains broadly free of injuries in this fraternity, as runners seem the most frequently injured sportsmen around! There are tales of torn bicep muscles and tendons here and ligaments there from the gym all the time, of course. Tennis elbow off the court, nagging shoulder blades on the golf course, all the way through to floating kneecaps on the rugby field, are also tales of sporting injury, but it seems that a higher percentage of all runners have nagging or frequent ailments. The frequency of injury of runners is both a product of the nature of the activity (one can spend several hours in a day running, thus increasing training time and potential for injury), as well as this lack of balance. The balance in question is one of listening to your body. Pushing for performance, sure, but not succumbing to dreams of the Olympics or visions of the pros on telly when your body isn’t ready. You can push, as long as you do it while listening carefully!
Here are two quips from the general wisdom of many who pound the pavement, either simply regularly or competitively.
It’s often seen as an old mother hen nag, but warming up is more than stretching your hammies, dropping your head to your knee on your outstretched leg, or doing a few short sprints back & forth before taking off. It’s not that stretching or the given wisdom of warming up isn’t valid, but the elusive and eminently sensible approach to training that considers the P/PC balance, to paraphrase Steven Covey, is often absent. Production versus production capability. What this means is that when you roll your foot on your ankle and feel a tug, when you lean forward, dropping your head towards the ground, and feel that soft bite behind your left leg, you need to balance your aspirations for training that day against the honest admission that you are ever so slightly injured there. To avoid genuine injury, you need to be caring of your body. That may seem a strange statement to make to a runner or any other fitness nut for that matter, but we often don’t realise the internal imaging that drives us against our observations. Who wouldn’t want to sprint the next kilometer like a race horse? Who wouldn’t imagine themselves running like a demon, excelling, outdoing all previous records by dint of all the training they’ve done and the day’s sheer good luck or generosity? But we need to listen and balance the production we seek from our bodies with those bodies’ production capacity. Running as a lifelong enjoyment comes best to those who moderate their insistence on dynamic performance at every turnout, but rather listen carefully to their bodies. Warming up is more than, well, warming up. It’s also a silent moment of listening, of sober appraisal, quieting the ego, where you need to get the tips and hints your body gives you.
Performance versus limping along
We all know that there are some soft or otherwise new, small injuries that we can “run out of”. Sometimes the best thing for this week’s nagging tug on the arch of the foot or a tenderness beneath the foot is going for another run. Granted. Our bodies are dynamic, repairing things, and although the nuances are myriad, it seems a fair comment that most runners have this experience of certain ill-defined, minor ailments. Just as catching the end of a bout of flu or other illnesses and kicking it into touch by going for a good old jog is true, so some mechanical ailments can be run out. Or run off. Doing it – making those demands on your body when it’s very slightly, locally wounded – generally start a self-fulfilling cycle. The ailment is minor, the exercise makes you feel great and all organs and uninjured, surrounding tissue is fit and peaked, and the feeling goes away, often by the time you’re back home.
But the human spirit is by definition competitive, no matter that our altruism looms larger and has enabled society as we know it today. And we are so often unaware of just what a massive visual overload we succumb to living even a day on this modern planet. We are bombarded by images on TV and social media, images of professionals athletes, clipping percentages of seconds off their 100m or 400m. Or long distance runners running along like it’s a Sunday breeze, like we cannot imagine. The pace! The ease! Who, after all, puts the under-15s on TV and asks us to find that worthy of national entertainment? The point is, the images we carry in our heads are very often those of people whose incredible support on an intensive training regime is invisible to us. We see the highlights. We see the stars. And off we go, with that in our consciousness, determined to at least compare somehow, often without even knowing it. The ego is a wily thing. Deep. Embedded.
Accidents happen, and none of us have X-ray vision. Not all injuries can be foretold and prevented, of course.
But as valid as affirmations may be and as admirable as the desire for comparison to the pros might be, it cannot come at the expense of your own, personal capacity in the arena. Unless someone is (or several entities are) sponsoring your existence on earth and you spend the year flying around the world competing, try to understand that while we are all human, yes, the images and thus desires you carry with you might be really out of sync with your capacity on any given day of your training. Be kind. To your own body. Listening to it, adding silent contemplation – contemplation with implications! – to your warming up routine, will not only make you a better athlete over the long term, you’ll be out running, sweating, loving it, while others far more frequently stay at home, licking their wounds. Invest in the method of production, and you’ll have a far more consistent productivity and more injury-free days than many, many others. Never mind your insistence and adamance about what you want to achieve. Trade it for the confidence of where you can expect to go today. Fairly expect. Honestly expect.
Warm up in silence. Feel it to the bone. Imagine it and look forward to it. And then off you go. Do your best. All the while carrying the information your body just gave you. Do this, and your percentage of completely injury-free days will sit high in the 90-percent-plus range. A very elusive statistic for most runners indeed. When you’re in tune and injury-free, that’s when we can talk performance. Improvement thereof and enjoyment therein. Warm up. Determination up. Ego down. And expectations down if needs be, as a logical, caring response to your own body. Two ups and two downs. That’s the default recipe for a good run on any given day. Days of excellence, of sheer great performance – astounding performance even – will come. But they’ll be short lived if those golden moments are all we’re after.