In my early days of running, my boyfriend handed me a beeper (and no, he wasn’t a drug dealer) and said, “Go as far as you can for as long as you can without walking.”
I listened to my body.
I ran when I wanted to run, and I took rest days when I didn’t.
I had no ‘I didn’t run today’ guilt, no ‘I did 35 miles this week’ obsessive thoughts.
I ran, simply, because I felt like running.
Something happened when I entered my thirties, a time in my life I felt I had to dothings and go places and get something done to prove what I could do.
For the record, there’s not one damn thing I did in my thirties that HAD to get done or that COULDN’T wait until my forties, minus:
pushing two babies from my womb so I could actually touch my toes again, and
that one time I got a bit crazy in Vegas after drinking too much red wine out of a plastic cup and . . . but I digress
Running became something I had to do, not something I did because I wanted to do it.
I had to get in the miles.
I had to enter the races.
I had to Follow the Plan.
I tracked every single step I ran, noting mileage and pace.
I obsessed over the numbers, adding them up in my head throughout the day.
I played math games (and I hate math!): “If I run another five miles this week I’ll hit thirty!”
And if I didn’t, I kicked myself for it.
Of course, all of that led to injury, burnout, and frustration. I’d go too hard, too often, too much, too fast, and my joints and muscles would twitch and ache in protest before finally giving out.
I didn’t care. I was a runner. And that, I thought, is what runners did.
After blowing by my fortieth birthday like a sports car driver racing Daytona, I realized something: Runners run, but to do so they have to learn to listen to the body.
A funny, albeit shitty, thing happened after I hit 40: My body got a little less forgiving, and when the muscles said they had enough, they meant it. Push through and I’d wind up with ITB issues, tendonitis, or a nasty virus that seemed to pass over everyone else but invade my stomach with malice.
My way of thinking changed, too. I realized that a day off would mean better performance the day I did run, and that, in the grand scheme of things, what did it matter if I missed a five miler when my body and mind were telling me to take a break?
Eventually, I went from Following the Plan to Listening to my Body. So far, my injuries have been less, and I haven’t hit burnout the way I once did.
I don’t know that I have the same drive, which worries me. But I can say my performance and pace have improved with time, just like a good wine.