Tuesday, August 10, 2010
A few weeks ago, I quit my job. I started my last day with a 4 mile run. It was a cool morning but I had foolishly eaten Tasty D-lite for dinner. Around mile two and a half, I wanted to call it quits. My stomach was growling with hunger and my feet were burning. I wanted to stop so badly and yet I couldn’t. I knew the pains I felt were momentary and more importantly, that those were the pains of running and if I wanted to be a runner who ran 26.2 miles, than I needed to learn to ignore the pain and just….keep….running.
As I went through my last-day-run feeling sluggish and sore, I couldn’t help but wonder why I had yielded to the frustration and exhaustion that I felt at work, but could not give in to them on this run.
I know pain is a biological necessity. It’s something we need to grow (growing pains, anyone?) and it’s also our own internal traffic light – Slow down! Stop! Go! Sometimes pain comes because you are improving, growing, learning, and sometimes pain comes because you are fading….
At work, the nuances of this point are much more complicated because of financial obligations, but in running, I have developed a simple system.
Take a walk around the block. Whenever joint and muscle pain start to worry me, I stop and walk. I figure if the pain then goes away than it is of the growing type. This has been especially useful when I’m trying to push myself by running further or faster than usual. I’m always concerned during those work-outs that I will blow out a knee or worse, but I also know that faster and stronger are right through the pain, if I only I can bear it. The walking test helps me sort out the gravity of the pain. Usually, I find that it disappears the minute I stop, which tells me that I should start right back up again.
Take a coffee break. We are in the middle of the summer and the air is hot and thick. Sometimes, I’ve broken out in a sweat before I’ve even started running. With the heat and humidity raging, it’s hard to tell when I’m just battling the elements or actually suffering, so I pay attention to how quickly I recover when I stop for water, nourishment, walking or stretching. On a good day, a water break should be refreshing and literally provide a pick-me-up. Muscle soreness and fatigue won’t disappear completely, but, especially after Gatorade or energy gels, I can jump back into the run feeling just a little bit lighter despite the weather.
Take a vacation. I also pay attention to how I quickly I return to normal after what feels like a grueling run. Now I’m not saying that I should feel like I’m ready to throw on a pair of heels and dance around for a few hours nor am I suggesting that I should be bed-ridden either. The level of perceived effort during the run should roughly match my energy levels and discomfort afterwards. I also know that I should always feel a little beaten up after the long runs. If I don’t feel anything at all the next day, then I’m not working hard enough.
Play some music. When I’m doing my long runs, I should be able to sing along to my iPod or chat with my TNT teammates. Of course, this is not a test that works for every type of workout. Interval training, weight lifting, pace runs are require different effort levels – but they also have different goals: speed and strength, not building endurance. As an added benefit, if you can sing or talk while running, then you are most likely in your aerobic threshold, which means your energy source is your fat, not sugar.
I hate quitting. I tend to think that it is a sign of weakness, but the truth is that sometimes we feel pain because we are in danger and not on the verge of achieving a new personal best. Learning to listen to my body and understand what it’s trying to tell me is a bit of an art. The aches and pains that plague me are always changing as I get stronger and reach for bigger goals, and so the line between good and bad is always moving around on me. Using these few little tests on me eliminates a lot of the excuses that I can conjure up in the middle of a run.
That pain on Friday morning was the type that will carry me to the finish line. I didn’t need to stop running. The burning in my feet can be cured by a new pair of shoes and the rest….well, they were cured when I finally ate breakfast. And as for the job situation? It turns out that sometimes you’ve got to quit to move forward as well.