I haven’t run for three days, ever since my 13+ mile run Wednesday, and as usual the down time was driving me nuts. Not running Thursday was because it was a rest day after a long run; Friday it was raining, and while I could have headed out in the adverse weather, I was also feeling the first stirrings of a head-cold and really, really didn’t want to get sick, what with the beautiful Spring weather coming up and a newborn at home; Saturday I was sick.
I hate being sick. I suppose that’s not a unique reaction, since most people hate being sick, but as an active morning person, being sick pretty much interferes with my self-identity. This time of year it is particularly frustrating, as there is such a narrow window between the bitter cold of winter and the sweltering humidity of summer, during which time running is pure bliss. I hate wasting these perfect running days. Being sick makes pouty and filled with self-pity: Why me? Why now? It isn’t fair! It’s when I’m sick that I struggle the most with being a right-thinking buddhist, with accepting the moment and the condition as it is, without judgment, realizing there is nothing inherently good or bad other than the perception of the experience. Yeah, yeah, yeah, buddha-boy — what I want is to get out and run, dammit. I hate being stuck on the couch feeling useless and tired and sick. Look outside, its a perfect day for a run! Like I said, its one of my personal challenges.
So in an attempt to be a good buddhist, I’ve been trying to focus my energy less on loathing the fact that I’m sick and more on reading my body and how it is feeling. Not in order to judge it as “good” or “bad,” but simply to observe and understand it as it is, apart from judgement. This is actually one of the most important things that I’ve learned from running — to listen to one’s body and the constant feedback it provides in order to strike the delicate balance between trying too hard and not trying hard enough. Much of the challenge of a race is mental: how fast am I going? Is this effort sustainable for six more miles? Can I push myself faster now, or I should I wait? Slow down on this hill, or power over it? If you start out too fast, you run the risk of becoming exhausted before you finish; if you don’t run fast enough, you can’t make up that time by sprinting the last quarter mile. You need to constantly monitor yourself so you can make little adjustments, and if you let your preconceptions of what you desire color your observation, you’ll only hear what you want to hear: that you aren’t going that fast, that the discomfort in your knee isn’t that bad, that you should just push through it and it will be fine.
Of course, some times you should just push through it, as sometimes it isn’t that bad — that’s why its so tricky, and why it takes effort and practice to be honestly and dispassionately observe oneself (and even then its hard). This is true for effort during a race, as well as injuries, illnesses, and all mental obstacles. Sometimes when you don’t want to go for a run it’s because you’re tired and feeling lazy; sometimes it’s because you’re getting sick and your body is telling you to rest. Listening to yourself, and being honest with yourself, isn’t easy, but its essential, and I’ve learned that the hard way while running more than once. You aren’t who you want to be or who you think you are but who you are. It turned out I was able to push my self-perception of who I was past anything I could have imagined when I began running, but just because I was capable of running a marathon eventually didn’t mean it was something I could do right away. I jumped into my first half-marathon way to early with far too little training, and almost ruined my running for good when I blew out my knee. Pushing oneself harder than might be comfortable, but not so hard you break, accepting one’s limits without settling for less than is possible — its a hard balance to strike.
Anyway, deciding not to run yesterday, despite the idyllic weather and my antsy-ness after two days of inactivity, turned out to the right choice. Today I woke up feeling much better, and although I still wasn’t 100%, I felt good enough to take Nat out for a short run to test out my cold. The weather was, if anything, even better than yesterday — when the spring rain lets up, the days have been truly amazingly gorgeous this year. It was just a short run, a quick jog really, but it lifted my spirits and got me moving again.
I also did today’s run in my Vibram Bikala’s – you probably know them as “those freaky toe-shoes.” I haven’t run in them since I blew out my achilles tendon back in January, since I believe they are part of the reasons I over-stressed my heel in the first place. Now that I’ve given it a long time to recover, however, I want to start working them back into my running, as I really do believe that there is something behind the barefoot running movement. I might not be a full-fledged, cool-aide drinking barefoot advocate, but a lot of the science behind the idea of minimal foot-ware just makes sense to me. Besides, the fact that running in my Bikala’s tires out my calves and heel obviously means I’m not ever working them out during a regular run, and if nothing else I’d like to work on strengthening those parts of my body to reduce the likelihood of future injury.
This time, however, I’m going to be extra careful and ease into them slowly, and make sure to listen to what my legs, feet, and the rest of my body tells me. I might not always want to hear what they have to say, but they don’t often lie.
Distance: 2.5 miles Time: not recorded