In this new weekly feature on Competitor.com, oft-injured editors Courtney Baird and Mario Fraioli will offer advice on walking the fine line between peak fitness and injury or illness, as well as how to physically–and perhaps more importantly, mentally–keep yourself going when you’re unable to run.
Written by: Courtney Baird
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being in incredible shape. Your doctor marvels at your resting heart rate, you finish long runs stronger than when you started, and you actually look forward to subjecting yourself to the excruciating pain of racing.
This feeling is what drives many runners to push that last interval, to add those extra miles, and to do all of those boring ancillary strength training drills that we all know are necessary.
But the quest for this feeling can also be what pushes runners over the edge towards injury and illness. Instead of knowing when to say “stop” and understanding that sometimes they’re better off skipping a workout, many runners will push themselves far over the limit of what is healthy for their bodies.
To put it another way, most runners have a hard time differentiating between the whiny voice inside their head that is telling them to stop–because the brain doesn’t like pain–and the voice that is screaming to stop because there is actually something wrong.
Unfortunately, I learned how to differentiate between these voices the hard way.
Last year, I was on the brink of “the feeling.” My workouts were faster than they had been in years and I was able to handle any run that was thrown at me.
But then I did a killer treadmill workout on a Saturday evening that wiped me out more than I would have liked to admit. Instead of resting the following day like I should have, I gave myself about 12 hours of recovery time and then went on a 5-hour bike ride. I remember remarking to myself about an hour into the ride, “Wow. I don’t think I have ever been this tired.” But instead of stopping like any sane person would have, I forced myself to finish the workout.
Within a few days, I came down with walking pneumonia. Instead of being out on the trails, I was lying on the floor of my apartment because I was unable to conjure up enough energy to crawl on to my couch. I was out of commission for two months, and I missed two of my “A” races and the opportunity to show something for all of the hard work I had put in over the season.
During my recovery, I remember reading a story in the New Yorker about Meb Keflezighi’s almost career-ending hip injury and how he came out of it to win the New York City Marathon. A quote in the article particularly struck me, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Keflezighi said: “It’s a beautiful thing, when you can click the miles along. It’s a beautiful thing, and you better cherish it.”
I came to the conclusion that part of cherishing “it” was knowing when to say “stop.” When you understand this, you are able to put in the kind of consistent training that is required for improvement.
Best of luck to you in figuring out where to draw the line.
Courtney Baird is senior editor of Inside Triathlon magazine. She ran Division 1 cross country and track and now competes in triathlons as an elite age-grouper. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.