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Just suck it up


The Long Run

Pip Coates was a swimmer until life got busy and she discovered the addictive simplicity of running. She's never looked back.

View more entries from The Long Run

Sometimes you have to do is reach for that can of HTFU to inspire you to keep moving.

Sometimes you have to do is reach for that can of HTFU to inspire you to keep moving.

“Listen to your body.”

It’s one of those phrases you hear a lot in running, especially in discussions around injury or when to take days off from training.

Bugger this for a game of soldiers, let’s stop running right now and have a jolly good lie down. 

And, of course, it makes sense not to overtrain to the point where it’s counter-productive or to make an existing injury or illness worse by running through it.

But here’s a confession: I’ve never really fully understood the whole listen-to-your-body mantra.

What if your body says (as mine frequently does): “Bugger this for a game of soldiers, let’s stop running right now and have a jolly good lie down.”

Or even: “Who set that bloody alarm clock? No way am I getting out of bed at this hour for a training session.”

There have been plenty of times when if I had listened to my body I’d have given up or not even started in the first place.

And this whole “listening” thing becomes even more critical during a longer training session or race when you get to that point (and if you never do, then good luck to you) when you are completely and totally over the whole thing.

Your knees hurt, your quads are shredded, your feet are on fire and your whole being is screaming: “Stop this madness right now and never, ever do it again.”

It’s at that point when the last thing you should do is listen to your body. Of course it hurts. That’s the whole point. What you have to do is reach for that can of HTFU and keep moving.

(And if you know what that means and you’re offended, sorry. And, if you don’t … er … look it up unless, of course, you think you might be offended).

I’m in the middle of Eat and Run, a cracking read from legendary ultrarunner Scott Jurek. Jurek’s record over monster distances is awe-inspiring (he won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven times straight) and he is well known for the care he takes of his body and in particular the thought he puts into his (vegan) diet. But the flipside of all this is his super-human ability to ignore what his body is telling him in the middle of these brutal events and, no matter what, to keep moving forward.

Jurek’s book is littered with countless examples of this, including the 2007 Hardrock 100 mile event in Colorado. Two nights before the event he tore the ligaments in one ankle, horsing around with some kids.

“Pain electric-eeled my synapses,” he writes. “There was no way I could run the race.”

Then he took stock and told his body to shut up. He put a sleeve over the angle then “wrapped so many layers of duct tape that it was two inches thick. The last time I had seen the ankle, even after two days of treatment, it shined, purple as the inside of a thundercloud. It was so swollen I couldn’t see my anklebones.

“My injury provided a great excuse to lose. But I didn’t want an excuse.”

In spite of the excruciating pain, Jurek drove himself on to win Hardrock that year in a record-breaking 26 hours and 8 minutes.

By all conventional measures, even toeing the starting line was foolhardy. Jurek should have “listened” to his injury and backed off, giving himself time to recover. But he didn’t because he is a champion.

Now I’m pretty obviously no Jurek but is examples like this that keep me going when the going gets excruciating. On Saturday I’m due to run a 29km trail race, the Coastal Classic. I’ve trained OK for it, but have a nagging soreness in a hamstring (apologies for the detail – listening to someone telling you about their injuries is second in dullness only to hearing a recount of someone’s dream), which means I probably shouldn’t run. But I will.

I’ve listened to my body and told it to shut up.

Can you “listen” to your body too much? How do you know the difference between giving yourself an excuse to wimp out and when it’s genuinely time to stop?



75 comments so far

  • I think that is why I really enjoy playing AFL into my 40's. There are days when I think to myself "what am I doing?" or maybe trying to talk myself into walking off the field when I'm tired, sore and have run out of puff. The idea of letting your team mates down really helps in pushing through that wall.

    Castle Hill
    Date and time
    August 30, 2012, 3:32PM
    • Having seen so many people suffer from long-term (life-term) injuries that are caused by ignoring pain when sitting, using a computer or physical activity, I would like to point out the foolishness of this argument.

      Many champions actually literally have superhuman bodies that have the ability to skip the normal human required recovery period.

      Yes, you have to listen to your body and know what sort of injuries are a worry and which you can force yourself through.

      It isn't just exercise that you have to listen. I had a boss who would spend the whole night drinking coffee and writing documents, which became a pile of unintelligible crap because of that fact.

      For me, I love leaping out of bed in summer, cycling for an hour or two to beat the heat, come home and cook breakfast. Winter I stay in bed and cycle in the middle of the day.

      Date and time
      August 30, 2012, 3:40PM
      • There is a big difference between what you should do between:
        A) Feeling a burning from working hard, tired muscles wanting to lay down etc
        B) Joint or bone pain, a strained muscle, pain in the chest etc

        One means you can keep going (or call that 'suck it up" if it makes you feel better) the other means stop and maybe seek professional help.

        Date and time
        August 31, 2012, 2:19PM
    • Nick Galvin is giving extremely negligent advice here.

      There is a very small difference between 'hitting the wall' and the first sign of serious injury.

      I experienced a small amount of pain in my foot while running. I ignored it and a few months later it became excruciating. I had a stress fracture as a result of over-training and was on crutches for months.

      I should have gone to the doctor at the first sign of trouble.

      Date and time
      August 30, 2012, 4:44PM
      • Not sure about 'first sign of trouble' - maybe you'd give it a bit of healing time first - but point generally well made.

        Date and time
        August 31, 2012, 1:50PM
    • In my 80's I can't run anymore perhas dawdle is a better word but I keep moving! Suck it up? Yes I do that at dinner time with a spoon.

      Pickled Herring
      Date and time
      August 30, 2012, 4:55PM
      • I agreed with and applied Nick's principles. I played sport of all descriptions with muscle tears, sprains and joint athritis. There would be few that could say they they a tougher competitor, nor have a better ability to play through pain.

        This has worked well. Wind forward to today: I have had over 20 muscle tears, have hip and back problems so bad that on my worst days I can barely walk. Forget sport.

        I am 27.

        Date and time
        August 30, 2012, 8:09PM
        • Yeah it sucks.. really does... I went through my early 20s bashing my body through all sorts of activities.. usually with poor form and while carrying injuries... sitting for long periods of time at work and then going for a 85km hike with 17 kgs on my back.. I thought I was super woman, you see. That caused serious back and hip problems for the last 3 years where I couldn't even walk for 20 mins without excruciating pain. All those past injuries cause muscle imbalance and sustained activity with muscle imbalance just compounds all this. I'm nearly 33 now and for the last 6 months have been doing targeted strength training and re-training my muscles to work properly. I can now jog continuously for 5km (which I could never do before) and feel great afterwards! But having said that i am very very aware of where my body is at in terms of strength and capability now. It really pays to be honest with yourself.

          Date and time
          September 04, 2012, 10:15AM
        • The body does have an amazing ability to heal itself. It needs to be given time to do so though. I used to play competitive contact sports where a week was never enough time for niggling injuries to right themselves. I'd continue training during the week, play 7 days later and they get worse, 7 days later again and they compound. When the body cannot function the way it is intended due to an injury, it adapts. The result is that other body parts are required to take a greater load and more injuries eventuate. Continue on this path and the body breaks down. We mere amateur weekend warriors do not have the luxury of subsidised access to recovery systems the pros do. Furthermore, the lack of an effective recovery approach of many amateur sports teams will bite many players down the track. The big drink on a saturday night, the lack of a recovery session the following day, and the absence of a properly devised training program beginning with a lighter intensity training session early in the week while the body is still recovering from the last game building to a short intense session later in the week closer to the next game. Due to the constraints of scheduling training sessions at amateur level, the sessions try to fit too much in and are generally too long. Like a mechanical device that needs regular lubrication and maintenance, if you don't look after it well the body will show signs of wear and eventually break down too.

          Date and time
          September 04, 2012, 10:49AM
      • Really? Talking about your injuries is the same as talking about dreams. You see I have this calf injury and ive rested it for the last week and a half, I havent been able to run because Im worried about straining it again... I also dreamed about this house, it had this outside verandah which had a windy ramp leading to it and ... Yeah you're probably right.

        Date and time
        August 30, 2012, 8:41PM

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