Your body always wins and always gets what it wants.
Not (I repeat not) your brain.
Learning how to listen to your body over your brain takes time and commitment. (Nerd Alert!) It's like a Jedi learning to quiet their mind to hear the voice of the Force speaking through them.
The whole thing is tricky because that blasted brain is so convincing sometimes. You'll be in the middle of a run or workout and your brain will start to tell you that you've went hard enough or far enough or the effort has been good enough. You'll hear your mind trying to convince the body that it's flat out crazy - maybe even bat s*** crazy, who knows? The point I'm trying to make here is that if you're relying on your mind to be the judge and jury in the middle of activity, you may not always get the best advice.
Your body, on the other hand, is a collection of systems that can act as a check & balance against your mind only. Sometimes your mind is right - there's no disputing that. However, always remember you're nearly always able to do more than you think you are capable of. It's your body that will make your brain believe it. For example:
Sore muscles after a series of hard workouts or getting going for the first time is like your body giving you the finger. It's lodging its complaint against your decision making process. A sharp, instant pain is like your body turning on the ambulance lights, asking you to pull off to the right and stop. Your body nearly always knows what it needs, and it will tell you if you learn how to listen to it. Or, said a different way, your body will always get what it wants.
Whether you want it to stop or not, it will.
This is a lesson I learned in January of 2012 after being sidelined for 3 weeks nursing a stress fracture. I had been running in pain for the 6 weeks prior. I chalked it up to new shoes and changing my gait. My body was saying, too many miles too fast - chill out please. I didn't listen. So, my body gave out, my foot was broken, and I was forced to not do anything for weeks. While I wasn't a fan of my body's solution to the problem, I did what I ultimately needed to do - critically look at my training, slow down, and rest.
Recovery and listening to your body is as important than the miles you log.
I have known so many runners that seemingly plateau in speed or keep dealing with the same injury (or worse) because they're unwilling to weave proper recovery into their routine. What's tricky is that your brain can not only talk you out of working to your potential, it can also talk you into over-training, which is the quickest road to injury. (learn more here)
Resisting listening to the entirety of your body is completely useless. Here are a couple of ideas to file away:
- If you're just starting out, gear choices are key. Find the right shoes, find whatever outdoor gear keeps you most comfortable, find routes that are familiar but introduce a little challenge to the body - your mind is a muscle that needs developed too, a little stress on the brain during a run never hurt anyone.
- Pay attention to everything that happens pre, during and post run. Time of day, how much did you eat, what did you eat, did you run on the street/sidewalk/trail/city/country/with people/by yourself - something as simple as the side of the road you run on can change your body's response to stress (most roads are crowned in the middle and the slope can change).
- Recovery and how your body is responding to the stress is critical to getting your body to perform at its peak. Celebrate the new milestones of time/pace/mileage when they come. If you run with an mp3 player or iPod, go without every 3-4 runs with the specific intent of connecting with your body and how it's dealing with things.
Happy miles, friends - stay healthy and explore the connections you can develop between mind, body, and spirit.