Bodies are amazing. We can ask our bodies to perform any number of tasks in the physical realm or we can quiet movement to spend time on a cerebral plain. The trouble starts when we ask and the body does not respond.
Certainly, my body is responding to my joyful return to running (the one foot in front of the other is working). I’m happily fitter than I was 4 weeks ago and already making plans to continue coaching if they will keep me. So, I was shocked this week when my body responded with a giant “nope”. This came in the inexplicable need to lay down. I don’t mean that facetiously; I literally needed to lay down, and for much longer than I thought I would need. Besides getting, cough cough, older, I really don’t have a great reason to come home from a normal work day and completely disengage by slipping into near coma status for a period of 2 hours. It was shocking in my body’s need for rest. It caused me to contact my partner in crime and ask her to take out our running group for the 8km because I knew that while I could push myself to do it, I shouldn’t. Furthermore, my husband’s response of ‘good for you’ made me realize he has watched me in years past push myself too far and too hard. It made me feel like I had learned something; amazing what a marital pat on the back can do. It was simple acknowledgement that something inside me changed my outward behaviour. My response wasn’t to immediately pour over every detail of my running and food and force myself to run anyway, but to just take a breather and a long, overdue nap. It was to take the time my body needed instead of forcing my body do what my mind wanted. How novel!
For those of you reading who don’t have the express joy of having had a full on body-functioning-crash-that-flips-your-life-upside-down to learn from….read on! I have done the hard part for you and can say, with the utmost authority, this is a non-exclusive amateur list of questions and ramblings to ask yourself to see if you are on the right path:
- How far into your training are you? If you are in the first 3 weeks, it’s going to be rough. It will take the average beginner about those first agonizing 3 weeks of discomfort to get used to the activity. The more of a beginner you are in the activity (and no, ability in one area does not automatically make you good at the other) the greater the challenge. If you have a really good trainer / coach, the discomfort should return after every 4 weeks. (yeah, yeah, I know. You only get one week of feeling good…that’s how we get you!) If you are self-training, and things are difficult at first, but your body never gets challenged again, you have probably plateaued and need to increase intensity in some way. This is usually duration or distance of workout or type such as hill or tempo training for runners. Lo and behold, I am in the 5th week of my run coaching! Clue number one.
- What’s your water intake? Water is an important, in fact critical, piece of the recovery puzzle. Muscles that are dehydrated just won’t recover as well as their supple brethren. Without enough water, muscles become inflexible over time, and as you begin to make your body move in ways it hasn’t moved in before, you become prone to injury. Think about uncooked spaghetti (go with me here), it is brittle and inflexible. Add hot water and time, that noodle gets oodles of movement. On a supremely basic level, it’s the same thing for our muscles. There are many, many articles written on how much water the runner needs, but it is just safe to say that if you exist on AM coffees followed by PM coffees and finish off with post-run beer, you are probably dehydrated and want to start increasing your water intake. (I will not confirm nor deny that some, if not many, of my days has liquid intake close to what I have described.)
- What kind of food do you eat? And, by kind, I mean macros. Right. The stuff that food is made up with and serious athletes can obsess over. We are talking fat, carbohydrate, and protein. More to the point, we are thinking about ratios. If we all ate a diet that included 50% fat, we would start to expand in ways that might not be wanted. Right? But, I don’t want to get into what macro percentages are best because, honestly, it is different for everyone and every athletic goal that we might imagine. What you need in each sport can be very different in terms of the percentages and even in terms when you might be eating which of the percentages. However, if you are moderately active runner averaging 3-4 times a week, for a period between 30-60mins at a time, it might be time to consider what we are asking our bodies to do and if we are appropriately fueling. Yes. Adding fuel to the tank. Food is fuel when you start asking the body to do athletic things it wasn’t doing before. Knowing what to eat before running and what to avoid can be the difference between being hungry on a run or throwing your guts up on the side of the road (ps, I have experienced both.) The best way to know what to have is to invest some time in reading things written by people who are doing the same activity as you, and then testing things out. That is the cheap and time consuming (pun intended) option. You will read a variety of food trends and food choices and how they impacted a particular person’s ability to perform. This does not make them right. If I was to say that I am a vegan (which I am) and that you should all be vegan runners, you might think that was extreme on my part, and you would be right. So, be very, very, careful about what people are telling you because often, they are not telling they are selling. No one product will make the difference for everyone. We are too unique and complex to buy into a processed food item that will become the reason we will increase our athletic ability or lose weight or be more awesome. Don’t buy into that unless you really want to and you feel your research has validated what is being sold. But, I digress. The quick and not so cheap way is to pay someone to figure out your macros for you. Your decision to go either route depends on your goals and how determined you are to meet them. Self research will carry you along…to a point. When your body stops improving, and you are at the end of your knowledge to reach the final step(s) of your goal and you want to be at the top of your game, whatever that game might be, you need to consult an expert. It’s that simple.
On the most basic level, when training, and the body reacts in an unanticipated way, it is time to reassess. For me, this means looking at what I have done so far and what I hope to achieve in the coming weeks. Those three items help me do that. I sit and think where have I done what was necessary and where can I improve. Heading back into the classroom over the past two weeks have placed time and energy demands on top of my running schedule. Assessing what I have done in the past few weeks to end up needing copious naps brings a realization, cough cough, admission that I need to reassess. For example, I consciously slept in last Friday and then tried to exist on two pre-packaged protein bars before being able to leave work and get food. I was desperately hungry. My body was in panic mode.
While last Friday isn’t the norm but the anomaly, it indicates how precarious my planning happens to be. Hitting the snooze button shouldn’t throw off an entire day. Further, it shows that maybe the plan isn’t that great and that while my desire to avoid obsessing over the food part is healthy for my mindset and emotional well-being, it isn’t smart for my body. There is a balance to be struck which I haven’t really found it in the past. Yet, avoiding exploring how to train and meet my athletic goals for fear of slipping back into a eating disorder isn’t what I want either. It’s simply not smart and it devalues how far I have come. I know better. I love being a coach, I am tied to my group, and I really want to be supportive of my group’s goals without being detrimental to my own. So, I think I’m going to do that.