Saturday, October 17, 2009

'Listen to your body' (try to, at least)

Listen to your body. Listen to your body. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.

When you're sick, when you're hurt, when you're overtired, these four words haunt so many runners. It's like -- sorry in advance for getting this one stuck in your head -- the "Poker Face" of admonitions.

But why is the best piece of advice also the hardest to follow?

For the past week, I've had some tenderness on the outer part of the ball of my left foot. Since Wednesday, I've had a cold. On both Wednesday and Thursday nights, I only got about six hours of sleep.

So there I was in my bathroom this morning, standing in front of the mirror with two hours to go till the LungStrong 15K (and with two weeks to go till my first marathon), congested, a little achy, pretty exhausted. The little angel on my shoulder is cooing Listen to your body ... the little devil on the other one is calling the little angel's mama some really hateful things.

I'm telling you, I stood there like an idiot for about 15 minutes letting these two voices slug it out. I thought about the amount of Kleenex I'd been going through. I thought about how good climbing back into bed would feel. I thought about New York. And at one point, I actually started texting my friend Diane to tell her good luck, that I was feeling too miserable so wouldn't be joining them for their warmup.

But -- and you know how this goes -- that little devil is a powerful sonofagun. I thought about missing the time with my friends. I thought about missing a race and a course I'd been looking forward to tackling for months, and that I wouldn't get a chance to run again for 12 more. I thought, If I can just get through this, it's all downhill from here. I'll have made it to taper time. To sleep-in time. To chicken soup and orange juice time.

What's the difference between courage and stupidity?

Well, I think this is what courage looks like: It's Curt Schilling in Game 2 of the 2004 World Series, pitching the Red Sox to victory against the Cardinals despite fresh sutures to patch up a torn tendon in his ankle. It's Chicago Bulls hero Michael Jordan fighting through a violent bout with food poisoning and a stomach virus during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals and scoring 38 points to bury Utah. It's Greg Louganis cracking his head open on the diving board at the 1988 Summer Olympics yet finishing his qualifying dives before going to the hospital to get five stitches.

There's a good chance, meanwhile, that stupidity is me saying "Hell with it," plucking the angel off my shoulder, getting in the car, and heading for Cornelius -- and that's exactly what I did.

The difference is that Schilling and Jordan and Louganis ... well, they're champions, for one thing. I mean, there's the obvious stuff. They're professionals (or in Louganis' case, close enough). It was do-or-die time for all of them. There were things at stake that were bigger than them -- teammates, national pride.

For me, I really had nothing to gain and everything to lose by going out there this morning.

But I think that deep down, there really is only a fine line between courage and stupidity. It's only our level of ability that makes us different from superhuman athletes, or even from the man or the woman standing next to you at the start. We're all out there because we're competitive. Not necessarily because we're particularly courageous or remarkably stupid, but because we're competitive.

My point is, while I'll encourage you up and down the street to listen to your body, I'll understand why you didn't if you don't.

[Theoden finished the LungStrong 15K this morning in 1:07:55, beating his goal by more than two minutes. His foot feels pretty good, his cough is now productive, and he's about to take a long nap.]


Absinth said...

Pretty nice post. Are you a journalist?

Anonymous said...

Check out They had this a the Columbus Marathon this weekend; my family was able to track my progress on Twitter. I think they may have it for NYC.

Anonymous said...

Good work

My PR on a 10k is, sad to say, from one I ran when I was pretty sick and should have stayed in bed. I slept on the couch the night before the race because if I lay down flat like one does in bed, I would go into a coughing fit. Then it was cold and raining and I was too stubborn to bail.

You'd think I could beat that time but so far I haven't. I think I just went out there and took off so I could finish and go home.

Hey if we listened to our bodies we'd all be housecat fat and never get anywhere.