– First published, Runner’s World, January 1997 –
This is the first January since I began running five years ago that I haven’t been injured. Some years it was just a left over pain, and others it was more serious. In any case, January has always been when I started from zero.
I got pretty good at starting over. My January logs look strangely alike: some walking, some stationary biking, and a little running. There’s never been any training in January, just recovery and physical therapy.
Every January I was a new runner. Every January I had to start slowly and cautiously, adding mileage carefully to avoid a setback. My goals were always the same: get to March and be running pain free.
But this year–despite the fact that I ran more miles in 1996 than any previous year, despite the fact that I trained for and finished three marathons in 1996–I am more ready to run than any other January. Of course, I want to know why.
I’d like to think that I’m getting smarter about running. I’d like to think that the lessons I’ve learned from being injured are beginning to sink in. I’d like to think that I’m starting to understand the mysteries of this sport. But I doubt it.
My brain isn’t any closer than before to understanding why some days running seems so easy and other days my legs feel like logs. My brain doesn’t understand why one day fast feels slow and other days slow feels fast. My brain may not understand at all, but my body does.
The big difference, as best I can tell, is that I’ve stopped trying to run with my brain and am trying to learn to run with my body. I’ve tried to stop looking at all of the objective measures that make me a runner. I’ve tried to stop measuring my quality as a runner in time and miles.
This may seem obvious to those of you who have been runners for years, but nobody told me. Sure, I heard the adage about listening to your body, but all I ever saw were training programs with mileage and speed goals.
So for 1997, I’m going to run more, and rest more. I’m going to run faster, and also slower. I’m going to run more by myself, and also search harder for others with whom I can run.
But mostly I’m going to try to learn the language of my body. I’m going to listen carefully so that my knees will only have to whisper that they’ve had enough for the day. I’m going to learn the difference between just being tired and being fatigued.
And if I listen well enough, I may never have to start over again.
Waddle on, friends.
First published, Runner’s World, January 1997