As athletes, we are planners. We are always looking ahead, driven by the future. If we want to do well in a race in May, we start planning and preparing for it in the fall; if we’re winter sport athletes, we’re “made” in the summer; and even though we have no idea what will come into our lives in three weeks, we’ve got our training plans already laid out for that time. Planning ahead, particularly when it comes to a training/racing schedule, is crucial to being a top-tier athlete. But so too — and much less discussed — is the ability to steer away from that plan.
When we make a training plan, we plan on the notion that our bodies are healthy and our souls content. In the weeks leading up to a big-race taper, we prepare ourselves to push beyond what we’ve done before, to endure pain along the way, and become stronger athletes once we reach the other side. This is a necessary process to improving ourselves. But when our bodies aren’t in that healthy and happy state, we just cannot treat them the same way and expect the same response. We absolutely need to listen. And, as simple as it sounds, this listening, and the consequential “backing off,” can sometimes be one of the hardest things we as athletes have to do.
I got a pretty good taste of this lesson late this summer/early fall as I dealt with the injury to my foot. I learned to embrace the rest from running as a chance to improve my bike and swim, get some ski-specific training in, and of course to heal my body — but it was not easy. And now, after working so hard to come back to form with my running, and just when I was rising back to top shape before my December marathon, last week brought yet another setback.
As usual, my plate has been beyond full these past few months. As I try too wear more hats than can truly fit on my head, I have become increasingly overwhelmed, somewhat stressed, and of course VERY busy. Naturally, my body is not a fan, and last week it spoke up loud and clear to tell me that I needed to slow down. During what was supposed to be one of the biggest weeks of my race prep, I came down with a terrible cold. The coughing kept me up at night, and my head throbbed during the day. And as tempting as it was to just push on through, wanting to complete my two hard interval sets for the week along with my distance workouts, I decided to listen to my body, and accommodate it. With everything else I already had going on that week, I was wearing myself down plenty just by checking the tasks off of my to-do list, including several trips down to Reno for some broadcast work and numerous early mornings. The interval days came and went, and while I naturally wished I was out there, I knew I was doing the right thing to rest.
By the next week, I was feeling much better, and sleeping through the night. And after the rest, my body was raring to get moving again! I came back this week and put in a solid long run along with what was undoubtedly my best interval set since coming back from my injury. Despite missing the days last week, I am still finally reaching the level I have been hoping to get to since I first started running again in late September, after an eight-week hiatus. After decades of hard athletic training, it seems I’m finally learning the lesson of listening to my body, and altering my schedule to accommodate its needs. And this time, I got it right. And my body responded fabulously.
While we plan ahead as athletes, and line up the perfect plan to get us to peak form by performance time, we can’t always foresee what else will happen in our lives beyond the training. Life brings unexpected challenges. Sometimes one task gets added to the already-expansive “to-do” list, and it becomes too much. Our bodies get tired or we come down with an illness. While these things are inconveniences for certain, they are not deal-breakers. We can come back from a week of not having the time to get in our training hours, or getting sick and having to take days off. But only if we listen, and respond. Our bodies truly do know best. So if they’re trying to say something, don’t block it out! Listen. And accommodate. Despite altering your plan, you’ll be doing yourself — and your body — a huge favor in the long run.