Which of Your Many Bodies Did You Run In Today?

I worked several hours this morning, then took a break to run. Before leaving the house, I went to the closet and shuffled through my spare bodies and picked the Ryan Hall model.

I’m not being entirely serious – on the other hand, it does seem that I run in a different body every day of the week.

It’s not always convenient to be changing bodies before I run. It requires that I get familiar with today’s body before I can give it the training it needs.

Which of your bodies did you run in today?

We’ve probably never met, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the same body you ran in yesterday.

The body changes continually. It’s something we need to get used to. Every day, we have the opportunity to run in a new body. Depending on the features of the “body of the moment,” that five-mile loop that felt easy yesterday may feel like a struggle today.

It would be convenient if we could always run in the same body. Just imagine – we would never have to adjust our pace or distance to accommodate the body’s whims.

But that’s not reality. The body is a prima donna – capable of singing a glorious aria today, and croaking a few sour notes tomorrow.

Adjusting our training becomes easier with experience – it gradually becomes second nature. But how we feel about the body’s changes is a different story.

I’ll confess, I can get grouchy when I sail out the door, ready for a brisk hour’s run, and my body sits on its haunches like a donkey. No amount of tugging will make my Eeyore-body run the way I want.

Still, it’s useless to get upset. In fact, the worst mistake is rebellion – “I’ll run hard even if my body doesn’t like it.” It’s a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Also, negative feelings kill joy and erode performance.

How can we get comfortable with the body’s changes? The first step is to accept reality as we find it. Learning to gracefully accept the resources we’ve been given opens doors for getting the best out of each run – even the pokey ones.

How can we know what kind of body we’ve got today?

We’ve all heard the advice: “Listen to your body.” But how does the body speak to us?

When we’re sick, the body announces the fact by making us feel bad.

When we’re fit and rested, the body feels great.

No big secret – the body talks to us through inner feeling.

If we listen carefully enough, we find that the body will tell us, with stunning clarity, exactly what it can handle. Paying attention to those subtle feelings is the key to efficient training, in harmony with the body’s ever-changing needs.

The method is simple; in fact, it’s built into running itself.

A long time ago, I discovered some insights from yoga philosophy that have surprising practical value for runners.

Very briefly, every run has five stages, corresponding to the five tools that we can use to achieve happiness and success: body, feeling, will, mind, and soul. The stages of the run appear in the same order: stage 1 is for the body (the warmup), stage 2 starts when energy begins to flow and stimulate positive feelings, and so on. I wrote about this in Fitness Intuition, so I won’t belabor it here; if you’re interested, see Chapter 3, “The Five Dimensions of Fitness.”

Familiarizing ourselves with today’s body starts with the warmup.

During the warmup, try running easily for a while. Listen to your heart – not the physical heart, but how it feels to run at a given pace. Check the feeling over and over, with relaxed interest. You’ll find that when you’re running at exactly the pace the body prefers, there will be a subtle feeling of harmony, just a whisper of sweet feeling. But if you speed up prematurely, the feeling will change and become subtly disharmonious – there will be a physical discomfort, and a feeling that the body is telling you “This is wrong.”

If you’re like me, there will be times when you’ll be impatient with today’s body. Our bodies always want to warm up at their own pace, which may not be exactly the pace you’d like. Yet those subtle feelings will tell you, with unerring accuracy, what kind of body you’re dealing with. And if you follow the inner sense of harmony and “rightness,” I think you’ll get surprisingly consistent results in performance and enjoyment.

Letting the body be your coach may take time, as the body re-educates you about what good training is. But I think you’ll discover that feeling-based running is enjoyable, and produces excellent returns.

After warming up for a while, speed up tentatively and check the feeling. Some days, when you speed up there will be a clear signal – “Go!” It will feel like you’re shifting effortlessly into a faster gear.

Other days, the body may not want to run fast at all. That’s disappointing, naturally. Given our druthers, who wouldn’t want to run at a lickety-split pace every day?

A question I imagine many runners would ask is whether feeling-based training is too easy. “Okay, I’ll follow my feelings – well, gosh, I feel like going back to bed!”

On the contrary. Respecting the body’s input opens the door for very hard training – when it’s appropriate. When you give the body exactly what it can handle, your body goes into the harder runs fully recovered and ready to work. Those runs often feel effortless – they’re gloriously exhilarating.

What if you warm up dutifully, and you find that today’s body is a 20%-slower version of yesterday’s? The best response is “So what!?” It’s unproductive to wish that circumstances were different. The opportunity is to get the best out of today’s body.

On slow recovery days, when your body only wants to jog, doing the right thing yields extraordinary feelings of health and harmony. You’ll finish your slower runs feeling wonderful. It’s the body’s way of thanking you for honoring its needs.

This morning, I donned my Ryan Hall body and parked at the base of the hills behind the Stanford campus. There was no need for a long warmup – my Ryan Hall body wanted to go! It was a wonderful run; even though it was just 30 minutes, it was full of zest and energy.

Now then, an interesting thing happened. Even though all systems said Go! my mind kept getting in the way. It tried to tell me to be cautious, hesitant – wimpy! But when I sank back into my heart, running hard felt completely right. In the still intuitive center in the middle of my heart, I knew for a certainty that I was doing the right thing. There was such a strong feeling of harmony emanating from my heart that I knew I didn’t need to heed the mind’s kvetching. I ran in the moment, at speed, in joy.

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