Listen To Your Body — What You Hear Might Surprise You

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by Katrin Silva

My non-running friends often ask me what it feels like to run a 100-miler. They find it difficult to imagine. I find it difficult to describe. Oxymoronic phrases like “Everything hurts, but I love it!” create more confusion than they clear up. I’ve been struggling to find a better way to get the message across. I think I finally found one.

Since I started running, I have heard the phrase “Listen to your body” over and over. I never believed this nugget of advice. I know my body well enough to not ever trust its judgment. If I listened to my body, it would not move. Most days, it just wants to sit on the couch and stuff itself full of chocolate. But the overwhelming consensus among expert endurance coaches finally convinced me to give this strategy a try. While running the Western States 100, I listened to my body from start to finish. This has done nothing to change my opinion about what it really wants, but I have to admit: what I heard was interesting. I was surprised to find that “body” is the code name for a large cast of characters, each with a distinctive voice and personality. Of course I can’t transcribe 100 miles’ worth of what my body said. Also, some of it would be inappropriate for younger readers, since my body used some very colorful language. But a couple of scenes should be enough to give non-runners a realistic impression.

For example, here’s what I overheard early in the race, around mile 16:

Legs:

We feel great. Could we go a little faster on this downhill?

Frontal Lobe:

Great attitude, guys, but let’s save some power for later.

Cerebellum:

Left, right, left, right, it’s so easy, left, right . . .

Eyes:

Pretty flowers! Sunshine through the trees! Oh, and some rocks on the trail.

Cerebellum:

Don’t distract me . . . left, right, pick up feet over rocks, left, right . . .

Parietal Lobe:

So beautiful. I feel intense joy . . . so much happiness . . .

Legs:

We need a little more power down here, please.

Stomach:

What’s that? Mmmmm, another clif blok. Simple carbs, what a treat. Yum.

Cerebellum:

Left, right, pick up feet. Left, right . . .

Frontal lobe:

Hey stomach, could you please release more sugar into the blood stream?

Stomach:

Almost almost done breaking down this clif blok. Ok, here we go!

Legs:

Thank you so much. That hit the spot. We can pick it up a little more.

Frontal lobe:

Great! Let’s catch up to this runner in front of us, shall we?

Cerebellum:

Left, right, quicker steps, left, right, pick up feet . . . .

The conversation was polite. Professional, even. By mile 85, on the other hand, the tone had changed completely:

Legs:

Look, we’re running on empty down here. Any chance of getting some glycogen?

Frontal lobe to stomach:

Hurry up, you slacker!

Cerebellum:

Left, right, pick up feet, left right . . . .

Stomach:

What did you just call me?

Frontal lobe:

Oh, cut it out. I’ve got more important things to do than be on your case.

Stomach:

Oh? Like what?

Frontal lobe:

Like processing information. Like making sure we’re still on trail. Shut up and digest, will you?

Stomach, in a whiny voice:

Fine. I quit. See if you miss me. Here is the last clif blok back. (Ejects slimy, greenish substance)

Legs:

Oh come on! You’ve got it easy compared to us.

Frontal lobe:

Right! Stop being such a drama queen!

Stomach:

Drama queen? I’m working 24/7, without so much as a small token of appreciation. I  don’t get a massage once a week, like a couple of legs I could mention . . .

Cerebellum:

I can’t focus with all this yelling . . . left, right, left . . . wait, what?

Stomach:

None of you cares about me. Nobody loves me. I quit. Bye.

Cerebellum:

. . . right, left, what else? I don’t remember. Right, left, left. No. Ooops.

 

(THUD)

Cerebellum:

Sorry about that. Pick up feet, now I remember.

Knees:

We’re bleeding! Ouch. Pain alarm! Pain alarm!

Frontal lobe:

Assessing damage . . . It’s superficial. Toughen up. Get moving again.

Legs:

Do we have to?

Frontal lobe:

Yes! Now, move!

Parietal lobe:

I feel hopeless and sad. (To eyes) Get ready to spill some tears.

Eyes:

Good idea. They will clear out some of the dust. Here we go.

Frontal lobe (exasperated):

Stop that! Now! This is a 100-mile race, not some B-grade soap opera. You there, legs, keep moving along!

Legs:

Noooooo! We’re tired. Can’t we rest here for another minute?

Stomach:

See if I care.

Frontal lobe:

Quit arguing with me. I’m the boss here. Stop!

Legs:

Stop? You mean we can stop?

Frontal lobe:

Not you! Get your sorry muscles in gear.

Liver, yawning:

Hey, guys, what’s with all this commotion? What’s going on? I’m trying to get some rest here.

Brain, legs, knees, all other parts. In unison:

SHUT UP!

Liver:

Whoa, easy. Peace, love and all that. Not my fault I have nothing to do. If I had some tequila to process, we’d all be more relaxed. Hey there Stomach, my man! I see you’re not doing anything either. That’s cool. Let’s just hang out and chill for a while . . .

Frontal lobe:

You ingrates! You idiots! You lazy freeloaders! (sobs in despair)

Legs:

Are we there yet?

Frontal lobe:

That’s it. I wish I could fire you. All of you! Look at Magda Boulet, now there’s efficiency. But I’m stuck with you bunch of worthless morons on this trail in the middle of the night . . .

Stomach, in a gloating tone:

I’m not gonna say I told you so.

Frontal lobe:

Quiet, you! You started this mess!

Stomach:

Did not!

Frontal lobe:

Did too!

Eyes:

Hey, everyone, lights up ahead. Looks like an aid station.

Ears:

Confirmed — cheering, bells, music.

Parietal lobe:

Oh, it’s so beautiful. So . . . overwhelming. I feel so . . . I don’t know how. Intense. Tears,  please . . . no, wait, let’s crack a smile.

Cerebellum:

Left, right, left, right, whoa!

Legs:

Oh, thank you!

Frontal lobe, (grumbling to itself)

Grrrrr. Calm down, I gotta calm down, or else we’ll DNF and then I have a   ton of negative thoughts to deal with tomorrow. . . Ommmmmm. . . . Zen . . . .

(Aloud, in a friendler tone):

Look, you guys, I’m sorry. I get cranky, Too much pressure. Can we please just get along for a while longer?

Legs:

Not without fuel, we can’t. And maybe a teeny massage. . .

Frontal lobe:

No time for that sort of indulgent nonsense, sorry. Stomach, please. Listen to me. It may not always come out right, but I really, really appreciate you.

Parietal lobe:

Without you, it’s difficult to be happy.

Stomach:

Sniff . . . . Really? You’re not just saying that?

Legs:

We are nothing without you.

Cerebellum:

Left, right. Yes, we need you. Left, right . . . no, wait. Not now. We’re at the aid station. Whoa. Sorry.

Frontal lobe:

See? We all miss you. We all want you to come back.

Stomach:

Ok, I’ll join the team again. But no more clif bloks!

All other body parts:

It’s a deal!

Eyes:

Now, how about something from this table? Fizzy coke, perhaps? And a bit of potato with salt.

Stomach, (grudgingly):

Fine.

Frontal lobe:

Thank you! Ok, enough dawdling. Let’s get on out of here. We can still break 24 hours.

 

So, my dear non-running friends, there you have it: the raw, uncut transcript of what goes on in the ultra runner’s body: Chaos, especially after mile 80. Are you ready to sign up for your first 100 yet?

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2 Comments

  1. Harold Gutierrez on

    So you didn’t listen to your heart?? Too bad, It is the most important to listen…