Learning when to stop and when to push through the pain has been key to my training since I developed a couple of lingering issues from old injuries. There’s the left groin area–the one that randomly pops loose in practice or grabs me in a vise of agony if I push even a millimeter too far–which has healed short and angry since the incident on the bike. Then there is the right groin, which gets pissy on long runs away from home, letting me know my footfalls are hitting unevenly, harder on one side. Small imbalances lead to larger problems further along the way. An extra push on one side emerges as a spasm in the other.
There is also my right hamstring, the one that gets a sick, tired feeling. The one that acts like it may just decide to give out and dump me face first into the pavement instead of catching and sustaining my forward momentum one of these days. Occasionally, it is encased in a sheath of irritability. Then there are times, like today, where the whole muscle aches and lags.
I’m learning to become arbiter of these greater and lesser demons. Each new encounter teaches me something fresh about the pain. The ultimate lesson, as always, is pay attention to what your body is telling you. Yeah, bodies will lie. They cheat and steal, too. But if you observe closely, you can learn to walk a fine line and recognize the difference between pain that means “Stop now, I’m not kidding.” and pain that means “Man, I really wish I was at home on the couch catching up on Gossip Girl.”
The skill is vital for me, carrying the consequence of a week sitting out because I can’t walk if I fail to read it right. Read it well and I can push past limits that are more than purely physical. Because the mind will use every instrument at its disposal to fool me when it starts to think I can’t or I won’t.
The plan for the day had been to push to tally miles of progress toward my larger goal. I’d gone up to just over five miles, dropped back to four easy miles last run, and this was to be the repeat of the harder five mile course. I felt good in the beginning, keeping my pace even and knocking out the shorter loop first. From the first mile, though, my hamstring devil was hounding me.
At first, I ignored its cries and kept moving; it got bored and went away. Somewhere around the transition from mile three to four, it returned, along with fatigue from the heat and humidity. Again I kept moving. It wasn’t until after the worst of the hills was past and I was approaching the final mile that it really began to bother me, trading off with a sick feeling in my stomach and a nagging tiredness.
Maybe a third of the way into the final mile, I felt I had to stop. Something clearly wasn’t right in there. It wasn’t pain exactly, more a definite feeling of wrongness. I walked most of the rest of the distance, a slow walk, until I topped the last small hill. Pushing off, I was going to try to jog home and do a final sprint. Except my leg had other ideas. The mild feeling of tired misbehavior became a definite signal that something was wrong. I took two steps and stopped immediately.
And tonight, I can walk. It isn’t sore. I’m not limping. But I was right on the edge. I wanted those full five miles badly. If I had continued to push, I’d be back off the road, the bike and my feet until it healed. I’ve been there before. I don’t want a return visit.