About the importance of listening to the subtle signals in your body and running the perfectly paced race.
(Note: this applies to all events, running, cycling, swimming, etc, which require the careful and timed expenditure of a limited supply of energy).
A recent article in Athletics Weekly about the importance of being aware of and listening to your body, or what is known as kinaesthetic awareness remained me of one of the most important training principles I learned from my sister, Lorraine:
This video below, despite its poor quality, shows some of Lorraine's masterclass in the art of pacing during the Barcelona Olympic Women's Marathon which netted her third place. This was a very tough race, finishing with a hill climb to the Olympic stadium and run in the most oppressive heat imaginable. She paced this race to near perfection. The key to perfect pacing is listening to one's body and this idea can be extended to include keeping healthy over your lifetime.
I've learned a lot from Lorraine over the years but the idea of listening carefully to my body and not relying too much on technology is the most important of these lessons. Although I am an enthusiastic user of technology, be it to measure heart rate variability, pace or blood pressure, the purpose is to help develop the ability to listen to the subtle signals being sent by bodily systems to my brain. The feedback from devices can help by magnifying the feedback which I'll then relate to what I'm feeling. Then I'll respond in the most appropriate way, be this to increase or reduce the pace, to take a drink, to stop and rest before an overuse injury happens or to do something else, such as eating, including what to eat - whatever my body is telling me. At some point, the technology becomes redundant or used every now and then for some fine-tuning of the senses or for the record such as with Strava.
Technology, training schedules and pace notes should never be allowed to override the realtime feedback coming from our bodies. We are not mechanical racing cars or inanimate robots.
A good example is listening or not listening to thirst signals. It is said the by the time an athlete feels thirsty, it is already too late to avoid the consequences of dehydration. This is, of course, wrong. The problem is not with the thirst signal, the problem is that we have not trained ourselves to listen and respond to the signals, which start as very subtle to eventually scream in our heads. If we ignore the signals until it is screaming in our heads, then, of course, it is too late.
This has served me well over what is now a very long sporting career and I'm still going strong. Much credit is given to listening to my body and knowing when the time is right to either speed up or to back off. Thank you, Lorraine!
When running from A to B a person has only so much energy to expend and the difference in ability between the leaders may be just a few heartbeats. The athlete who wins is usually the one who ran with the most economy - the one who doled out that energy the most evenly in terms of effort.
Lorraine mastered listening to her body to be one of the most consistent marathon runners around. Being able to run at the evenest pace regardless of the weather conditions or the terrain is a characteristic of champion endurance athletes.