I have been trying all week to get myself to exercise. I am recovering from a cold and haven’t worked out much lately, but the physical symptoms are mostly gone now—except for a speaking voice that would make Leonard Cohen sound like a choirboy. It is time, I thought, to get coax my lazy body back into the saddle.I thought that’s what I thought. In fact when I woke up this morning, it was my mind that was feeling lethargic and dull. My body was all set to go.
Muscle need work, said my Neanderthal body. Must move.
But, protested my brain elegantly, we are just recovering from an illness, and causing the immune system any undue stress might not be indicated. Besides, it is deepest winter and the overly oblique rays of the sun are not conducive to motivating physical effort.Get off couch, said my body. Put bum on bike.
So I let my legs carry me to the trainer and hoist me up onto the saddle, where my body worked out for 75 minutes. My legs felt terrific; my mind, on the other hand, kept looking at the clock to see how much time was left. When I finished, however, both body and mind felt great and my body allowed itself to gloat.
|Put bum on bike.|
As Olivia Newton-John did, I believe that our bodies talk to us. Often they are telling us that they are too tired to continue, and we find ourselves in a bargaining session between will and physical reality. We are tired and sore, say the legs at mile 90 of the Ironman bike. What are you trying to do to us? Sometimes they have a point. I listened to my physical self when it told me to slow down 10K into the marathon at Ironman Canada a few years ago. I believe that if I had ignored the messages and continued at the pace I was going, I would have passed out, tumbled off the road into Lake Skaha and sunk without a trace.
In the Race Across the West a few years ago, my body left me no option. It had been pushed so far beyond its limits, in conditions that were so far from body-friendly, that eventually the choice was taken away from my mind. Something primeval rose from deep inside me and everything just stopped.Other times though, it is our thoughts—with all their attendant fears and excuses—that get in the way. You still have 16 miles to run, the mind will say; you can’t possibly keep up this pace. You know you are going to stop and walk eventually, it purrs in a siren-like tone. Why not do it sooner rather than later, and save us all the discomfort?
I have listened in this way too many times. I have nearly given in to despair and exhaustion in the early stages of a race, only to pick up the pace towards the end and finish feeling fresh as a daisy. Where was my body during all this? Waiting patiently for my mind to stop pissing and moaning about how far it was, and decide that we were going to finish the sucker. The flesh indeed was willing; it was the spirit that was weak.The greatest skill a distance athlete will acquire is the ability to negotiate between body and mind; to know when to listen to each, to know how much to weigh the information, and to know which one to favour. One certainly cannot function without the other, but there must be mutual respect if anything productive is going to happen.
If I have a mission in the coming years, it is to fashion a happier, more equitable union between these two very important partners.I let my body take control of my workout today, and my mind was glad that it did. For the moment they are friends again.