Part of what I’ve discovered from years of running is that I like to push myself. I think it's partly pushed onto us by our achievement oriented society. We want to go faster, run longer and do more. If I did a 10K, the next step is a faster race or a half marathon.
We keep pushing until we get worried that we have hit our limit. I mean why would we stop when we’re achieving greatness, right? So how do we know when we’ve hit our limit? Well, our body sends us feedback/messages.
One of the best skills you can develop is listening to your body, understanding messages and learning to adapt. The better you are at listening to your body, the sooner you will recognize when you’re approaching your current limit. This means the sooner you can start taking actions to counter the stress that is being put on your body, whether it is Stretching, Strengthening Your Core, Nutrition or Sleep. A big part of injury prevention is knowing what is happening in your body. I want to share some distinctions that I have noticed for myself on the spectrum of sensations in my body. Hopefully this will help guide you to understanding yours:
This sensation is almost self explanatory. It's when your muscles or body feels tight. For whatever reason, the movement that you normally do, that have a certain freedom or smoothness to them, are not the same. In itself, it doesn’t have any aches or pains, but could be paired with those or other sensations.
I associate this sensation with the same feeling you get when you have done 30 biceps curls and your muscle is tapped out. Soreness, for me, is the sensation you get after that when you try to bring your water bottle to your mouth. That tapped out, overworked feeling in the bicep. I associated soreness with muscle growth.
Pain is generally a sharp and/or shooting sensation. I often think of it as a needle (or sometimes something bigger) being jabbed into you. If you ever get pain on a run (especially unfamiliar pain), you need to stop right away and assess the situation. And depending on how sharp the pain is, seek professional help. Times when I have “run through” pain, have often led to greater injuries and more time off.
Aches are somewhere in between soreness and pain. It can feel like a pulsing sensation or muscle fatigue. While soreness is related to muscle growth. I associate this feeling with overwork and has the potential to turn into pain. Any unfamiliar, it is important to monitor closely. If you are ever in doubt, seek professional help.
It’s hard to verbalize a sensation, so it is best to use these descriptions as guides for you to understand and distinguish your own body signals. The names are not as important as recognizing which signals mean stop and which ones mean slow down. The best way to develop this understanding is listening to your body and collecting data. Over time and with practice, you will become intimate with the information your body is giving you and be able to make much better decisions for your body.
These sensations do not have to happen alone, so it is important to listen and distinguish between all the signals your body is sending you at one time.
Your body will send you messages and increase the volume of those messages if they are not listened to. Think about someone poking you, the longer they do it, the more annoying and painful it becomes. The same is true if you’re running with poor form.
The better you get at listening and adapting, the sooner you will hear the information and prevent more intense sensations. This also gives you more time to figure out the cause of the sensation, if your feet or knee has a little ache, you can play with your form and see if anything makes the sensation less noticeable.
Become familiar with your body and learn to monitor the progression of the intensity of the sensations (ie. faint, dull, mild, moderate, uncomfortable, intense soreness). Keep in mind, that you need to develop the skill to hear the messages while they are still faint if you want to continue running and monitor the development. If you are ever in doubt, stop and seek professional help.
Questions for Introspection
These are some questions that I often ask myself to help me understand what is going on in my body:
Where in the body is the sensation?
Where in that part of the body, is the actual sensation (get more specific)?
Is this a familiar or new sensation?
Is this associated with a movement that I just did? (ie, did I misstep, land on a root or curb)
Has this sensation been building up slowly or has it come on suddenly?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how seriously does this feel?
Go through these questions to help you collect data about the sensation. Depending on your answers, you can choose a course of action that is best for you. Keep in mind that this is an informal system that I go through for myself. If you are ever in doubt seek a professional.
Your body will send you messages to let you know when you are approaching a limit to your current capabilities.
The more intimate you are with those sensations the better you will be at interpreting them and taking appropriate decisions.
Tightness, Soreness, Pain and Aches are some of the major signals your body will send you when you're pushing your limits. Practice distinguishing how those signals feel for you.