You just aren’t listening to me.

My younger sibling says this (in imitation of our mother) when the Old Man tries to carry on a conversation with her while not really listening to her responses. It’s sad and slightly humourous to watch, because she’ll be talking animatedly and he’ll “uh-huh” repeated until she realizes he isn’t listening. Then she turns whiny and pissed.

The fourth week of December, my body began to talk at me. Actually, that’s a fallacy right there, because it’s really always talking to me. I just had very little desire to listen until then. And I only gave it a cursory response when I did listen.

Progressively through this school year, I’ve become increasingly intolerant of what my body tells me. Up through part of this past summer, me and mine had a pretty good relationship—we ran, we played, we worked, we rested, we ate healthily and without guilt.

Then school started. This is a typical sob story: the stress comes on and in order to continue to function mentally, one mutes the connection between body and mind as much as possible. It takes staggering headaches, decent weight fluctuations, eye aches, and debilitating leg or foot injuries to get the mind’s attention that it’s time to close up shop for a minute.

In August 2003—when I got my physical before coming to Rose—I decided that it was time I started paying attention to my body. I was sitting at almost 230 pounds and I was not comfortable with it. I had reached a point where in order for me to be able to continue to mature in a healthy manner, I had to resolve the conflict between mind and body. I had to become significantly more comfortable with myself if I was to avoid becoming bitter and pessimistic and slip into making constant excuses for myself to be able to live with myself.

As a simple example of a [potential] problem, one can take relationships. If I was so uncomfortable with myself that I couldn’t stand for people to touch me, that the idea of a physical relationship with someone led to immediate thoughts of rejection, how in the world could I be in a relationship where even if things were taken slowly, I would eventually be faced with the physicality of sexual expression? Couldn’t happen. Not successfully.

I’m not sure that I’m ready now, either, but a big bit of trust and a little bit of pleading gets people far with me in other situations, so the same may apply here.

At any rate, I set about changing. It was hard early in my freshman year, trying to keep on my schedule, be social, exercise, and eat decently after coming from my parents’ abode and lifestyle. But I did it. I worked up in walking, slowing down from my 5 mile walks when my shins complained, going as often as my body and school workload could handle. I took running slowly and patiently and with a determination to let this be a long-term part of my life. I learned how to eat: what is “full”, how hungry should I let myself get so that I don’t gorge, what are healthy foods that I enjoy eating, and how can I eat out in moderation.

I listened when conversing with my body.

This continued through this summer, although things hit an obsessive edge during this past winter. Nothing to send me to the hospital or have me drop too much weight too fast, but my mindset changed. The continued stagnation in running led me to shift my focus to something I could control, since my body wasn’t obeying me: my mind. And my mind controls my food intake. I never counted calories and never have; I just ate very, very little at at least two meals a day. When you’re in a group or being social or sitting alone, no one is going to [seriously] notice that you picked at your salad during the whole meal but only ate about three bites. At the time, there was no one close enough to me to pay attention to eating habits over the course of multiple meals.

My weight loss slowed, of course, my running stayed stagnant, and I remained fairly depressed by the weather.

Spring came and I swung back into Lissa-mania. Interest in life and people and the world around me returned in this explosion and I found myself occasionally overwhelmed and overexcited by it all. Too much fun. Too hard, too fast.

My optimism and interest concerning running returned, and I stopped caring about food so much, only so long as I could properly and effectively fuel my body for running and working.

But the stage was set; I went home at the beginning of summer to a group full of people that noticed and chatted more about the weight loss than the running (not that they’re shallow, but the weight loss is just more noticeable than how I got there). I spent the summer focusing on running, though, while trying to find a balance now that I was buying the groceries. It’s a little different when you don’t bump into a salad bar every time you walk into your eating area. There are more choices, more temptations. There is also less resistance—the lack of a floor full of college-age girls relieved a noticeable amount of the social pressure to eat better.

Running got more difficult, too. I began to suffer from severe post-run fatigue, frequent shin splints, and other general muscle aches. Running became about performance and distance—now that I could run after months and months of little or no progress, I wanted to do it as often as possible and for as long as possible.

So I learned the art of tuning out. Whether I kept on the headphones or just left my body for nearly an hour, I stopped being willing to fight with my body. Just set it on autopilot and go.

I toyed with this all summer as my running distances increased. Sometimes I’d put on music and find myself with exhausted lungs and an aching shoulder from holding the player. Sometimes I’d force myself to think about anything other than running after the first ten minutes of my run, and a workout became an exercise in forcible distraction. I suspect that was why weight-lifting went poorly for me this summer, too.

Really, though, I love the way a run feels. It’s one of the few times in a day where I’m ever really in my body—I can feel everything working together to propel me: the balance and shifting of shoulders, hips, feet; the heaving of lungs in time with footfalls; the particular combination that is calves, quads, hamstrings, and lower abdominals during a run.

During the summer, however, I discovered that the more fatigued or frustrated with work I was, the less I wanted to fight with my body, even for the initial mile or so to settle into my run. Sometimes, I just wanted the run without the work of constantly overcoming my body. I was doing no cross-training.

Come school year, things got nasty fast—school was shit from week one, extracurriculars were not fun. Running meant treadmill work on account of my unwillingness to go out early enough to get cooler weather and no bugs.

Tuning out when doing treadmill work is a love-hate thing. I love to run. I hate having big green numbers right in my face, ticking away my time and my distance and reminding me of the time lost on other things. I love that feeling of near-weightlessness when everything hits just right. I hate that I can’t get that indoors, drenched in my own sweat and breathing my own stale air. It became a chore. Something to do to maintain or lose weight instead of something to do to enjoy my body. Treadmill running for me should be an exception, not a rule.

(Hmm. Where was I going with all this? Right. Listening.)

So fast-forward to a month ago. I get bad news, schoolwork (and one class in particular) and the jobs begin to kill me. Eating got worse: when I ate, I ate shit. I may have made it to workout twice a week, maybe three times, and then it was me just pounding away on the treadmill when I wanted to be outside and to have the facsimile of freedom.

When I got home for break, I realized that I had two whole weeks in which I could exercise as much as I wanted to. “Bwua-ha-ha” and all of that. I started out doing three- and four-mile runs every day, figuring the twinges were just me getting reacclaimated.

Twinges got worse within a few days, so I eased off to walking, but four and five miles at a time. Less stress on the joints, right? Right.

A week of that and I was limping. Still not listening, still wanting to cram it all in before I returned to Rose. Two more days and I was Ace bandaging.

Luke holds that all exercise is destructive and will hurt you in the end. That if you run and play hard now, you will end up old and injured and broken because exercise is destructive. Our bones were not designed to take the stress of decent amounts of running or long-distance, fast-paced walking, for instance.

Exercise is destructive; I’ll be the first to say that as someone who started out weight-training. The way the body adapts and becomes stronger is through experiencing stress and adapting to it. Exercise works effectively when you stress your body at some safe percentage of the maximum it can take, then rest and allow the muscles to regenerate and grow back stronger. If you have a proper diet (sufficient protein and calcium, for instance) and allow yourself adequate rest, your body will recover, and you will grow stronger.

I was taught that when weight-lifting at the strength-building intensity, for instance, you should never workout two days in a row. The muscles need at least forty-eight hours to regrow, and once you progress to doing negatives, if one is so inclined, you’re looking at a minimum of three days recovery time. Two workouts a week for negatives. That’s it.

(Of course, since you usually have trouble taking off your own bra after a workout of negatives, twice a week is quite alright.)

Luke cites his father’s and brother’s injuries playing sports in school as evidence for the dangerous quality of exercise. Hell, let’s throw in mine for good measure.

My question is this: were they having accidents? Were they overtraining? Were they listening?

Accidents are accidents. I wrote above that you should stress your body at some safe percentage of maximum. If you suddenly twist your knee (which seems like it should be a common basketball injury, with all that pivoting), that’s probably going to be more than a “safe percentage” of what your knee can stand. Therefore, you are injured. Sometimes that’s a matter of form, sometimes it’s just a damn accident, like any other. You fall, you hurt. When I banged up my leg last year, it was because my damn shoe laces had unknowingly come untied while I ran. I would have tripped over them had I been walking or running, and it would have hurt like a mutha either way, although hitting that pavement at running velocity probably takes the cake in pain. It’s just like a car accident, though: you get up, fix your shit, and climb back on/in.

Then there’s overtraining. There’s a reason they’re called “overtraining injuries”—it’s a indication you aren’t getting enough rest for your body to recover, or that you have poor technique when you workout. This is a matter of learning what your body can take, what that “safe percentage” is, and, most importantly, obeying it, no matter what coaches may ask of you, no matter what scores you feel you need to pull in your next game of whatever. Too many people seem to take shin splints too lightly, just because it’s relatively short-term; it’s still a sign that something isn’t right, be it training intensity, shoes, or form.

To say that exercise is dangerous, that it’s better to sit on your ass and do nothing because those you know are too stubborn to listen gives no acknowledgement to the benefits of exercise (which can be found in various medical journals and less-authoritative websites; my favorites happens to be the increased oxygen usage efficiency and my peace of mind when finish[ing/ed]). It gives no acknowledgement to the fact that the people you know were/are doing it incorrectly.

My injury does not make running and walking bad or dangerous. It makes me stupid. There’s a difference.

During the downtime from mid- or high-impact exercising—which will be at least four weeks by my own prescription, regardless of what the SRC people say—I’m taking a renewed look at Callanetics as a cross-training alternative. I also picked up a pilates book over break that I may crack seriously.

Why the lengthy story? I don’t know; just felt like writing it. I need to lay out my mistakes and the things I’ve done right so I can come up with a more livable mixture. That’s something else I’m working on during the downtime. The eating thing is better; sometimes it’s as simple as finding a new salad dressing.

[Listening to: Laurie De’Tullins – Chris Thile – Not All Who Wander Are Lost (5:15)]

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