Most non-runners suspect, and all runners know, that this sport involves lots of physical pain. But the way it’s usually described (‘you have to keep going’ etc. etc.) doesn’t do it justice. So what external markers can convey more forcefully what goes on between a runner and her body?
One is that sometimes you run so hard that you vomit. I only did this once. (See this blog giving terrible advice…). Other markers are the sensations felt when running short races such as the 800 or 1500m. Towards the end your legs and arms fill with burning heat and pins-and-needles: you look down at what really does feel like a sack of jelly and are surprised to find the legs still turning. Sometimes the neck and face go numb too, and/or you become extremely light-headed. I read that this is because the blood drains towards the muscles that are in distress – could this be dangerous? Let’s pretend we didn’t ask.
There are the niggles that come with a heavy training load – mechanical groans from tendons, joints, etc., but they usually go away. The ‘good’ type of pain doesn’t, on the other hand: it can always be found somewhere inside yourself, simply by running harder. A marker of this is the weakness that follows it: your fingers struggle to exert the pressure necessary to turn the door key or open a clothes peg.
In races you’re trying to breathe so much more than normal that it feels like breaking through into a cavity at the bottom of the lungs. Things don’t stop there because for the rest of the day phlegm that has been wakened from its sleep in the deeps of the lungs makes its appearance. I bet you’re glad I told you that.
Lastly there’s the icy-cold shower or bath I take after every run. After I first read about this I resented doing it, but now it’s a secret pleasure (it apparently helps the muscles recover). It’s a bit like a wimp’s version of what you can see in these mind-blowing photos, which aren’t of running, but hey…