The Runner’s Greatest Enemy


David Yon, 


For many runners, including me, lacing up the shoes and escaping out the door to run is one of life’s best treasurers. There is always something missing, even on a planned rest day, when it doesn’t happen. While I know a day off is not my enemy, it is only my friend when I can see the next day to run.

There are the mornings when the alarm goes off and the sound of rain pounding on the roof tempts me to stay in bed. It is nasty outside and it will only be minutes into the run before I will be soaked. But running in the rain is like being a child again. Splashing through puddles, absorbing looks from strangers who assume I am insane, soaked by one of Mother Nature’s life sustaining sources; these all bring a smile to my face. So rain hardly qualifies as the runner’s greatest enemy.

This time of year the thermometer may not read above 0 degrees Celsius when the alarm goes off. I am sure there are people in Wisconsin who think that is warm, but here in Trailahassee it is cold. But if I throw on a pair of tights, some gloves and a couple layers and break into a jog, it doesn’t take long for my body and spirits to warm up. The cold crisp air invigorates the soul. Don’t count cold as the runner’s greatest enemy.

In every race or workout in which a runner seeks his or her best performance, there are moments of truth when courage and cowardice are equal and you just aren’t sure which one will prevail. Pushing physical and mental limits on such runs is painful and tests the mettle of a runner as the legs stop responding to the brain’s commands and the lungs seem to fill with water instead of air. But such efforts and the accomplishments that go with them bring smiles of satisfaction in the end. And even when the pain rules and the performances don’t meet expectations, there is the promise of another day. So the pain of hard effort is not the runner’s greatest enemy.

Twenty four hours is just simply not enough time to get everything done each day. Often running is the “voluntary” activity that can be dropped from the schedule. But doing so leaves one a bit crabby, tense and sluggish. So the call of the trail and road usually pull me out the door and after only the first few steps the adrenaline and endorphins make this “selfish” act the right decision. So a busy schedule is not the runner’s greatest enemy.

But almost every runner will lace up shoes one morning or afternoon and feel something strange in a shin, knee, hamstring, Achilles tendon, hip, quad or piriformis muscle. Often it goes away with ice or stretching or just a little bit of extra rest. But sooner or later for almost every runner an injury will just keep getting worse until the shoes must remain in the closet. Often the injury is brought on by “overuse” – too many miles and too much effort. And that is the runner’s greatest enemy – when one of life’s greatest treasures creates its own demise. Your best workouts lead to your best shape and then to your worst nightmare. Such injuries usually have no specific beginning and no definitive end. There is no certain cure except for patience. It seems so unfair when it happens – an activity that has so many benefits and so much good, just should not have negative consequences for “over doing.” But cold, rain, busy schedules and exhaustion are all part of the runner’s experience that represent challenges to overcome.

The real pain comes when the alarm goes off and you know you will not be lacing up those running shoes because the Runner’s Greatest Enemy – an injury – has prevailed for the time being.