Thursday, 26 September 2013

Learning By Doing Or Why We Never Listen

The most important thing,” the physiotherapist enunciates, “is that you... - ” “ ...– wear the right shoes?” I interrupt. He nods.  “And make sure you use the foam...- ” I interject again “...– roller to loosen up my muscles?” He smiles.

Plenty of stretching,” he instructs and I bite my lip, resisting the temptation to finish his sentence for a third time. “You know the rules, so why are you here?” he asks mockingly.

I’ve been passionate about fitness and health for years now and since qualifying as a personal trainer, I am the first to warn someone of the perils of overtraining, of the importance of core strength, solid posture and rest days.

But just like a child, who needs to burn his hand on a stove before believing his mother that playing in the kitchen is a bad idea, like a cat that always walks to close to the fire until it singes its whiskers, it seems that runners’ are pigheaded creatures of habit who won’t respond to advice until they experience the side effects of poor form firsthand.

Until agonising shin splints immobilise us, hinder our training and force us to drop out of that race last minute, we tend to think that injury is just something that happens to the ruthless, like the skier who won’t wear a helmet until that bone rattling concussion, or the sky-diver who...well...thinks it’s a good idea to jump out of a plane.  

But why are we so distrusting even if we know all the facts?


In a 2011 online article by Psychology Today, the author argues that humans are naturally distrusting by citing a study conducted by Stanford psychologists Charlie Lord, Lee Ross and Mark Lepper.

The three men presented a group of bright students with an extensive balance of scientific evidence for and against capital punishment.

According to their research, after hearing that evidence, the students who initially favoured the death penalty were even more convinced of their opinions, while the opponents were even more persuaded that they were right.

The students, the scientists found, selectively remembered weaknesses in the other side’s argument, and strengths of the evidence favouring their own side.

When it comes to runners, I think many fall into the same trap.

If we enjoy working out, we’re likely to forget the aches and niggles in our knee caps and overlook the delayed onset muscle soreness the following day. Instead, our mind focuses on the sense of satisfaction we feel, the rush of endorphins and the inner peace that sets in after a hilly, chilly 10k.

By the time we’re tying up our trainers again, we’ve forgotten the stiffness in the hip, the clicking of the knee, the aching of the shoulders; selectively wiped from the trusty hard drives in our brains until it all sets in again.

It’s not surprising therefore, that our body eventually starts complaining. Constantly putting oil over fire might temporarily stave off the flames, but extinguish them it will not.


Fortunately though, like in many of life’s situations, we become wiser with each new experience we garner.

When I look at my hands I see plenty of scars from cuts and burns: My battle wounds from not using oven gloves and pretending I’m Jamie Oliver when I chop onions. Each one is like a small reminder of how much hot oil can hurt and how sharp that knife really is.

Eventually, there will be enough to stop me from ever trying to take the pan off the heat glovelessly or convincing myself that I can cut a carrot with a meat cleaver or flip that salmon filet with my finger.

And with the running, I hope the hip injury I’m currently battling, is enough to keep me sensible – for a few years at least. I hope the memory of the ache and pain flashes up like a fluorescent sign whenever I feel a pull or a twinge: Wear the right shoes, use the foam roller and stretch thoroughly.

Inevitably, there will come a time when I forget what injury is like, push the boundaries and have the bear the consequences, but until then I will do my best to listen to my own advice, however hard it might be.

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