Bridget Franek is a Penn State grad, Olympian Steeplechaser and represents Team Run Eugene / Brooks Running. Bridget shares her college and professional experience on how to listen to your body and why it is so important.
I’m beyond grateful to call Bridget a training partner and have learned so much from her this past year while competing for Team Run Eugene. When I first thought about the topic for this post I immediately thought of Bridget… I went straight to her with the notion that she is an ‘expert’ at listening to her body and making really smart decisions. I was surprised at her response when she told me that in the past this has not been her strong suit and is something she has learned much more recently. This really puts it into perspective how much you can learn and adapt as a runner and that even Olympians are just real people, learning as they go.
Bridget is one of the most humble Olympians you will ever meet, an extremely positive, grounded and supportive teammate and shares with Belle Lap her take on ‘listening to your body’
Photo: Ian Dobson
To ‘Listen to your body’: a phrase in running used by many but understood by few
Despite what it may seem from the outside, each human body is very different when it comes to the mechanisms needed for running. It can take many years of training to truly grasp what this uniquely means for you. In my earlier years of running, I thought that being a ’mature runner’ had to do with how many years you had been competing and how many miles a week you could manage but it actually speaks more to how good you are at listening to your body.
In high school, I used to think I was listening to my body and I would end workouts when my legs were tired. This wasn’t listening to my body though, it was listening to my legs. In races I began to notice that if I really wanted to beat someone, I could easily run through the pain in my limbs by running with my heart.
Photo: A RUNNERS EYE
In college, I used to think I was listening to my body when I would lay it all out on the track in the conference meet for my school. This wasn’t listening to my body though, it was listening to my heart. As I raced many different distances, my mind told me that if I could run ____ in the 5k, I should be able to run _____ in the mile….and then I did!
In my early years as a professional, I used to think I was listening to my body when I would train like I thought the best runners in the world were training. This wasn’t listening to my body though, it was listening to my mind. After a few months, I would get sick or hurt and have an emotional breakdown.
Photo: Paul Merca
After the Olympics, I thought I was listening to my body and I decided that I was burnt out and done running competitively. This wasn’t listening to my body though, it was listening to my emotions. A feeling of still more untapped potential drew me back to training and I discovered that by listening to my whole being together in concert, I could go where I have never gone before, do things I never thought possible and have fun again!
It comes more easily to some than others, but for me it is one of the hardest things about the sport. Instead of allowing teammates to be healthy competition, I would get sucked into believing that I needed to do exactly what they did in order to be successful. When I got an opportunity to train with one of the best coaches in the world, I did exactly what he said instead of backing off when I knew it was more work than I could physically handle. And I let my expectations going into races dictate my experience rather than allowing myself to simply compete.
Maturity as a runner has taught me that “listening to your body” simply means getting to know yourself. It is a highly individual concept that cannot be taught, but must be learned. In fact, I would argue that it is the critical first step in achieving any goal you set for yourself in the sport. Whether you are trying to run a faster time, place higher in your age group, or being a healthy weight, you must first be open and willing to get to know yourself better.
When you listen to your body, you cannot just listen to your legs or your heart, or your mind, or your emotions and think that you can be the best you can be. As you progress in the sport you will realize that at any given time, some parts of you are pushing while other parts pull. In order to make any headway, you have to be able to identify this and know when to ignore and when to take heed. This is the part that no one can tell you exactly how to do.
Running is a whole body activity- a unique opportunity to tap into your complete potential as a human being, if you choose to allow it to. This is the key. You have to be intentional about this pursuit if you are going to accomplish it. You have to consciously allow yourself to be open to it and willing to take risks and get out of your comfort zone. When it gets tough and confusing, no one will be able to really help because no one can be inside your body with you. You have to be ready to be patient and kind to yourself and put forth your best efforts mentally, physically and emotionally as one.