The Daily Sweat: Masochistic Madness or Mental Strength – Running the Fine Line

Masochistic Madness or Mental Strength:  Running the Fine Line

After reading my sister’s surgery blog last night and thinking about my past injuries and mishaps I wondered about my sanity as I often do.  Am I a candidate for the ship of fools, or do I have a mental strength or toughness of which to be proud?  I think the answer has varied at different times and believe there are certainly instances when what I thought was mental strength was actually a little masochistic madness.

I think back to the time I broke my leg and walked around NYC on it for almost a month before I went to the doctor. Or perhaps the time I tore my hamstring so badly doing Kung Fu I heard it snap and then walked home from the studio.  I was living in Taiwan and didn’t have much choice, but I didn’t stay off of that one for long and ended up having pain there for almost two years.    

Yeah, I’m one tough cookie – NOT –  more like a complete idiot.  The last time I broke my leg I ended up being in one of those stupid boots for two months because I would not stay off of it, or use my crutches (sis, are you listening?).

I think there is a part of me that has always been out to prove something – mainly to myself – about my endurance, my ability to work through pain, my ability to survive.  So, where does the line exist between masochism and challenging yourself appropriately?  Often times I don’t know if I can hear my body over the powerful force of my mind which has its own wily agenda.

 A couple of weeks ago, my sister wrote about hunger cues.  I think the same concept applies when you are exercising as well – you have to listen to your body and what is it telling you.  So, how can you really tell when your body is talking to you as opposed to the din of voices in your mind  – yes you can, no you can’t, I’m hot, I need to stop, I need to keep going,  etc.

I thought a lot about that on a run this past Sunday.  Running in the heat is rough….especially when the average temp you’ve been running in for the past three months is 45 degrees.  And, in general, although I love it, running is tough for me.  I’m no skinny runner, or natural, and I am SLOW.  It takes a lot of mental strength for me to run and so I usually run alone (yes, I’m a weirdo).  I like to run in the mornings, but my run Sunday kept getting delayed by some work drama and other little things, so I didn’t hit the trail until around 10:30am and it was already 85 degrees with 90 percent humidity.  As a girl from the South, I knew I could take it, but living in the usually frozen tundra of Minnesota, my body was in for a shock.  The hottest temp I had run in thus far this year was 68 degrees (as you know, it’s been a weird weather year).

I promised myself I would listen to those physical cues and when that failed I would check my heart monitor.  If anyone had been listening to the thoughts in my mind the men in little white coats would have come for sure.  It sounded like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in there.  I passed another gent who was running and panting: “Man, it’s hot”, he said.  The masochistic/mental strength side of my brain said oh yeah, baby, I’m tough, look at me braving this weather, trucking along, keep it up girl.  You rock!  The other side said, ummm, here’s some evidence that it’s really hot.  That guy looked like he was about to pass out, I should probably assess how my body is feeling.  After some further mental debate, I told myself to shut up and listen to my body.  How was my breathing, what was that fuzzy-headed feeling, how was my heart rate doing?  I made a compromise with the two parts of my personality and agreed to stay under a certain heart rate, so I slowed it down and when that didn’t work, I walked for 10 minutes and waited for my heart rate to come down which it wasn’t really doing.  Meanwhile I was passing all sorts of sweaty bikers, walkers and runners, and we were all giving each other the look like, Whoa, this is rough.  Finally, I had to stop in the shade.  An older couple joined me under a bridge for a minute or so and we panted together.  My heart rate finally came down, and I was able to finish the last mile of my run.

So, my point is, at what point do you become your own worst enemy, and instead of appropriately challenging yourself, damage your physical well being?  How do you tell the difference between masochistic madness and mental strength? 

I think you have to find a way to listen to your body.  It will tell you when it’s time to stop if you really listen.  Otherwise, you end up doing stupid stubborn things that in the end derail your fitness plans and your struggle for balance – wholeness.  This has been a lesson that has taken me FOREVER and multiple injuries to learn and sometimes I still struggle (obviously – note the cuckoo conversation above).  And, I’m just an ordinary exerciser  – you won’t find me running a marathon in Death Valley.  Although I admire those folks and think it is an appropriate goal if you train right.

Anybody out there a fellow masochist who has been humbled?  C’mon tell us about it….And, as always, feel free to email any questions about my sanity or exercise regimes at

Good luck out there today in this heat and running the fine line!

  1. Oh my goodness! I’m experiencing that exact thing today and its my post I just wrote for this afternoon. I didn’t listen to my gut and pushed it yesterday afternoon by going to spin even after having a run in the morning. Now today my right IT band feels pretty tight and I’m going to need to take an extra rest day this week. I always think I can push more than I really should too.

      • Melody
      • July 14th, 2011

      I know what you mean….I can be so “deaf” sometimes. What I left out of my post was that I stubbed my toe hard yesterday morning, but still ran 3 miles. I’m ok, but I was in a bit of pain yesterday. Feeling better today (but also skipped my workout this a.m.). Our bodies know what they are talking about. I just wish I could be a better “active” listener. I hope your IT band feels better tomorrow!

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