When I was a freshman in high school, I remember sitting down with one of my coaches and him giving me a lesson I still remember to this day. "Is it pain or an injury?" Coach Del Donno asked before continuing, "There's a distinct difference,"
When you are new to running, you are often met with sensory overload as your body adapts to the rigors of training. Soreness, pain, fatigue, discomfort. They become your friends. But as this slew of sensations sweeps through your body, it's easy to get them confused. What should I worry about? What's normal? What can be ignored?
That was the lesson Coach Del Donno was after. There's nuance in these sensations and feelings. Some simply meant your body was challenged and is adapting to the workload. Others signaled potential doom. It was our job as runners to learn the nuance between these very similar signals. To understand what was soreness that we could live with and what was pain that signaled an injury.
Outside of the sporting world, we face the same conundrum. Instead of distinguishing pain and injury, it's in understanding a different set of signals. How we interpret our various mood states; from anxious to nervous to excited; from sad to depressed to down. These signals are no different from the ones we feel on the athletic track, they can be misinterpreted and misconstrued,
According to the latest scientific theories, feelings and emotions act as messengers to our mind. Relaying how our body is functioning in the moment. Our ability to read, understand and interpret those signals is called our interoceptive ability. And it's vital to a well-functioning human being.
A better interoceptive ability is tied to better emotional intelligence increased mental toughness and a decrease in risk of depression.
We practice reading our body in endurance sports. But we often fail to do so in real life. Thankfully, interoception is a trainable ability. No different than taking a watch away from a young runner to get him to listen to his body when pacing a race, we can train our interoceptive abilities by simply paying attention. Noticing the sensations and feelings we experience, and seeing which way they are pushing and pulling us. Emotions and sensations are feedback. It's up to us to interpret them and decide whether to follow through on their message.