Ironman training is hard. But, more than anything, Ironman training involves loooonnngggg hours.
Ultramarathon training doesn’t have as much volume – but oh boy, it packs a much more painful punch.
It’s been a few years since I trained for an ultramarathon, and after the third or fourth looooonnnnggggg run, I remembered just how painful ultra running can be.
But, let’s be honest, here. The pain is part of what I like about it.
Yes. Running hurts. But, that’s living, as the nerves fire and the muscles strain. With each footfall, you get a very tactile sense of the kinetic chain that is human movement.
I know what you are thinking.
But, hear me out for a second. In general, I like to avoid painful sensations. I don’t put my hand on a hot stove. I don’t prick myself with sharp things. I don’t run into brick walls (anymore).
As a general rule, this approach to pain serves me quite well. I don’t have burnt hands or cuts or broken bones. That’s all good.
So, this isn’t just about pain for pain’s sake. This is about a certain type of pain that comes as a result of hard work, focus and commitment to a goal.
In triathlon and running, avoiding pain is impossible. In order to conquer the pain, you have to accept it, and more importantly, learn how to deal with it.
When John and I were getting our USAT certification, we listened to several lectures given by Bobby McGee, one of the most well-known coaches in running and triathlon.
In discussing sport psychology, McGee said, “When I have an athlete who says he’s really hurting, and can’t go on. I ask him, ‘Be objective. Describe your feelings.’ After that, the athlete realizes he isn’t dying, and the session continues.”
In the past year, I’ve worked very hard to be more objective and less emotional about my training. I’ve found that this level of objectivity is the key to managing painful sensations.
I regularly give myself the reality check when I think the pain is too much to continue:
Are you dying? No? Keep going.
Suck it up, Buttercup.
In preparation for the Rosaryville 50k, I had a series of long runs, and by the time I got to the final long run in this series, my legs were feeling the accumulation of the efforts.
I ventured out to the trails near my house, and within an hour or so, my legs were hurting as if I were at mile 22 instead of mile 7. The accumulation of the previous weeks were pushing me to the pain threshold pretty quickly. I still had several more hours left to run. So, what to do?
Quadriceps: Sore, achy, but manageable.
Hips: Sore, achy, but manageable.
Lower back: Sore, achy, but manageable.
Check. Check. Check.
It turns out, I was not dying. So, what to do? Just keep running.
At times, I would have roving pain – near my knees, in my calves, my ankles, wherever. But, if I didn’t think about it, if I didn’t obsess over it, it went away.
My mantra evolved into: “It’s just pain. Keep running.”
I finished the run, fatigued, tired and ready for food. But, I wasn’t dying. It hurt, but it should hurt. I had just run 24 miles, after running 22 the previous two weekends. Yeah, this run should feel a tad painful. If not, I wasn’t doing it right.
Through training, we break the body down. So, it hurts. But, through effective recovery, the body re-builds and becomes stronger.
I’ve had a great recovery from that run a few weeks ago. And in a few days, I will take the new strength and use it when I race the Rosaryville 50k. When the pain inevitably comes on Saturday, I’ll give myself the same reality check as I’ve done in training. And, then, I’ll just keeping running.
After all, it’s just pain.
(You can find out how the race went at my race report here.)
How do you manage pain? Share your tips!