Yes, running hurts, but it’s just pain

Running is painful. And, that's one of the main reasons why I love it.
Running is painful. And, that’s one of the main reasons why I love it. This picture was taken somewhere around mile 18 or so during IMLP. I was so deep into the paincave I probably couldn’t have told you my name at that point.

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.

Masochist!

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?

1384327_10151943103504931_356375710_nI gave myself the objective reality check: How am I feeling? Really feeling? 

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.)

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How do you manage pain? Share your tips! 

9 Comments

  1. Pingback: Pure #awesomesauce: Rosaryville 50k race report - Running A Life

  2. I really like this, being objective about pain or anything is really important in training and racing.

    When I start to hurt or feel pain while running I typically tell myself “no it’s not hurting” and distract myself by counting things in my head, making lists or focusing on awesome song lyrics.

  3. Don Martin

    This is one of those things, that until you start to experience it, you don’t really understand. There is a gigantic difference between initial training as you do your first few Tris and are training enough to do the event compare to “getting serious”. In the former, training is more tedium and in the late, you are pushing much more and have to run, bike and swim when it hurts and keep pushing. No more taking it easy.

    1. There is a difference when you shift from “just finishing,” to “racing.” The pain is definitely different! But, I think no matter the level, being mentally tough and learning how to manage pain is important to performance – and to enjoying the day.

  4. Part of many meditation practices is to cultivate an objective internal awareness separate from all the sensory input. This can be done both while sitting quietly or moving through the last few miles of an Ironman. In running or triathlon, this awareness can be used to change form, pace, or take in fluids or nutrition, allowing for a better result. Best of all, results are applicable to every area of life.

What do you think? Share your thoughts and experience!