Pain...There is no Pain
I often get asked about my performances and running marathons. I mean given my physical ability I run pretty well and the longer the race the better I am in relative terms. But I often get accused of many things and one of those things is simply not true...enjoying Pain. I often get accused of being able to block out the pain or enjoying pain. Neither are true. No one enjoys pain, that's just stupid.
Can I block out the pain? No, I'm not super human, I hurt just like everyone else. But my reaction to the pain, now thats something I can control. What do you do when pain arrives? Most people I know start backing off. They start managing the pain by slowing down and trying to make it go away. I did that once and I didn’t run well. I kept slowing down and eventually walking. I was still in pain but the pain lingered as I looked up my race results several days later. Albert Einstein's definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. I live by this in my life, work and my sport. So next time I trained and the pain arrived I didn't back off. It was one of my first long runs at around 30km but I had planned to stay on a 5.30 per km pace. I figured I'm out here I might as well do what I set out to do. I stayed at the same pace and just gritted my teeth and pushed harder. I pushed harder but went no quicker. Seem liked very little reward at the time. But I finished that training run, I ran the times I set out and the pain...well it was the same but ended the moment I stopped my watch. This was different from slowing down because the pain didn't linger. The moment I knew I held pace - well the pain went away. It had a reward. It started me thinking...
I read a lot of running books and take in many quotes to see if they apply to me. Most don't. In fact I find most running quotes annoying and lame. But every now and then some make sense. One of these quotes was from Running Coach - Jack Daniels. It is simply “When Struggling...Speed Up!”. I didn't understand it at the time but thought to myself “now that is something different”. Insanity it ain't.
So I arrive at my first marathon nervous, excited but enjoying the atmosphere. I wasn't scared which is a reaction I hear from many first timers. I had put in the training, what was there to be scared of? A work colleague at the time and later my coach gave me some rather valuable advice. He said “most races are lost in the first 5km”. His meaning was that it was dangerous to go out too hard and burn yourself up well before the race had even started. He also advised me that the half way point wasn't 21.1km, it was 32km. The effort to get to 32km was the same effort as the last 10km.
I had my three secret weapons. Don't burn out too early, half way is 32km and my new concept never tried before “When Struggling...Speed Up!”. So everything went to plan. I ran the pace I needed. A very slow 5.45 per km. I had no idea what lay ahead so I ran within myself. It was my first and I had no idea what was to come. I managed to get to 32km and thought oh my god, this hurts. It hurts unlike anything else you have felt. Not a pain from running out of oxygen, not an intense burn like you get at the top of the hill. A pain that every nerve in your body says stop. Every foot step is an effort to get it in the air. My legs were lead. It brings tears to your eyes. The fact that I had run within myself to this point meant that I had enough sense to recall all the things I had in my kit bag. Don't go out too hard...check. Half way is 32km...check. When Struggling...Speed Up. So I figured now is as good as any time to try this crazy (not insane) idea. So I sped up instantly. I ran the next km in 5 mins flat and figured it didn't hurt anymore than running slow. I ran hard again for the next km and managed another 5km flat. I even did the math and worked out that if I kept going like this I would finish earlier. Yes a simple concept, run faster and finish sooner, but at the time my mind wasn't overly functional. I felt the pain, like everyone else. I even knew it was coming. But I welcomed it. Not because I enjoyed it. Not because I can block it out. It was because I had a plan to do something when it did arrive. I kept going with this plan and ran the final 10km in 50 mins.
In that final 10km I passed hundreds of people including some runners that had told me before the race that they were “better” than me. They were right too. They were better runners than me. Much better. What they werent so good at was managing pain. When the pain arrived they slowed down. They tried to make the pain stop or they tried to block out the pain when it arrived. Pain management is never about blocking it out. You can make it stop by stopping yourself but “Did Not Finish” never looks good on your resume.
So next time you're out on the road and the pain arrives change your mindset from pretending it doesn't exists to acceptance. Accept the pain is there and its the same pain that everyone else feels. Even the professionals feel the same pain as you. What sets them apart is what they do when it arrives. Don't try and block it out. Don't try and make it stop. When Struggling...Speed Up!