Saturday, April 6, 2013

Running and Pain and my Comfort Zone

This month's edition of Runner's World has an article entitled "Hurts So Good" in which the author talks about the runner's relationship with pain, his own dance with pain as a runner, and weaves in his son's bouts with pain and extreme discomfort as a high school cross country runner. I'm OK with perpetuating the mystique of the runner. Non-runners have at some point in their lives experienced some distress from running, whether from a slog through a concourse to catch the next flight, to cut off the ice cream truck before it leaves the neighborhood, or their many attempts to get into shape that were abandoned after the first half-mile jog; as a result they conclude runners must experience pain and discomfort routinely.

I was recently talking with a fellow teacher who used to run marathons but had to switch to bicycling and swimming after rheumatoid arthritis ravaged her joints. She assumed I had a high tolerance for discomfort because I am able to run for several hours at a time. I responded that this wasn't the case at all; I've built up to it. I've just extended my comfort zone. I don't like to be out of it. Granted, I have to push myself on occasion to go beyond where I've been before, but I take very small bites of discomfort.

I've learned to recognize discomforts; a pain or discomfort only bothers me if I don't understand it or am worried that I won't be able to handle it. One of the things I truly like about running is the lack of pain. Something could be hurting on a run, but I either forget about it or natural painkillers kick in and mute it. I can't recall having sore leg muscles from running in the past twenty years. Some might say, "no pain, no gain," but obviously there has been gain; I could easily go for a four hour run this afternoon in which I run a couple of 12% grades gaining two thousand feet in elevation with a liter bottle of water in one hand and a Cliff Bar in my pocket. If the temperature were to unexpectedly be such that I dehydrate and I can't think straight and I have an hour yet to get back, I'm going to leave my happy place. If I survive though, and I find myself in a similar predicament, I will be a little less uncomfortable because I'm no longer facing an unknown.

I actually don't deal well with pain when I'm running if it persists. Most pains don't persist; a couple of times I've had an IT band act up. That was pain that grew and persisted, telling me to stop what I was doing. If I have pains due to running when I'm not running, I don't worry about them. Sometimes after a long run I can hardly get off the motorcycle and hobble to the door when I get home, but I know I'll be good to go the next day. I've had plantar faciitis and Achilles tendonitis that has lasted for months, but I knew that I'd feel better after a run. Of course, that's why the symptoms would last for months.

I know there are runners who go to the pain zone all the time, some embrace it, for some it's a pain that at least they have control of, not like other pains they may suffer in life. I'm not about the pain; I'm about the not pain. I'm about the 50K all above 9,000 feet above sea level with 9,000 feet of elevation gain being within my comfort zone because I'll want to go out for a run the following day.

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