Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Pain Game

To my wife I am an infuriating character. I often let life and laziness distract me from training or even going out for a casual enjoyable run. We have a full gym 40 feet from our living room and I still find it a chore to make time to go outside and do 30 minutes of strength and stability training. Yet, I still sign up for races and finish. I have truly “earned” my trail name, Ultra Flunkie.  All the while my wife is putting time in the gym and trying to find ways to get her miles in during the week in between work and dragon boat practice.  You should hear the profanity that comes out of her mouth when we run races together. You would think she had done time in the Navy.

I was not born a runner and did not run in school. I was a pole vaulter, and not a good one either since I have a small fear of falling, so the most I ran was 65 steps. The Marine Corps sucked the fun out of running for me because your career dangled from how fast you could run three miles.  It was not till my mid to late twenties that I started running long distances and I have never stuck to a training plan. So want makes my wife and I so different?  I call it the light switch or in the military we refer to the pain cave.

We all have a light switch but the dimming capacity varies drastically from person to person. Don’t believe me? Think back to the last time you stubbed your pinkie toe on a door frame or couch. You probably screamed every profane phrase you have ever learned and limped around the house for the rest of the day. That was an unexpected pain and you focused on it because you had no immediate goal or task at hand that needed to be completed. Your dimming switch was on a very low setting. Now think about the last time you were playing a sport or having to move out of a house and you were either hit in the face, had your finger jammed or smashed, or got cut. You were able to push past the pain because the task at hand had greater importance. Your dimmer switch was set on high. 

The great thing about your light switch is it is programmable. The more uncomfortable you are able to make yourself while focusing on a task the more resilient you can make yourself. The key is to learn the difference between discomfort and injury. This is why we refer to it as the pain game. Sometimes the line between discomfort and injury is very thin. It takes experience in pushing your body to the limits to learn where that line is.  For those of use that have spent time in the military we had the unfortunate pleasure of being guided through this process. You on the other hand can take a approach to conditioning.

So how can you better develop you light switch? One method is time on your feet. If you have ever worked in retail then you know what I am talking about. Ten hours on your feet without sitting down will definitely drain you. This is a great way to condition for a long race.  Another is the age old method of adding a little more distance each week you go out for a run. The distance can be measured in both total distance covered or the distance of running without stopping to walk.  Finally, add a load, such as a pack or weighted vest, or supplement walking for power hiking. Both of these methods will help push you out of your comfort zone and will help you realize you are capable of much more than you thought. 

I don’t think we can ever reprogram our light switch to be able to walk off a stubbed pinkie toe with dignity but we can program ourselves to understand and accept discomfort when trying to complete a task.  I would love to hear how you deal with pain and discomfort while competing or training!  Leave a comment below 

If the goal is to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, then it will take a lifetime. Ultra Flunkie

If you would like to learn more about running, have specific questions, or are interesting in coaching for your next race, please visit

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Shiitake Happens!

I have had the pleasure of living and traveling around the world while in the military. An added benefit of this lifestyle is that I have pretty well developed appetite but there is one item that I hate eating; mushrooms. Shiitake happens though. There are just times where I just ignore the fact that there is a fungi in my food and I add some hot sauce and get over it.  The same is true for life and your training.  The past few weeks this has never been more true.

Ultra Flunkie D has had to spend a few weeks in the hospital recovering from a couple viruses. This means the wife and I spent our time sitting in a hospital room with him. During times like these training and dietary guidelines go out the window because they are not as important as the situation at hand. The down side is when life begins to get back to normal depression usually creeps in. You begin to get upset that you may have gained a few pounds or you are behind on your miles for the month. You end up replacing one meaningful stress with another meaningless stress.  

You have to learn to weigh out your stressors against each other. Family and your livelihood should always outweigh training for a race. Remind yourself that running is supposed to be a fun way to relieve stress not another means to create stress.  So what some mushrooms ended up on your pizza. Was it still delicious? Was it not filling? Was it not the reason you went to that child’s birthday party of the neighbors you hardly know because it was free and so you could play arcade games?  After a few beers and a million crying children that you sent running in defeat from your ruthless conquest of the air hockey table, you won’t even remember the Shiitake you had to deal with earlier. 

The same goes for life. Just pick up where you left off. Have a few beers at the 7/11s you pass on your next run. Revel in the fact that you tapped into your inner child and ate grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner every night while your son was in the hospital because bread is not allowed in your house. Life will be ok. Your race will be what it is. If you DNF, who cares. If you finish DFL, well you got your money’s worth.  The key is to remember that running should be a tool to help you live a better life and not what defines your life.  

A gift of a race can end friendships but the gift of life is a blessing.  Ultra Flunkie

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