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

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