Some runners relish the pain. They seek it in their workouts as a point of focus, either for the heroics of withstanding its torments, or because they genuinely like the experience. To the rest of us, they’re plain kinky.
Running teaches a vast vocabulary of pain, often rudely, prematurely ending a race or workout, or sidelining us for weeks, even months. The many ways it strikes, the many ways we feel it, forces us into a cruel negotiation about when it’s time to stop. We usually know when it’s lying to us, the side stitch from breakfast, which will quickly subside; the familiar twinge in our knee from a pronating foot, which will quiet by mile two; the ache in our feet that need only stretch out and adapt to the surface.
We would deny pain all credibility except that it occasionally tells the truth, urgent truth! Any piercing or unfamiliar throbbing should immediately shut down the show. It doesn’t mean you can’t resume your workout, but you have to reorder your priorities. you have to investigate the problem. Like the smoke detector in your house, pain tells you only that something is wrong. It rarely identifies the source.
Worse it practices the lie of omission. Almost all runners share the experience of inexplicably crippling pain hours after an otherwise normal workout. Why didn’t pain speak up? Isn’t that it’s job?
Both immediately and delayed notifications aside, pain forces you into a quandary. Races and workouts in which you push yourself to the limit typically end from fatigue, not actual injury. Your brain curtails exertion even while your muscles still have some reserve. It’s a protective device, and it can be overridden. It also hurts. Only you can distinguish between fatigue and actual injury, and it often leads to a conversation with the devil.
Some sports physiologists speculate that the ability to override fatigue is what gives elite runners their superhuman abilities. We’ve all seen videos of racers who put on a miraculous last-stretch kick and literally collapse as they cross the finish line. They’re running in a danger zone as far as their bodies are concerned. The extent to which you can tempt this demon is uniquely yours.
Does training increase your ability to run on reserves, to override fatigue? Plenty of evidence suggests that it does. But you can be blindsided by your own physiology. Ambition, race dates, running buddies, and eternal optimism can deceive you into believing you can push further than you can. All runners learn to tune out a certain amount of pain simply by living with it. It becomes easy to ignore the nagging liar.
Besides, we’re drawn to its opposite: the euphoria that comes from a victory or satisfying workout. The can be equally deceptive. The test of a runner is to find the truth between these.
Do you push yourself to the limit?
**This post is part of the Fitness Friday Linkup On Running Bloggers**