Friday thoughts #9: Pain

Back about 20 years ago I dabbled with Tukido. This isn’t a far east dinner suit, no, it is a far east martial art based around TaeKwonDo. I was rubbish at it. I had all the suppleness of a poker, the grace of a space hopper in the wind and, at the time, the dedication of a sloth in the sun. It was a short and unglamorous dabble that yielded no belts but plenty sore hamstrings.

But, there was one phrase that Master Teh mentioned that stuck with me. It was healthy pain. He was telling us to enjoy that feeling when sweat drips from your brow, your muscles ache and your abs feel like they are gonna burst. His message was that these pain points weren’t really pain but steps on the journey to achievement.

And, I guess I use that a lot in running. I have just hit the peak weeks in training as I ready for the 24 Hour World Championships. Every morning I wake up my bones ache. The journey down the stairs is about as smooth as a Glasgow ned’s chat up line. The first few steps on any run is a shock to the system. Imagine Metal Mickey trying to get through the gears after a night on the piss and having being locked out in the rain. That’s me after a double day with efforts.

Experience tells me that is how it should be. If it was easy and I didn’t feel like this sometimes I am not working hard enough surely? And whilst I wrote a few weeks about the difference between a niggle and an injury, going safely, but frequently, into the pain cave is how we prepare our bodies and minds for the events in the diary.

It’s a times like these I know that the pain is ephemeral, it is healthy. The trick is knowing just how much stimulus you can handle. A coach helps with that, and tracking your numbers is vital. Paul uses all sorts of quants when looking at progression and peaking. I pretend I am dead clever by quoting some of them back. In reality it is like Shellsuit Bob doing Shakespeare, sounds plausible but the delivery is lacking. Nonetheless, science can definitely help with the push but so can the body. I augment Paul’s numbers with my feeling.

How many times have you skipped a session because you have been “not feeling it”? Or if you have an effort in the session you are doing you have held back ‘cause you don’t like the feeling of hurt. The hurt precedes the feeling of achievement.

What do I see as healthy pain anyway? To me it is the kind of hurt that comes from having to push beyond what is comfortable. Being in a sustained 8 or 9 of 10 effort for a period long enough to make it uncomfortable and then to stay there longer, and just enough, that you are glad that is done. The kind of hurt that puts you close to breaking point in that moment but never enough to break you. Always enough to tease you into thinking you might have an excuse for quitting but never enough to actually allow you to do it. Healthy pain comes in sessions like intervals, hill work, long tempo, back to backs and all those other off running sessions you do in order to get fitter, to get stronger. Healthy pain is the last 3 press ups, the last 2 squats, the last 4 lunges. The ones that make you wobble in the moment but ultimately make you stronger longer term.

I am often staring into the precipice between healthy pain and giving up. When I am there, I motivate myself by thinking to the first time I heard the phrase and also, just how good I feel when I raise the bar at which healthy pain is set.

Healthy pain is often feared, rarely loved. If you can invert your relationship with it you will see remarkable improvements in both mental and physical fitness. Go and batter its melt in!

Number 9! Just like that classic Yoko Ono song that would burst your ears. This series is now answered more public questions than Theresa May. Last week’s is here. If you find it useful why not share it. If I wasted your time, I’m telling my dad on you. 



7 replies to “Friday thoughts #9: Pain

  1. James. Go onto “world rowing magazine 16 august 2016 pain article”Cracking article . Personally I think it’s a lot simpler. “It’s like hitting yourself continually on the thumb with a hammer – it’s good when ye stop!”

  2. Also check out “quotes by Emil zatopek” on pain and ultra running and training. And zatopek giving medal gift to Ron Clarke

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