House of Pain

The general consensus among people today is that pain is bad and should be treated with medication. Sit through one television show without skipping through the commercials and you’ll likely encounter at least one advertisement urging you to “ask your doctor if [insert drug name here] is right for you.” This usually happens right before the rapid-fire listing of possible side effects, but before the close-up of the beautiful, pain-free person out in a sunny meadow laughing.

Now, it should be noted that I am of the opinion that every individual person should do what is right for him. I am not a person who harbors some grand opinion about pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical companies and their evil ways. Do I pop an Aleve every now and then? Yep. Did I opt for epidurals during my labors? Heck yes I did. Has my husband been successful treating his high blood pressure and cholesterol with medication? Yes, he has. I think most of us would agree that if a person can manage an affliction without the use of medication, that is the way to go. Sometimes, however, medication is necessary.

But I digress. This entry isn’t about medication. Back to running. As a distance runner, I am quite often in the dark grips of pain. I know, from experience, that I will be hurting while out on a run. I’ve been to that desert on a horse with no name. Yet, I continue to do it, knowing the pain will indeed come. I am, in essence, inviting the pain into my life, welcoming it, even. I’m greeting it with arms wide open. I say to pain, “Hello darkness, my old friend.” So, in this sense, I’m training my mind to cope with pain, to push through the struggle, to fight the urge to quit. I’m training my brain to think of pain in a positive light.
For most people pain triggers negative thinking. I mean, how can it not? But for us distance runners, we have conditioned ourselves to think about pain in a more positive manner. We will overcome this present pain, we’ve got this, it will get better, we’ll keep going. This has to help us out in the real world. I mean, pain is inevitable, right? It is how we cope with our pain that really matters. Negative thinking will result in a higher perception of pain.

Ever been asked by a healthcare professional, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is your pain?” I have and I always have the hardest time answering this question. How does one answer this? You don’t want to be all dramatic and say 10, because shouldn’t that mean that you can’t even walk or talk due to the amount of pain you’re in? Pain is so subjective, isn’t it? Pain is truly in the neurons of the beholder, and we distance runners continually practice managing pain, and the endorphins released while running are natural pain relievers.


So … running causes pain, but it also cures it?
Well, that kind of puts things into perspective. It also begs the question: why engage in an activity that causes discomfort only to require more of that very action to bring relief? I mean, isn’t that the very definition of addiction? But perhaps the pain is the solace. When confronted with a difficulty — a throbbing foot, high humidity, overused muscles, overwhelming stress — we runners “run through it.” We keep going. It’s more than just running “through it” it’s running “past it.” Certainly, running is for people who aren’t happy just staying in their comfort zone, they not only run towards pain, through pain, but past pain. Naturally this is best done with a well-conditioned body, but we all know that the real engine of the runner is the mind.

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