Thursday, March 1, 2012

THE RACE: Pain Is A Gateway To Strength

Pain.  Yes, it's a four letter word.  We dread it.  We complain about it. We try to avoid it at every turn. And sometimes it's so severe that we break down...In sports and in life, pain can debilitate us.  Stop us dead in our tracks.  Keep us from moving forward.

But have you stopped to think about how pain can actually be a gateway to strength?  
  • Pain allows us to know happiness
You can't know what happiness is unless you've felt pain.  You can't know what it means to feel good on a run unless you've had a bad run.  Think about that for a minute...It's the yin yang.  "Opposites . . . only exist in relation to each other." 

Without pain, feeling happy or feeling good on a run would just be the wouldn't know that things could ever be any other way. That may sound great, but what happens when something is the norm?  You take it for granted.  You expect it. You become comfortable.  But, when you're in pain, all you do is wish for the times when you feel good.  It makes you want to be better.  Pain therefore necessarily makes you appreciate the times when you don't feel pain and want to do whatever you can to get back there again.   
  • Pain shows the weaknesses
I don't think pain means that you yourself are weak; rather, I think being in pain - either mentally or physically - just shows us that there areas where we have a weakness.  Areas that we need to strengthen.

As a runner I struggled with painful Illiotibial band (IT band) problems for years.  I just assumed that'd I'd have to suffer with it - that it was un-fixable.  Finally I started to learn that my IT band was giving me hell because it was weak.  It was tight and out of balance with the rest of my body.  All those years it'd been screaming at me to fix it!  So, now I have, and it's much better.  Only once in awhile does it bring me pain, and that always happens after I've started letting it get weak again...
  • Pain opens the door to strength
What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.  Nothing could be more true.  Take my IT band example:  once I understood that it was an area of weakness, I could work to fix it and get stronger.  And I'm a better runner for it.  

When I injured my calf this past winter, I had to take a lot of time off.  Now, I'm rebuilding, focusing on why my calf was susceptible to such an injury, and how I can make it stronger.  But I had to just be in pain for awhile - embrace it - let it heal, and then begin to get it stronger.    

Next time you're on a run and something starts to hurt, listen to what the pain is telling you.  If it tells you to stop, then stop that run; but, don't stop running altogether.  Go back home, or to your physical therapist or acupuncturist, and figure out what weakness is causing the pain.  Then embrace it, focus on fixing it, and get stronger.  

If you're running a marathon or Ironman, you're going to be in pain. Accept it.  You just need to know the difference between pain that should make you stop, and pain that you need to embrace.  Don't fear it.  Wait for it.  Expect it to come and tell you what you need to improve on for next time so that you can be stronger...

It's no different when we experience pain in life.  You have to take the pain, use it to explore where you may be weak, and work to become stronger.  If you lose someone you love, letting the pain and grief take over will only stop you in your tracks.  Embrace the pain, learn from it, appreciate it, and then use it to make yourself stronger.  If you lose your job, evaluate where you could have been stronger or areas where you can focus either to find a job or a different career path altogether.  Only by embracing the pain can you let it open another door for you...

Are you experiencing pain in any areas of your life right now?  What could it be telling you about where you have a weakness and how you can get stronger?  




Carilyn said...

Good analysis - especially for the athlete. One of my mantras in long races is, "You know it's going to hurt. Deal." :)

Jen said...

Nicely written. I've been dealing with a few areas of pain and now instead of just inwardly complaining about it, I'll be trying to figure out what they are telling me so I can fix it.

Also - on your other post about sidelining ourselves. I've been thinking about it and I've been continually sidelining myself from acknowledging that I want to attempt a marathon. (Gulp, just wrote that in my outloud voice).

Life Through Endurance said...

Carilyn - LOVE the mantra! That should go on a One More Mile t-shirt!

Jen - As always I love your comment! And I love that you've been thinking about the sidelining. I've said it a million times - I NEVER thought I'd do a marathon. It took me 8 years before I tried, but I was finally ready to bite the bullet. You just took the first step by saying that "outloud"...go for it!! You'll never regret trying.