I was on mile 8.5 of a 16 mile run before I started to cry.

It was only a couple of tears.  One or two.  That’s just what you do when something really, really hurts.  The pain in my feet was just… shocking.  My toes always go numb.  My feet always hurt.  But this was worse, an electrical pain that struck like lightning with every left footfall, singing up my entire body until I felt it in my face.

It’s easy to think of pain as a bad thing.  It’s unpleasant at its best.  I don’t usually think of pain in terms of how I feel, I tend to assign value based on its purpose.  Is this pain productive or destructive?  Is this pain the result of my body breaking down to become stronger?  Or am I damaging myself irreparably?

It’s hard to know in the moment.  Pain is most useful as a series of data points over time in a mental spreadsheet.  Does it get better or worse?  Is it the cause of more pain in other areas?  Does it still hurt when I do other activities?  Will it get better?

…Will it ever get better?

Somewhere, finally, I had the presence of mind to realize that this wasn’t normal.  I shouldn’t be feeling every footfall up into my face.  That’s not typical running pain.  It’s not the sign of strength.  It’s not acceptable.

Something must change.

In the moment, I kept running and the pain stopped.  I was able to finish all 16 miles.  But I knew I couldn’t dismiss what happened.   I needed help to analyze everything and develop a plan for moving forward.  I didn’t think it was all that bad, but it was trying to tell me something.  I needed to listen.  The pain threshold is there as a catalyst not as a destination.

When pain brings you to the point of change, it takes a special kind of courage to move forward.

You can change your goal (i.e. give up the marathon).

You can change your approach (i.e. modify technique, strategy, gear, or something).

You can change your activity (i.e. stop running).

Woah.  Stop running?  But I love running! Give up the marathon?  Are you nuts?

But when I honestly entertained the idea of stopping running, I was relieved.  In fact, I had some expectation for a while now that after the marathon I would never run again.  Because it always really, really hurts.  Most importantly, it wasn’t getting better.

So I’m facing it.  This hurts.  And it’s not productive.  I need to do something different.

I’m still in the process of analyzing my foot to face pain and I’m sure there will be more about that in another blog post later.  And I’m not calling it quits just like that – I am proceeding cautiously and wisely forward.  But, in this picture that is my training for this event, I can’t help but draw from the metaphor and apply some of these principles to my life.

Lately… there haven’t been a lot of days where I haven’t been hurting inside.  There are a lot of thoughts and feelings that bounce around inside my head and heart.  I find comfort in the fact that even though thoughts pop into my head, they are not necessarily the way I think.  Even if a feeling comes, it is not necessarily the way I feel.  In the exercise of my mind, daily, I am growing stronger and improving the endurance of viewing myself the way I ought:

I am a beautiful person.  I have a lot to give to this world.  I am needed.  I am wanted.  I am loved.  This life is more than I could have ever hoped or dreamed and I am oh, so grateful.

When the pain comes, I ask myself why it is there.  I ask myself what it is doing.  Is it purely destructive?  Or is there some purpose to it?

What do I need to change?

Remember that special kind of courage it takes to move forward?  You can change your approach or your goal or your activity.  Maybe I tried to change my approach.  Maybe I tried to change my goal.  Maybe it was too little.  Maybe it was too late.  The pain threshold seems to be leaving me only one choice:

I have to change this activity entirely.

But… I love it. 

But… it really, really hurts.

I don’t know why it hurts.  I don’t know why, but it does. It shocks me like lightning and I feel it tangibly throughout my body.  It makes those long runs seem so long.  It seems to take so much energy to keep moving sometimes. But I’m facing it.  This hurts. It’s not productive.  It’s not getting better.  I need to do something different.

And I don’t know why, but I hope.  I hope for every good thing.  Every single day.  I have the utmost confidence that we are not a cold calculation of the pain we inflict upon ourselves and each other.  I know that we are much more than that.  We are good and beautiful and strong and wonderful and talented and amazing.  We do the best we can to make the most of what we have.

I will do my part.  That’s all I can do.  I will make my changes.  I will grow.  I will continue to move forward, in whatever way I can.  I will figure this out.  I don’t know what this pain is telling me to do, but I will learn.  It’s my piece of the puzzle.  I will analyze and work and draw and plot the pain points over time and isolate the cause and effect and… cry.

I suppose I will cry.

Because that’s just what you do when it really, really hurts.

2 thoughts on “Threshold

  • Well there’s a difference between a medical and a psychological condition. If you are getting pain because of a medical condition, the you need to get it checked out and understood. I know quite a few fellow athletes who have had to forego running and marathons due to injury. They often migrate to swimming or bike (or just stop altogether). As I type, my wife is over in the gym, working on a plan for her first 10k, and this is with a lower back injury. So there is pain there, but she understands what it is, and how to train with it. You need to work out what is causing the pain before you end up doing more, and possibly lasting, damage. Trust in science on this one.

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