Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Stop Being a Pussy! The Art of Suffering and Why It's Good For Runners

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of discomfort lately. Somewhere along the line, most of us got it into our heads that it is wrong to be uncomfortable.

I see it in kids these days - how being tired or sick or stressed or hungry or full or constipated or bloated sends them into a tailspin of bitchiness, complaining and victim-hood. Whatever happened to grittiness and sucking it up? What ever happened to experiencing forms of suffering and not falling apart into a puddle of despair and it's-the-end-of-the-worldness? I mean I walked naked 45 miles to school everyday as a child and never once complained.

Then I take a hard look at myself and I do the same thing as those damn kids. I don't like to be uncomfortable. This being the case, why the hell have I chosen to be a runner? As we know, running is highly torturous at times what with all of the sweating, cramping, heavy breathing, fatigue and shitting of one's pants. No, not every run is like this - some are amazingly uneventful and smooth, but as a general rule - to run is to suffer to some extent.

Watching Desi push through horrendous conditions to win Boston on Monday (after she thought of dropping out at mile 6!), really hit home. She accepted the conditions and never looked back, literally. How can I get some of that grit? Truth is, while most of us will never ever run as fast as Desi, we possess the drive and determination if we just tap into it. Or, I'm gonna keep telling myself that.

Image result for des linden
You can just SEE the determination on her face. The will to get it done despite fatigue, cold, wind and pain.
Or, how about Katherine Beiers, an 85 year old who ran Monday's Boston Marathon in 7:50? She never gave up despite the horrendous conditions. Just as much grit as Desi. Story HERE.

Boston Marathon

I used to be better at embracing the suck. I could power through without stopping to walk or get myself together. In fact, during the first marathon I ran in 2009, I did not walk even one step. I've changed a lot from then. Maybe it's age, maybe I am more apathetic. But, I think it's a mentality that I've adopted - it's as if when I get really uncomfortable (I'm talking tired or achy - not injury stuff) a warning sign goes off that something is wrong. It's not, in fact, wrong. It's just discomfort.

Before I did my first Ironman a few years ago, my PT gave me the BEST advice. He said that there would be many times during the race that I'd be suffering or when something would go wrong (like a flat tire, throwing up, whatever). He told me, "Do not assume it will get worse. Just keep moving forward."

I pushed through a choppy ocean swim, a penalty on the bike and illness during the run.
For 12 hours and 50 minutes I found my GRIT

I love that bit of advice. Because in life, not just in running, there are many times when something happens and we panic, assuming the worst. Your child gets a cold and you assume it will turn into the flu. You feel a niggle in your foot while running and assume you're injured. You start a half marathon and are already tired at mile 1 and assume you'll never make it to the finish.

Indeed while the worst case scenario is sometimes true, usually it's not. Often what we worry about never comes to fruition (it's the shit that we don't worry about that catches us off guard and slaps us in the face - like how a tree fell on my house yesterday. I hadn't worried a moment about that and it happened anyway!).

When we get uncomfortable while running, we shouldn't panic. Aches, pains, fatigue, bad moods come and go, much like those wonderful euphoric experiences we have while running come and go. Really, the trick is to accept the discomfort and stop dwelling on it. Chances are it will improve and not get worse. I know this because my PT told me and he was right. I think it's important to remember that the discomfort is temporary and each step forward is one closer to the finish. Research has even shown that pain is often purely in your head and not an accurate signal of physical distress (injuries aside). Keeping this in mind will enable you to push through the discomfort so you can run faster and longer (

Bottom line: Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it's a small price to pay for living a dream - Peter McWilliams