Running through pain.

Here’s my workout from today. Another recovery run which became a segment chasing episode from start to finish but with irritatingly few results. There is a tiny climb, some 100m out of Riverside Park, by the Itchen River, which has plagued me continuously for a good period of time now. It is not particularly long, not particularly steep, but it comes at the end of a solid kilometre stretch alongside the river where the urge to push the pace is ever present. On occasion as the winds wake up, they can really pick you apart, slowly deconstructing each stride until you arrive at the foot of the ascent, battered and forlorn. It shouldn’t be as difficult as it is, but it is. It is a real bastard. My current PR up it is 26s. I am hoping to have it down to 20 in the next few months.

I spoke yesterday about things I had improved upon and one of the things I wanted to talk about was running through pain. More, just the notion of accepting that not all pains are bad pains. Not so much that I haven’t improved in this, just the potential to improve in this forum should be obvious to all runners. If you don’t understand this, you are not a runner.

I’m thinking back to my last 5km PR. Currently I am sat at a rather bloated 21:28, which was attained at the Southampton Park Run on Christmas Day. To preclude this, I was and still am proud of this PR given the circumstances – and I am simply using this story to illustrate my point.

During the race I was paced by two friends who were trying to get me to 21 minutes or at least any PB above my 21:48 preceding score. Things were predictable enough. Southampton delivers a fucking hard course and it is far from a PB safe zone. As we entered the last kilometre, I was spent. I was coming off the back of a 70km week and my legs were whimpering beneath me. We turned the corner onto the home straight and in the distance I could make out the finish funnel. “Straighten your hands,” “Get upright,” “Slow your breathing,” “Dig deep”, they said. And fuck me I tried. At least I tried as much as I thought I could manage, but really I just wanted the race to be over. I knew my pace was faltering. As I crossed the finish line, three things happened. I had the (well known to runners) mini surge of euphoria at the completion of any difficult run, I looked at my watch and cheered my new PR and finally, within moments of the self congratulation, came the crushing disappointment in having not pushed just that little harder in the final metres. From the point where the guys were goading me to stretch a little further to the finish line, I have no doubt that another 10-15 seconds could have been made up. Perhaps I could have slipped under 21 minutes. I was crushed.

Running in pain is difficult. As sentient beings we are not designed to tolerate discomfort. Our inherent systems are honed to prevent us from causing ourselves harm. Overriding the need to stop when running is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Worse, it never really gets any easier. As our pace tolerance improves, we have new levels of discomfort. The bar is perpetually raised – we’re not going to run 6:00min/km forever. I struggle with this on an everyday basis.

Saying this though, things have certainly improved. In training runs, I am not always looking for the easy way out. I can hold a set pace (a little) better. I have less patience for my own weaknesses and yet, I am no Mo Farah. When I see him up the tempo in the last 200-400m of his races, I am truly in awe. Truthfully, he never looks to be in discomfort but he must be. His collapse after the 2012 Olympic 5km in Great Britain was testament to that. The man was exhausted, yet he showed no signs of it during the race. And I suppose that’s the difference. That’s the point of the finish line, the end of the rep. It doesn’t mark the point where you can stop at it. It marks the point where you can begin to slow down. If your watch says 880m on a 1km rep, than you fucking well carry on to 1000m before you slow down. It’s self discipline.

Those are the myriad things that I’m still learning but I suppose, this is a journey. If winning races was simply the product of running faster, than there would be nothing to write about. No stories to tell. The world records for the 5 and 10km races are held by Tarisu Bekele, a man who did not even podium finish in the Olympic 2012 10km. Running faster was not the answer then. It would be fucking naive to suggest that its not important, but clearly, it is not always the defining factor.

Sometimes pain is good for you. It teaches you to endure. If I ever have children, I will take those little idiots running with me so they realise that in life, whether you run for a living or work in a department store, results don’t simply fall in your lap. You have push the boundaries of your abilities and put yourself into difficult situations. You have to work for things smarter, not harder. You cannot always bulldoze your way through an existence, you need to pace yourself and do things in a controlled manner. You have to deal with and come through the hardships. And if its not hurting, then perhaps you’re not doing it right.

 

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