On Pain & Suffering*
Today, I’d like to anchor my thoughts around some words of wisdom from others.
"One thing about racing is that it hurts. You better accept that from the beginning or you’re not going anywhere." - Bob Kennedy, US 5000m record holder
Pain is part of the process. It has to be. We are pushing against our natural instinct to avoid discomfort: something we humans are hard-wired to do, and that is reinforced by our ‘seek pleasure and avoid pain’ society. Endurance sports put us on a collision course with that instinct.
“Endurance is the struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop.” - Samual Macora / Alex Hutchinson
If we expect to be able to ‘fight against that mounting desire to stop’ on race day, then we must also do so on training days.
“You will not rise to the level of your expectations, but fall to your level of training.” - Archilochus
Most of us are not born with a great capacity to suffer well. It can be learned. It must be practiced. With this type of training, you will learn about yourself. And the more you know about yourself, the more you trust yourself. There should be a few sessions each week that get your attention, require you to get uncomfortable, and take you to a dark place of suffering.
“You can have comfort or you can have courage, but you can’t have both.” - Brene Brown
Avoiding discomfort leads to mediocrity. If we always seek to avoid discomfort and seek only pleasure, we will never attain anything great. We must suffer, in order to achieve. Don’t avoid discomfort. Embrace it.
“Many people, when they feel some form of pain….drop everything and attend to numbing out whatever they are feeling. Their goal is to get back to “feeling good” again as quickly as possible. Learn to sustain the pain you’ve chosen….Relish it. Savor it. Welcome it with open arms. Then act DESPITE it.” - Mark Manson
At Purple Patch, we apply training stress with the goal of developing physiological adaptations. The stress we apply is not pleasant. However, instead of trying to run away from the discomfort, lean into it. Other training goals are happening too: we are also training mental and emotional resiliency. There’s power in the struggle.
We must not always run away when we feel physical discomfort. The same is true for negative feelings. They will surely come on race day, so we need to invite them in and get to know them. We will never learn to navigate pain or negative emotions unless we spend time with them.
To restate the title – something those around me hear over and over again: “Racing is suffering. Racing well is learning to suffer well.” You must develop a relationship with discomfort. It must become familiar. You must become the best of friends.
“There is pleasure on the other side of pain. If you can push through….It’s a bit sadistic…..I hurt. But I can hurt a bit more.” - Lucy Charles Barclay
You hurt. But you can hurt a bit more. Yes, you can.
*Disclaimer: Please understand that I am NOT talking about ‘no pain, no gain’. I am not talking about just suck it up at all times. I am not talking about training through injury. When I say pain, I am referring to the pain of training and racing. I am not referring to the pain of injury or illness. Nor am I saying we should go deep to the well on every single training session. But I am talking about specific, designated training sessions and races, when it is time to go into that dark place and settle in to that darkness.