Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pain is a fascinating thing.

I am a bit fascinated by pain, and the amazing wonders that are the mind and body.  My understanding of pain is it is the body's way of telling you that there may be a problem, an injury, or something at least to pay attention to and decide on a course of action regarding what, if anything, to do about it. defines pain as: 
"2a : usu. localized physical suffering associated with bodily disorder (as a disease or an injury); also : a basic bodily sensation induced by a noxious stimulus, received by naked nerve endings, characterized by physical discomfort (as pricking, throbbing, or aching), and typically leading to evasive action "

I feel fairly lucky to have a high tolerance for pain...well, except for pinching.  I HATE the feeling of being pinched.  It causes this inexplicable rage reaction (I go all "Red Ross" for those of you who remember that Friends episode).  But I digress...I also tend to be very aware of what is "normal" pain and nuisance discomfort in my body vs. what is abnormal or new.  Brian would call this being a hypochondriac, but I disagree.  I think what separates elite athletes from the rest of us (in addition to incredible work ethic, dedication and some genetics) is their ability to work through and overcome pain.  My overly-simplistic view of pain is this:  the body sends a signal in the form of pain to the brain (I'll call it the mind for purposes of this discussion) that something might be wrong with a part of the body.  Sometimes, of course, there is something critically wrong, such as a break, tear, burn or other injury that is serious enough to warrant a cease in whatever action caused this injury and immediate attention should be paid to it.  But the other times, the less serious "injuries" and signals of pain, and subsequently how the mind deals with it, that's where my fascination comes in.

I think sometimes the body and mind are lazy, and it takes some effort to convince one or the other that the "pain" the body is feeling is only temporary, and that pushing through, then past, that pain is what needs to be done to accomplish the goal, whatever that goal might be.  In weak moments, I think the mind convinces itself that the goal is not as important as it was before the pain.  But in strong moments, the pain is accepted, confronted, and overcome.  And the mind and body are stronger for it.

This is my mindset, as it relates to pain, as I get close to the marathon this weekend.
My goal: to run it in less than 3 hours and 40 minutes, which will qualify me for the Boston Marathon.
My weaknesses: too little speed work in the last two months; too much weight gain in the last two months; ankle injury in the last week; an 8:30am marathon start time (this is "late" for me to start a long run)
My strengths: a good final long run (26+ miles) 3 weeks before the marathon; a great half marathon race 2 weeks before the marathon; prior marathon experiences
How I will overcome my weaknesses: the memory of my last two marathons, in which the last 3 miles (in Jacksonville) and the last 10K (in Tampa) were so difficult that I wanted to crawl up into a ball on the side of the road and cry--but I didn't, I kept moving, knowing it would be over soon (the faster I moved the sooner it would end!), and I finished with a PR in both races

I might not reach my goal, but I sure am going to try.  I'm going to push my mind to convince my body that the pain will end.  And I'm not naive enough to believe there won't be pain, there will be, and lots of it during the final 10K, I'm sure.  But the body is an amazing thing that can do so much more than we give it credit for, as long as the mind doesn't sabotage it.  So I will push, I will give it my all.  If I don't reach my goal, it won't be because I didn't give it everything I had.  And I will enjoy the journey, as I have to this point, regardless of the outcome.

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