Your Invisible Training Partner
Every runner runs with an invisible training partner. You can’t see him. You can’t hear him. You can feel him, though. Oh, how you can feel him. You can taste him, too. He tastes like blood and bile. He tastes like fear.
On those easy runs, on runs that you feel great; you can barely notice him. But you never escape him. You never drop him. He’s always there, and he’s out to get you. He wants to hurt you. He wants to hurt you bad. And sooner or later, on the hard days and the bad days; he does.
Your invisible training partners name is PAIN. You start out trying to ignore him. Can’t do it. You attempt to reason with him. No way. You try to strike a bargain. Hah. You plead. You say please stop, please go away, I promise never ever to do this again if you just leave me alone. But he won’t. Pain only climbs off if you do. Then you’re beaten.
To be a runner is to be a student of pain. Sure the sport is fun with its fun group runs and secret single-track, its post-run feasts, and soft muscles grown wonderfully hard. But at running’s core lies pain, hard and bitter as the pit inside a juicy peach.
It doesn’t matter if you’re running a 10k fun trail run, a 50 mile ultra trail race, or the just running to get to the next aid station with all the goodies. If you never confront pain, you’re missing the essence of the sport. Without pain, there’s no adversity. Without adversity, no challenge. Without challenge, no improvement. No improvement, no sense of accomplishment and no deep-down joy. Might as well be playing Tiddly-Winks.
Harsh? Sorry, but that’s the truth. If you never push yourself, if you never face the troll, you’re cheating yourself
You’re got to embrace pain and find out where he’s most vulnerable. You’ll never defeat him, but he’s not as powerful as he’d like you to think. Learn about him and you can coexist with him-for a while, anyway. The more you understand, the longer you can hold out. Bicycling Magazine, October 1994 by Scott Martin, with edits to focus on running.
Know Your Training Partner
Your training partner is not the type of pain that is caused by muscular, joint, or other injuries. It is also not the pain the you endure after tripping over a rock or root and take a nasty digger. Nor is this the pain that is from an overuse injury. These are not the types of pain that you “muscle” through. These are the types of pains that you need to get treated immediately.
The type of hurt that we are talking about is the type you experience running uphill with quads that are on fire, the heart rate where you feel like your heart is going to come out your throat, the fatigue you feel 70 miles into an ultra trail race. The types of pains that will make you stop running.
Some of these running pains come from when your muscles go anaerobic, when they can’t get the oxygen they need. Lactic acid builds up and you start to feel the burn. Then you come to a steep climb and suffer through the burn.
Gain Control Over Your Training Partner
Through proper training you can raise your anaerobic threshold which will allow you to go longer and faster before your training partner decides to jump on your back and dig his heals in. Interval training is one of the best workout to accomplish this. Interval workouts are not my favorite, but I do them in the early season of my training. It is important not to over-do it with intervals because they take a huge toll on your body. I like to do them midweek and save the weekends for my long back-to-back runs. Also, there seems to be runners burnout if they are done too often for too long of time over a training season.
In y article about The Seven Principles of Exercise I discuss how exercise changes your body and muscle chemistry. Our body needs stress place upon it to get stronger. With this new found strength will come bigger muscles. Bigger muscles allow for more oxygen to be used. You also will start to create new blood vessel and capillary pathways that will deliver more blood to your muscles. More blood means you can pump more blood and more oxygen to your muscles.
The good news, training will help you become a stronger runner. The bad news, training will not stop the pain. However, it will delay the onset of when your training partner joins you for the run.
Comfort with Your Training Partner
Most people first reaction to when they feel pain is to back off and stop doing what is causing the pain. For the rest of us, we are driven by the challenge of wanting to know what we are capable of doing. We seems to thrive on pain, it is good for us. To get to this point, you can’t back off at the first sign of pain, you need to deal with it head on.
The worst thing you can do is try to ignore the pain. You need to focus on the pain. You need to get comfortable with the pain and know what is going to happen. I have been down the road with pain so many times that now if I start to cry-baby about how I feel I just dig into my past runs with my training partner and know that what I am feeling now is nothing compared to how I felt at other times. Getting comfortable with pain also helps on those days when he is really give it all he has to hurt you. It is on these days where you need to remember the times he hurt you bad, really bad; but you were able to make it thorough the pain and come out the other side feeling good again.
I use this a lot in ultra races. It is really a comfort level knowing that I have been here before and I can get though it. If you wait until your important goal race or other big event it run with pain; he will scare you bad because you don’t know what is going to happen next. You don’t know how bad he will hurt you. You need to know how to be comfortable with the big hurt of pain. And after you have developed a comfort level with pain, you will realize that pain will bring out the best in you. Facing pain and dealing with him will set you apart from those that are to lazy or scared to try. Just remember, pain can hurt you; but he can’t kill you.