The demon that you can swallow gives you it’s power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply~Joseph Campbell
This week brings to a close my 6 weeks of base training in preparation for the Philadelphia Marathon. For the last six weeks my mileage has been increasing steadily as I continue to stretch my long run with 15 mile long run on deck for this approaching weekend.
As you may have seen from my weekly training plans that I’ve posted with each blog, I run 3 days during the week and cross-train the other three days. Those cross-training days typically focus on a specific muscle group where I’ll do 3 sets of 9-12 reps depending on the weight being moved followed by 20-30 min of stationary bike work.
What I’ve noticed in the last two weeks is that I have found myself having tired legs at the start of my runs. A feeling of sluggishness that I’ve needed to pull myself out of. My mind immediately shifts into problem solving mode. It begins to race and analyze data about diet, sleep, and workouts trying to figure out where I’ve gone wrong and what is causing this tiredness. One avenue my brain explores is my inconsistent sleep in the last few weeks. During the summer I don’t have as regular a sleep pattern. On top of feeling tired, I have developed an acute case of plantar fasciitis in my foot that hasn’t really impacted my long runs beyond being a particular pebble in my shoe that pulls my focus away from the task at hand.
The combination of those feelings would take me to the entrance to my dark place–my pain cave. A labyrinth like structure that is difficult to navigate, and, for me, is characterized by feelings of doubt brought on by discomfort and/or pain while on a run.
If you’ve ever entered a cave before one of the things that strikes you immediately is how dark it can get. You can become disoriented as your senses are muffled by dark. Entering the pain cave mentally has the same effect. You become lost in the maze of your mind.
In talking with many friends who run they validated my analytical nature and offered suggestions on how to get out of the doldrums I was in. While searching online, I found multiple articles on sports psychology and an acceptance based approach to discomfort. Most commonly in sport we are encouraged to ignore the pain and discomfort, to push past it, or talk ourselves into a space of positivity.
The concept of acceptance, however, is somewhat radical in its approach. You need to first acknowledge either the emotional or physical discomfort that you are experiencing. Once you have identified those feelings then you are supposed to not judge them nor use them as predictors of what the future of the run holds. You are encouraged to describe your whole experience while running, maintaining an openness, which encourages a more calm spirit allowing you to run more naturally.
When my logical mind read through these articles last week, I was like, “Yeah….that’ll work.” The reason I rejected it so readily is because for my entire career of running I’ve been a diagnoser, and I trust my ability to solve most problems. But this week, I was struck by the simplicity of this idea. And I also realized that in my short running career I shouldn’t be so quick to count myself an expert and be blind to other options. So I decided that I needed to look into this Acceptance concept a bit more because when negative thoughts get in my head it has a drastic effect on my running.
On Tuesday night I had an easy 7 miles planned, and it seemed like a perfect time to try this out. I would be running half of the miles with my run group, so the first 3.5 my mind was distracted with conversations with runners. During the second half I could feel my heel starting to flare up. When it did, I began to talk to myself about it. I examined my whole experience. Yes, my foot was uncomfortable but my form was good–my knees were coming up well, my arms were swinging nicely, and for once in what felt like a long while, my legs did not feel tired. It wasn’t affecting my cadence. This conversation made me aware that the discomfort could be along with me for the remainder of the run but it wasn’t going to ruin it.
A calmness was washing over me. It seemed that my acceptance of discomfort and being open to my feelings about that pain allowed me to stay in control of my running. When I hit my seven miles running comfortably at marathon pace I was proud of myself for staying calm when entering the pain cave. Typically, I would have lost my focus and become lost in the darkness of the cave causing more stress first in my mind and then in my body causing me to stumble and get lost.
But Tuesday night I had an epiphany. I could experience the pain and discomfort, accept it into myself and still move forward. Through acceptance I was able to enter the pain cave with s small flashlight that illuminated the path in front of me
There are many more miles until November and I know that between now and then there will be plenty of chances for me to continue to practice this method of acceptance of using pain to teach me about who I am and who I am becoming
Pain forces us to confront disruptive, awful, and occasionally inspiring realities of the world around us. The pain cave is a place where we take stock of our courage and ask ourselves how much we are willing to give for the goals we’ve laid out. And that, I think, is why we willingly descend into it.~Sam Robinson
Plan for this week:
|Chest Day||7 Miles||Back/Bis||4 miles
MP for miles 12-14