Thursday, October 06, 2005

Pain Expectations

Disaster. Near disaster. Disaster somewhere in between. I went running at dawn in the rain and the cold and the wet. I have been limiting myself to 5K or about 25 or 30 minutes of uptempo running per day. Yesterday was miserable. On the way home I cut across a stretch of grass and was going at a brisk pace. Too late I noticed a huge puddle and tried to swerve around it at the last second. Didn't want to get my feet any wetter or colder than they already were... I pushed off of my left foot, leapt like a gazelle, and when I planted my right foot it shot out from underneath me on a patch of slick grass and mud. I barely avoided falling face first into the muck and a bolt of pain stabbed up my right leg and into my thigh.

A familiar stab. A familiar pain. Fifteen years ago I had the same thing happen to me while practising Kenpo, a form of Japanese martial arts, kick-boxing really. That groin pull took over a year to fully heal. I immediately stopped running. And limped home. Not good. Not good at all.

Saw my massage therapist this morning as scheduled and said nothing. She immediately twigged that there was something wrong with the tendon. "What did you do?" Damn! This lady is good. After working exclusively on my legs in every previous visit, I splurged this time on a full ninety minute massage, and threw my back into the mix for the first time. It took Diana all of two minutes to ask me how many ribs I had broken - many - and on numerous occasions - and to query me on the source and history of any number of adhesions and lumps of scar tissue she found while navigating my back for the first time (too numerous to list here). Diana has seeing-eye fingers and detective thumbs. She also has an elbow like a sledge hammer. Bottom line, she could tell that something was not right in Kansas any more. Great. Just great...

Back to my groin. It is very sensitive. And the injury too. I have no idea how severe it actually is. I ran this afternoon without limping, but I could definitely feel the injury. And when I pivot on my right foot I can sense a certain amount of pain and weakness. The only solution is for me to run in a very straight line. Will be interesting to see how this plays out over three and a half hours on Sunday. Not part of my best case scenario.

Regardless, I knew I was going to be in pain to some degree on Sunday. During the final stages of the race and definitely afterwards. With a fast marathon planned, it goes with the territory. You can not run your fastest in a marathon and not become acquainted with pain. It is the dirty little secret of marathoning. In order to be fast you must be willing to tolerate a certain level of pain. It is not something that gets talked about a lot. Certainly not in clinics or to first timers. Their goal is to finish. Running for a time is taking it to the next level.

As someone who has had their share of injuries, grievous, bodily and otherwise. I am on more than just speaking terms with pain. Pain and I know each other well. And I learned a long time ago that the best way to deal with pain is to embrace it, hold it close to you and never let it out of your sight. Pain can not be your enemy. You have to understand pain. Pain is your friend. Hold pain close to you.

When you go out fast in a marathon and continue to go fast for miles and hours and you run on the ragged of edge of your very best effort, where you are mere heartbeats away from going out too hard and failing and crumbling before you have reached the finish line and your best time, you will meet pain. Pain will run alongside you, and you will feel it in the muscles and sinews of your legs and in your joints and your bones and you will feel it in every ragged breath, in the pounding of your heart in your ears and in the nauseous pit of your belly.

The very best runners will embrace pain and continue to run. They will continue to hold their pace and to hold onto their form and in the end, even in the face of pain, they will get even faster. This is what makes running a marathon so extraordinary. Because you can not run it and run it hard, and by running hard I mean racing and not face the same test as every other runner. No one gets to race a marathon for free. At least not pain free. The marathon takes the measure of a runner.

Most of the rest of us will do the best we can in the face of pain. On some days and in some races we will be tough. On other days we will give in to pain. We will relent under pain's onslaught. We are, after all, only human. We are taught early on in life to listen to pain. Giving into pain is something that we are expected to do.

A lot of people will start to slow down when pain runs alongside them. Not because they have to, or because their bodies can not continue, but because they want pain to go away. Have pain chase someone else. And the easiest way to do that is to slow down. In fact your body will be demanding that you do just that. And you won't be bonking from low blood sugar, or be truly injured, you will just be giving in to pain. Pain will look you in the eye and you will either stare pain down, or you will blink and look away.

I was expecting to run with pain this Sunday. Now I am just curious when he will show up.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a great inspiration Vince

11:41:00 PM  
Blogger Scooter said...

Dope! Now, good judgment says, "Find a Marathon four weeks out and run it instead." I trust you'll run Kelowna. Your goal is now 8:00's from beginning to end. Pay the price when necessary. If all goes well, you'll only have pain for 10 or 15K. My best wishes for a solid race. If you have pain early, it won't get better. Bail and find a back-up.

PS: the word verification says: cduoape - could the marathon Gods be sending a message?

8:36:00 AM  
Anonymous June and Stu said...

Hey Vince

Good luck, best wishes and all the very best this Sunday. We will be thinking of you and waiting to see/hear how you did. Wish we could be there to see you finish. Look forward to hearing from you after.

June and Stu

9:46:00 AM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

I have been registered for my backup marathon, Las Vegas on December 4th for over a month.

The plan is still to go out for a 3:25 in Kelowna.

Whatever happens will happen.

And what exactly is the significance of "cduoape"?

Can't say I think of myself as much of an inspiration. If I was that inspiring, more people would heed my advice and listen a little more carefully to what I am saying. And THAT rarely happens...

As for inspiration, I myself look to Hugh. He is quiet and self-assured and he just goes out and does it without too much noise or fanfare. Just like he has for the past thirty or so years.

If I am still as active as Mr. Gurd in another decade, I will consider myself a successful Masters athlete. And I can only dream that I would be as athletically gifted. Now that's inspiration.

9:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Nick said...

Run like the wind, my friend.

9:56:00 AM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

I was being cranky. I won't be cranky.

11:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Zorro said...

Not only do you know pain, Vince, I think you even like pain.

I can't imagine doing some of the things you have done. The word, "crazy" comes to mind.

Good luck on Sunday. I expect that you will do what you have to do no matter what. Even if bones are sticking out.

11:53:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

In one of my first marathons I did read a sign "Pain comes and pain goes but the pride stays".

Ever since this has been my guiding theme carrying me to a 3:10 two weeks ago (qualifying me for Boston 2006).

Good luck for your race! Hope you can stare pain down.

4:15:00 AM  
Blogger Scooter said...

Compare the verication word to the first word of my post - you will probably see some all the letters, in order.

I had some friends put up good times at Chicago. Did you punch your ticket today...or are you going to Vegas? And, I hope if it's the latter, that you didn't do yourself harm.

2:50:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...


7:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Congratulations on an awesome race.
We're celebrating for you in Portland.

12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Scooter said...

LIAR! I looked at the results, and you weren't listed at 3:29:49. You were however listed as 10 seconds faster. Congratulations on a fine run. I guess you'll have to kick my ass in Boston for the "running in a skirt" comments.

verification: "borztjj" - reminds me of "borzoi", if I recall, a fine runner.

3:01:00 PM  

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