Day #58: The Problem of Pain


To keep from decaying, to be a winner, the athlete must accept pain–not only accept it, but look for it, live with it, learn not to fear it.” ~George Sheehan

Do you run to escape pain? Or do you run in order to meet pain head-on and then bask in the afterglow of its absence? Perhaps you have some other pain-related motive which plays into your running obsession?

In looking through lots and lots of running blogs in the past weeks, I have encountered a fair number of runner/writers who run at least in part to better “deal” with the pain in their lives. Whether it be another’s addiction, a lost or sick loved one or even one’s own personal bout with depression, many of us of the running ilk experience through our running a respite and even a medicine for our pained hearts.

Clearly, running is therapeutic. It can take us into a clearer state of mind and help us to move outside of our introspective shells – into the light of the day and and into the light of others. Into a company which is even present amidst “the loneliness of the long-distance runner.” After all, this loneliness is a self-chosen one which itself is a balm for the heavy soul.

But have you tried to run with a broken heart? This is hardly accomplished. Somehow, running is so elementally joyful that in the immediate aftermath of a deep emotional cut, I have been left walking just 400 meters into a run. Walking must be the speed of mourning. And running the pace of healing. I wish you much healing through your running. And if you are able to run at all amidst the travails in which you find yourself, then all is clearly not lost.

Walking must be the speed of mourning. And running the pace of healing.

And yet there is the other type of pain we meet in running. It is that physical, nagging, sometimes sharp discomfort which is the inevitable companion of the runner – no matter what speed she goes. Today, for example, I was out for 85 minutes, running at my maximum aerobic heart-rate (trying to be a good student of Dr. Phil Maffetone:)) The running was all easy – maybe 65% effort. But the minutes added up – and even at that blissful cadence, pain showed up.

What are we runners to do about this inescapable pain? Do we fear it daily – as I did as a high-schooler – and repeatedly muster up the guts to slink up to it day after day after day until little by little we are broken down by its relentless eroding of our persistent yet vulnerable edge… Or do we take another tack? I know so.

The pain of life – the “unbearable lightness of being” as Milan Kundera called it – is in every way akin to that which is our everpresent company on the roads. In running, we magnify at will its immediacy and effect. Surely, this is a beauty of the run. It is a microcosm of the very essence of life. In the hours race, we can experience all of the urgency of existence in a way not tangible to non-runners. At least not so on-demand.

So, of course, Dr. Sheehan is right once again. The runner’s sage urges us not to fear the pain, but to accept it, to run towards it – seeking it out – and ultimately to run with it. Life is rife with pain. To experience otherwise is deception. When we run towards pain to embrace it, we run towards the truth of our reality. And in running with the pain, we heal.


~Coach Reed

“Pain is nothing compared to what it feels like to quit.” ~Anonymous

“For something to hurt that bad, and feel so good, it’s just inexplicable.”
– Adam Goucher, NCAA Cross Country Division 1 Individual Champ – 1998

“If you start to feel good during an ultra, don’t worry, you will get over it.”
– Gene Thibeault

“It’s at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated from the boys.”
– Emil Zatopek

“The pain of training is nothing compared to the pain of not reaching your potential.”
-Josh Cox, US 50k Record Holder

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
― Haruki MurakamiWhat I Talk About When I Talk About Running

image credit: coldsplinters