Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Pain is the high (and the high is the pain)



(modified version found here on the Runner's World website)

I'm back to training. In some ways, it's not a huge change from offseason: I run, and yoga, and do cross-training in the snow going up a mountain.

In one big way, though, it's different. The runs I do hurt more. Coach John gives me times and workouts and I follow them - sort of. But really, I follow my body: the unevenness of my breath, the building nausea in my stomach, the shake in my legs. Part of how I train well and race well is doing a couple workouts every week that hurt, and doing them well. Pain is a paradox: it hurts, and I want it to stop, and once it stops, all I want is to do it again. I used to run with the idea that it had to be comfortable. Now, I run with the idea that, on the right days and in the right way, it's supposed to hurt.

Training, for me, is about normalizing pain. I don't want to fear hard workouts. I want to meet them, on trails or on the seawall, after coffee but before sun-up, like an old friend. I think I'm getting there, but the journey has taken some pretty large detours.

pound it out
October was a rough month for me. There were some amazing, sunny days where I ran down mountains with some of my best friends. There was good workouts on the seawall, surrounded by the soothing lights of the north shore. There was also days where I felt sad, tired, and way too out from shore.

I met Angela and Allison one Tuesday morning after a mostly sleepless night. I had woken up to gusts of wind shaking my window. On the way to our meet up spot, the wind blew against me so hard it was like I was standing still. The entire seawall had become a lake from the waves crashing over.

As we met, we did the quick minute of chat to touch base before we all hit our watches and disappeared towards second beach. When asked how I was doing, I said the truth: "not great." This wasn't the spot for soul-searching. We were all training for marathon (them) or longer (me). We were all tired, and we were all going to a long day of work right after the workout. The next morning, we were going to get up, still tired, and keep going. It wasn't time for a long talk or a group hug. We were facing down 20k of hard running, and the wind was already starting to grate. Angela set her watch, and turned to me: "Just pound it out."

I started, and I immediately felt tired. We got soaked by a wave in the first km. I didn't bother to look at my watch. My entire world was my breath. I watched Angela's feet, and did whatever I needed to hang onto her. There was no point looking at pace - sometimes, with the wind at our back, we screeched along corners. Other times we lost all momentum when we encountered gusts. The ocean heaved and the seawall was covered in seaweed and shells.

I used to run to shut off my thoughts, shut off my brain, wash away in endorphins. This run was all jagged: I felt my tight hips, the crunch of clam shells underneath, the chill of the wind. I saw the brightening line on the horizon, and Angela's shirt in front of me. I felt the ache of caffeine in my stomach, and a throbbing in my head. Every other step I wanted to quit, and every other step I committed to finishing. Angela and I said a couple words, telling each other good job, telling each other to keep going.

And I did - we both did. I did 20k at a 4:14/km pace. I finished, alone, gasping, and walked uphill back to my apartment. My mind had the kind of peace the exhaustion brings.

breathe
In yoga class, I have some teachers who talk and talk. They talk about breath, and edges, and space, and lightness. During the class, all I can think about is what I will eat after (if I'm hungry), if it is normal for my hips to make those noises, the outfit of the girl next to me.

Outside, running in the damp air, what the teachers say starts to make a lot more sense. The goal of the training I do is pain: how to reach it, understand it, and move with it. Week in and week out, I work to get to that place, and keep going. This is not something you can block out and ignore. What yoga teaches is to find space within the pain for yourself, and for the fierce joy that comes with riding your body past limits. The trick is to breath into the pain, expand, and find room for strength and gratefulness. The pain is a reminder of the power in your bones.

let me be honest here
I do not run to lose weight. I do not run to stay healthy, or live longer, or have a balanced life. I run to find the edges of myself, and I run to make them hurt less, sometimes. I run because I feel sad, or scared. I run because my thoughts can get loud - and I need quiet. I run when I have so much joy and feel that there is so much beauty in my life that I want to hone down and focus it into sweat and aching. I run, alone, when I feel empty - to prove to myself that this hour, this workout, can be enough. I run with friends and feel pulled along by our energy, the quiet togetherness of our breath hours into a long run.

second time smarter
So how is training going, just coming back? I am working to learn between pain and pain: to ride out the good kind, that will make me stronger. To watch for the bad kind, that means injuries and rehab. I have some awesome awesome races coming up this year that I am beyond excited, and a little nervous. I feel sometimes that each workout is such a babystep towards everything that I want to do.

At the end, though, no matter how the races I enter go (or don't go) - this is all I have: starting out with my friends under a night sky and hidden moon, the first couple minutes of chatting, then silence, each of us alone with the burn in our lungs, as the seawall curves darkly in front of us.


pillows make you go faster

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