Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.
Sometimes we romanticize our lives to the point of becoming ridiculous. I’m guilty of it. I know you are too. It’s human nature. We easily lose perspective too. My life has not been full of tragic and excruciating pain. I don’t live with debilitating chronic pain. Heck, I’ve never even broken a major bone! But pain is a part of all of us. It is woven into the fiber of our individual experiences. No one is exempt from the company of pain.
Those who test themselves by going overfar seek out pain. Maybe it’s not the goal, but it is a requisite part of the process. You can’t go “crazy” distances under your own power without experiencing pain. It’s possible to mask pain and make others believe they suffer more than you do, but it’s impossible to escape from pain. Much like gravity, pain is reality.
But by expanding your comfort zone you learn about yourself. You empower yourself to go beyond perceived limits and stretch your potential. Again, you can’t do that without pain. Without pain we can never be more than couch potatoes. Maybe some people can live that way. I can’t.
Last Saturday I ran myself headlong into an exercise in pain. I’ve had many of these. Most have been from the seat of a bike, struggling to push through the pain and return home without calling SAG. Of course there have been numerous times when the pain was a wall I could not surmount. I’ve busted through the wall on occasion as well.
I’m “training” for the Rough Trail 50k. It’s going to be vomit-inducing hard. I’ve not been preparing as I would like, but life dictates your investment sometime, and I can’t justify the investment right now. I run on the roads instead of exclusively on trails. My body wouldn’t really hold up to the punishment of the long runs in Red River Gorge terrain. So I hit the roads.
For an explanation on why this is problematic please read my Pavement’s Edge post from this week.
Anyway, two weeks ago I ran twenty miles. That’s something I never thought I would do. It went better than I expected. I won’t say it was easy, but it was easier than some of the shorter runs I had made to get to that point in my so-called training. Last week I did not manage to get in a long run. It would have been sixteen miles. Doesn’t matter, I didn’t do it. I had rested all the week after the twenty miler, but I did get out and run ten miles early in the week and then rode at Vet Park to keep myself loose going into my scheduled twenty four mile run this past weekend.
Read my post “Convert” for yet another explanation of my seeming random distances.
My earlier success going beyond the teens was due to my resolve to stick with a consistent and conservative pace. Fuel and hydration were key as well. I hoped to recreate that success while adding four miles to my longest distance ran ever. Mandy asked why I wouldn’t just go ahead and run a full marathon distance. I answered that we’d see when Saturday came.
I had no easy SAG option. Mandy was running SAG for some foster dogs way up to nearly New England. I was sort of on my own. I knew there were other people in town I could call for a bail out, but none of them were my wife.
I started early, just after she left, and settled into a too fast pace in the dark as I tried to outrun the potential weekend traffic on the main roads of Stanton. I landed square in rush hour in the middle of Rosslyn (pop. not enough to register) in the dark running angry and hot of head.
My previous strategy had been a steady 11:30/mi pace. Saturday I started out at 11:06/mi then fell to 12:27/mi for the climb on the second mile, then as I passed through town and onto KY 11 I was keyed up. My next miles went 10:36/mi, 10:48/mi, 10:33/mi, 10:31/mi, 11:01/mi, 11:17/mi, and 11:02/mi respectively. The further from town and then the unexplained congestion around Rosslyn the more I eased off the throttle. After mile nine I was onto a backroad and I settled into the pace I wanted from the beginning.
The specter of pain had already begun in my feet. It felt like the ghost of a sprain in both of my ankles. As the pain grew over a few miles it began to feel like my shoes were tied too tight. At first it wasn’t enough to affect my pace or my stride, but it was persistent and therefore required a little mental attention to manage. By the beginning of my fourteenth miles I knew I was going to have trouble finishing my run.
I stopped and loosened my laces. For a good distance that seemed to help though the pain did not go away. As described in “The Suicide Lanes” I ran a quick mile to get past the crossing of KY 213. But after that my mile paces were all over the place and started to erode quickly. I was in pain with every step. It wasn’t a dull throb either; but a stabbing flash of pain in each foot each time they struck the pavement.
Crossing Tharp Ridge was going to be difficult. The pain was most intense on downhills. It felt like the bones in my feet were going to break on the slightest downsloping grade. On the steep climb up I walked hoping to give my feet some rest and relief. That did seem to help. I picked it back up once on top of the short rolling ridge. Frustratingly I found myself walking down the lee of every low roller. I wanted to crawl down off the ridge back to the flat river bottoms.
It was just after I entered my twenty-first mile that I actually stopped running to walk along the flats for the first time. I was afraid I wasn’t going to start running again. I had at least four miles to go to get home. The first inkling of doubt crept in. I could end it at my in-laws for a 23 mile run. That was good, right?
Diving back into the pain I ran again, slow, but faster than a walk, and gritted my teeth against the knowledge that I might possibly be doing damage to my feet.
I ran until I couldn’t bear it. I walked until I hated it. I ran until I reached Washington Street at Railroad. I was at 21.65 miles when Tomahawk pulled up beside me.
Without hesitation I responded:
“Would you mind giving me a ride home?”
He pulled over and I got in. He said I didn’t look so good even as my feet began to feel normal and not destroyed. I explained what was going on. My theory was that my laces had been too tight.
It seemed to be confirmed when I got home and went to untie my shoes. They felt too tight despite the earlier loosening.
“Your feet probably swelled,” Tom said when I called to thank him for the ride. I had been a little distracted by my body when I got out of the car so I called, thanked him properly, and mentioned the shoes.
They didn’t look swelled. Well, I had cankles for sure. My feet looked normally bony and pale.
It’s a bit of a mystery to me still. I took two full days off of running. I would have stayed completely off my feet if I had been able. Twenty miles is a long way to run. I’m amazed I’ve been able to progress to this kind of distance. I know I need to be putting in better quality base miles. Don’t lecture. I know it all too well.
I also believe in the power of pulling off the inconceivable. Mileage is important, but sometimes you have to keep going farther and farther without saving anything for the run back just so you can see how far you can go. If you do that you will most definitely meet up with pain. That’s when you need to make friends since you’re going to be spending some quality time in the company of.
It's not melodrama or contrivance, or romanticizing to want to make yourself stronger. Now, while things are easy, is the time to prepare for tough times. When things go south it's too late to delve your personal depths for your inner strength. Do that now.