PAIN IS GOOD

by Dave McGillivray

In my 30 years of running, I have labored over 100,000 miles, competed in over 500 road races, crawled through 102 marathons and have taken a 5-million footstep stroll across America.

I have been told that I have masochistic tendencies and I am just short of being a misguided lunatic. Why would I voluntarily subject myself to all this pain and suffering?! Remember the movie Wall Street when Michael Douglas uttered the bold statement, "greed is good"? Well, my version of the statement is, "pain is good." OK, at least it doesn't always have to be bad. Agreed, not all pain is good, but most pain can be if you learn to understand and control it. For most people, it's more the fear of pain that is debilitating than pain itself.

As rational people, we believe that man is an animal who seeks pleasure and avoids pain. To seek pain is illogical and to thrive on it is insane. It would appear that the perfect life is pain-free, that there is no sense to pain. Well, I don't believe that there has ever been or will ever be anyone on this planet that has escaped the grip of many painful experiences. So, why fight or fear it? Let's just deal with it.

We are runners. Being a runner means you have made a conscientious decision to live with pain for the rest of your life. I have experienced pain all my life. In a bizarre way, when I feel pain, I know that I am doing something right. In the most elementary way, pain is the body's way of letting you know that it is working hard. Think of the alternative - if there was no pain, you'd never know what the heck is going on with your body, good or bad. Nice approach, huh?

Pain teaches, shapes, strengthens and develops us. All pain is real and should be treated as such. It is not something which is strictly in a person's head as some fitness gurus exclaim. If an individual is rational and intelligent about what they are doing, they will be able to recognize, understand and control pain.

An experienced athlete has the ability to distinguish between two types of pain - warning pains and challenging pains. This can be a very fine line, but a critical one. Warning pains usually get our attention real fast and display violent symptoms - vomiting, blood in the urine, unusual heart palpitations and heat prostration are just a few body signals telling us to STOP immediately. However, pain such as fatigue, muscle soreness or even boredom can be challenged.

It is easier to accept a certain degree of physical and mental discomfort or pain if there exists a strong meaning behind it. While working out at a local health club facility, I often hear the overused expression "no pain, no gain" being shouted across the exercise floor. A person who never pushes themselves to the point of physical discomfort is obviously learning very little about their physical limits and thresholds.

Pain impels a person to make a personal decision; that is, whether to surrender to it or to experience and control it. If you have any significant fear of physical discomfort, it is amusingly absurd to lace up a pair of running shoes or to walk into a health club. Finishing a race and especially a marathon, leads to conquering that fear of pain.

When beginning a running program, one of the first sensations a person will experience will undoubtedly be pain. Many people just don't give the sport a chance. They will automatically retire from running when they get that first side stitch or when they are forced to walk the rest of the way home. If you are prepared, patient and realistic about your goals and limitations, pain can be controlled and eventually mastered.

Most endurance athletes have a high pain threshold which, however, can many times hurt them more than help. Stubbornness will only lead to a more serious problem. One of the basic rules of fitness is to understand your own body signals and to learn from them.

In many cases, a runner feels that they would receive more distressful pain than the worst physical pain if they dropped out of a race. This is where being able to distinguish between whether they are experiencing a warning pain or simply a challenging pain is highly critical. There is no shame in being intelligent about listening to your body and trying to stay alive.

While pain is hardly fun, it can carry with it tremendous significance and importance. Whether it be trying to achieve a best time, running for a coveted award or participating in a charity event to benefit those less fortunate, running with pain is just part of the total experience. In many instances, pain is even essential to giving the workout or race a special meaning.

Most runners and endurance athletes can live knowing their physical limits and do not have to live in fear of pain. To state it simply, it is more painful to fear pain than to experience it. Don't you agree that you usually experience more anxiety and nervous pain before a big event than the physical pain you experience once the gun fires? Once you are in it, you don't fear it anymore.

Those who have exercised very little or never at all and those who don't have an appreciation for their own physical well-being look at pain as irrational and illogical. They see no reason to deal with pain. Those of us who have gained tremendous benefits from exercise cannot live without it.

Dave McGillivray

If you would like more information on Dave's cross country relay planned for May of '99, or just chat with Dave, you can e-mail DMSE at davemcg@baa.org.

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