Praise for pain

Posted on March 7, 2012


Yesterday, I had another bout of vile dental work … this time the removal of an awkward wisdom tooth which entailed ninety minutes of extreme pain … despite my arriving on an ample dose of valium and then insisting on around eight top-ups of anaesthetic. I left, drained, looking like a goth thanks to my very un-waterproof mascara and listening to my dentist telling me how brave I had been (not only did this make me feel age 12 but by my incessant tears and tantrums, she can’t possibly have thought I was remotely brave.)

It got me thinking about pain thresholds …

I know mine isn’t very high.  Physically, I could never do any really really long running races as I don’t enjoy pain or discomfort.  When it comes to 100 mile+ races, you need to embrace the pain and welcome it.  I however, would prob. just opt for any excuse to bail. I have a stubborn mindset when it comes to this, finding it exceptionally difficult, and indeed pointless, to do anything that I don’t enjoy.

Isn’t life too short to consider otherwise?

Having said that, I’ve done some pretty tough races … long distances, at altitude, multi-day, weight on my back … and when I think about Racing the Planet Nepal and how sick I got, yet continued to persevere with 250km and 30,000ft of elevation gain, I realise that perhaps I do have a high tolerance, just more mentally than physically.

When runners enter crazy races, hardcore fitness junkies do super tough workouts or gym bunnies put themselves through incredibly tough strength training, have they got outstanding fitness levels or are they just complete weirdos who like to inflict a little pain on themselves?

Shades of grey …

There’s really no black and white answer because the thing about pain is that you can’t ever tell how much pain someone is feeling … and it’s often hard for even the person going through it to quantify their pain level.  Even asking people to rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10 is tough as what benchmark are you comparing it to?

An element of pain certainly enables you to break through and progress to the next level in your training or event choices. Perhaps it just becomes a continual cycle of adjustment as your body is then prepared to be pushed further, over and over?

Another weird thing worth mentioning is a report that showed that swearing when in pain actually decreased it’s intensity. By swearing, you can increase your tolerance so next time you’re ¾ through a long race, just start cussing your f*&%ing performance and you might suddenly find yourself with a new lease of life!

What doesn’t kill us …

Tolerating pain certainly makes us stronger as individuals and I think that leaks into all areas of your life from handling day-to-day adversity to dealing with outright catastrophe.  Perhaps this is where the ‘Pain is just weakness leaving the body’ quote comes in. I remember in Lance Armstrong’s awesome book, It’s not about the bike, he talks about trying to welcome the pain he endured in his cancer treatments as it was pain associated with a positive consequence … that the pain was a physical symbol of his horrid disease leaving his body. (This, I know makes a mockery of the pain I went through yesterday!)

And I do believe that for us crazy cats who do super long / tough / challenging events, that it takes great mental discipline to keep pushing and there is an element of satisfaction is seeing how far we can push ourselves.

Ultimately, pushing through a little pain and adversity is the absolute in self-discovery, enabling us to LIVE as opposed to just EXIST. As I’ve said many times before, the most rewarding things in life are always the toughest … they’d simply lose their rewarding kudos otherwise.

It’s just a pity then that when mountain trails are replaced with a dentist chair, I resort to a sobbing twelve-year old, drawing blood in the hands of my poor hygenist as I grip her palms so tightly that my nails dig into her throbbing flesh … I hope she has a good tolerance for pain come to think of it!

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