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Triathlete Blog

Pain Is The New Black

By January 7, 2008June 9th, 2015No Comments

The other day I was at the gym doing Bulgarian squats (I have no idea what makes them Bulgarian or a squat because really they are a lunge) thinking there is no possible way right now my legs could be in any more pain. Because this is the second? third? time I have done strength training this week. My quads are literally coming off in pieces, my core is so sore I can barely laugh, and my ass. Well, underneath some holiday layers of fluff there is nothing but pure pain.

And I thought to myself now as a professional athlete I cannot complain about the pain. I cannot look for an out or push the workout off by a day. No, this is my job to enjoy and eat the pain. In fact I have committed to getting fat this season on pain. Forget the peanut butter cups, I’m going to plump out on the pain.

Plus it’s the winter. And the winter is a season of pain. Wait until the spring to be in pain and you’ve waited one season too long. Contrary to what most believe, winter is not the season for slacking off. Races are won in the winter. Races are lost in the winter. You decide on which side you’ll go but win or lose this winter you better be feeling some pain.

This is what the winter is for. Each day you go back a little more in pain from something else you’ve done like 2 x 200 IM repeat 4 times or 23 x 100 on the 1:20 or 12 x 200 or a 3000 yard hypoxic set that almost had you peeing in the pool and your arms are ready to fall off and your neck can barely turn and your lower legs are so wound up from miles and miles and miles that you have no choice because you can’t beat it so you might as well join the pain.

And this requires making peace with the pain, accepting that everything in sport comes at the cost of pain (because if there was no cost it would be easy and every one would succeed at it). So today I set out to make peace with pain. I did an indoor time trial. I hate them and I haven’t done them in years because I hate them. Why? Because they are the quickest route of 6.2 miles to pain. But hell if I’m not going to pay $25 to put myself into pain because again as professional pain is my biggest enemy and best friend so come a little closer pain and let’s go for a ride.

I rode. I rode hard. I had the ugliest face of pain so bad I didn’t even have to see it to know. My heart rate reached new heights and my wattage – oh come here 4 watts not only will I take you but I will add 11 more. And all of the numbers were great and the effort was high and the time was fast but that wasn’t really the point. The point was what I did with the pain. When you feel pain you have two choices; you back off or go fearlessly towards the pain. This is what allows some athletes to break through while others just back away.

Embrace the pain and trust me you’ll breakthrough. Go fearlessly into a new zone of watts or beats and you’ll get past that plateau. Oh you’ll pay for it the next day but you have to head on face that pain. Back off and you’ll have to ask yourself why. What was the barrier that held you back? Of course there might be a physical limitation or threat of injury (and in that case back off!) but chances are it was something in your head.

Everyone has their point in which they cannot (actually will not) push past. Why? What is the barrier in your way? What do you do when you reach the point of pain – do you sit defeated, do you give up, slow down, fill your head with I can’t or do you fearlessly face the pain. At some point to reach the next level you have to let go of the fear and face the pain. You have to ask yourself to locate the barrier then determine a strategy to work through it on way to your success.

I went into the time trial today with a strategy to welcome and then work through the pain. I sternly told myself you will push everything else aside, ride fearlessly and push past the pain. Forget the other riders, forget the numbers on the screen – have faith that you can push past the pain and breakthrough. And ride fearlessly. Fearlessness requires attention to the pain and receptivity to its acceptance. Face the pain (your fear), accept that it hurts and keep pushing on to show that you are not afraid. Because what is the worst that will happen if you go too hard – your leg will fall off? No. Your Power Tap will explode? Unlikely. You’ll lose a crank? Possibly but that would be entertaining at least.

And you know what – after a few minutes I didn’t even notice the pain. Sure it was there the first mile but then I was so intent on riding, riding hard, riding fearlessly with a can I do this yes I can attitude that I eventually forgot about the pain. Can I push more watts? What if I held this one more mile? Throw it in a harder gear. Give it 10 more watts. At some point I became so involved in the task at hand that I forget about the pain.

It is the season of pain. Pain is in style, in fashion, heck this winter pain is the new black. Now don’t go and be the idiot cranking out 10 x sub 6:00 mile repeats on the track in the dead of winter. That’s not the kind of pain I’m talking about here. It’s about pushing through at the appropriate times. It’s about tearing things down with core and strength work to build up stronger later on. It’s about putting yourself in a faster lane and facing your fears. Doing the indoor tine trial. Running on tired legs. It’s about spending the next 3 – 4 months working hard and working through the pain.

Anything worth having is bound to cause some pain. There has to be a cost. Think of childbirth, think of love, think of your goals for sports. If all of these things came easy then they wouldn’t mean as much. Your goals are meaningful and because of that to reach them you will have to push past the pain. Let me say in all of my years competing I have never found a shortcut past the pain. I have never found the secret turnoff that allows you to avoid all of the hard work. All I know is that all winter long I push, I pull, swim, bike, run and I hurt. I make friends with the pain so come race day I can find that new level of pain because I’ve been through the other levels of pain leading to there.