Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Embrace the Pain

Everyone has a different level of tolerance for physical pain. As for me, I’d say that my ability to handle it is lower than I’d like it to be, but better than it used to be. At least I’m not a crybaby anymore. When I was a kid, the threat of pain caused me to miss out on all sorts of things, and created complications for me that could have been avoided.

For example, I didn’t play football beyond 7th grade. Why not? Fear. I didn’t like the pain of the physical training. I didn’t like the pain of the running. I didn’t like getting hit. I was fearful of the pain of the sport.

As another example, I avoided defending myself as a young person in a number of situations where I was being bullied. Now, I didn’t avoid fighting out of some misguided sense of right and wrong. No. I avoided it because I was afraid of being hurt. I was afraid of the pain. As a result, I was often picked on, and I just put up with the verbal abuse. (I wouldn’t suggest that you test me with that these days.)

As I have aged a bit though, I’ve grown to appreciate some positive aspects of enduring pain. Have you ever considered that?

There is a saying: “No pain, no gain.” The phrase stems from the sports world where you have to endure physical pain in training in order to grow stronger and gain endurance. I remember one time, a number of years ago, when I was doing a good deal of running, and as I was running along my legs began to hurt. They were aching something awful. I was tempted to quit. Then, it hit me….no one has ever died from a “leg attack.” So what if the legs were hurting? It was making me a stronger, healthier person. I learned to put up with and ignore that pain.

Cycling has done a great deal for me in learning to deal with pain. A few years ago, I was on the last leg of about a 40-mile ride, and I had about ten miles to go, when all at once I began to have a terrible, sharp pain shoot into my right knee with every pedal stroke. Can you imagine riding another ten miles with that happening every time you pushed the pedal down? I wanted to quit, but ten miles is a long distance to walk pushing your bike. A couple of years ago, I did a 108-mile ride. About 80 miles into it, I hit a stretch in the ride where as long as I kept my feet going around everything was okay, but if I stopped, it felt like there was a grinder in my knees when it was time to get going again. Once again, I felt like quitting, but I had a goal….and no one ever died from some knee pain….so I kept going and the pain eased.

This brings me to one of my favorite quotes, and I’m thinking about it a bit as I prepare for my 2011 Fitness Challenge. This quote comes from Lance Armstrong in his book “It’s Not About the Bike.”

“Pain is temporary, but quitting lasts forever.”

Pain is a passing thing. It comes. It goes. Sometimes it stays longer than we want, but it still goes. But,….if we quit….if we let the pain stop us from doing great things for ourselves or others….then, the failure is forever.

A little over a year ago, I tore my Achilles tendon. It was a painful injury. Recovery from surgery was actually even a bit more painful. Losing all of my fitness and much of my leg strength was quite discouraging. Gaining a bunch of weight between then and now has been a real set back. This next year will include a great deal of physical and mental pain as I begin to beat my body back into some semblance of healthfulness, but to quit is not an option.

Time to embrace the pain.

About 93 miles into a 108-mile ride.

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