So, I’ve had a breakthrough. Not like the kind you put up on a leaderboard, maybe a 59 miler with 20 thousand feet, but a breakthrough in thought. Since healing from surgery in 2015 to repair a torn piece of cartilage sheared from my femur, I have avoided certain cross training exercises like Covid: when I attempted lunges after surgery recovery, the pain was unbelievable, and a doctor simply said in response to my question “don’t do that”. Later, when I did several sets after a long run, my hamstrings responded by seizing up, and a healed hamstring tear shrieked with agony. This was because – surprise: I wasn’t doing lunges. If doing lunges is perceived as asking your body to stop working properly, which might mean no more running, why risk THAT? So, I gave up on the idea.
Surgery is an invasive answer to a complicated question, and the act can damage unrelated tender bits in the general area. And since that surgery, a weird thing has happened twice: a tendon on the outside of my knee, maybe my IT Band, I don’t know – has somehow moved up to get stuck on the knee joint, and when that happens the pain is like nothing I have experienced, even worse than healing from the surgery itself: I cannot run, let alone even walk, and it completely immobilizes me. And then later on, whatever it is that randomly happened to make me moan like I’ve been trampled by a moose, somehow remedies itself, and moves back to where it is supposed to be, as if nothing ever happened. This is totally unexplained and random, and yet another incentive to quit tempting fate with crazy lunge ideas.
So, am I being silly? Embrace the pain: just go do the freaking lunges, right? I mean, other runners regularly do the exercise and don’t fall over dead in their soup – or is that thought over-simplified and insane based upon my personal history with knees and pain? “Pain is information”. And “pain is weakness leaving the body”; sure, we’ve all heard that. But if “pain is unavoidable, suffering is mandatory”, well, I had better think twice. Conversely, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”, OK, I get that, and have used that mindset to my benefit by turning down the scream to a whisper, during races and training countless times. “Pain is subjective”.
Yes it is.
When dealing with pain, I have always looped back to “pain is information”, shared with me when my knee was the end of my running world, and with that in mind, unless we are simply talking about the discomfort of 150 miles – something overcome with patience and determination, I have used pain as a warning, nature’s way of saying “don’t do that” – and here we circle back to the sage advice of my orthopedic surgeon. So, for half of a darn decade, I have avoided lunges to avoid the unpleasant side effects and potential collateral damage. Simply because of my perception: I don’t want to screw up the point of surgery repair on my freaking femur; I don’t want to cause irreparable damage again. It’s a wonder that, with no focused cross training over the past five years I have run the distances, and as fast and hard as I sometimes have.
The leap I run with fatigue right now. After finally committing to lunges two weeks ago in the midst of a heavy training load and at the prodding of my coach, I have stuck to the script like glue; when I fully commit to the run, and everything it entails – as anyone who knows me will attest, I commit to the end, whatever the outcome. Right now, on each run, I feel sluggish, slow. I dance on the knife’s edge of Plantar and Achilles issues, and that old tear in my left ham and my sore glutes and ‘tight everything’ constantly remind me that I am pushing the envelope in full transition and adaptation. My runs right now rarely, if ever, feel “high energy”, and are driven by my passionate faith in the idea that as I hit all of my runs and those damn 3 minute hill intervals and the cross training sessions in total commitment to the run, the sum total of this discomfort will make me stronger, will make me a faster runner. As a guy working sometimes way too hard with a commute and kids and a husky puppy who knows no boundaries of any kind, sleep sometimes takes a backseat, as does simply standing still; that never happens. This total commitment will make me faster, and stronger, and I thrive on that, relish it like that run along the edge of the foggy abyss, and that sacred, five minute encounter with the bobcat. This will bring me to that next level. And after love – that ultimate reality we sometimes search for over our entire lives – and may never find, running at that next level of speed and power to transcend everyday life spent walking on the ground, is everything to me.
I love finding my limits, as silly and shallow as they sometimes may be, and then coming back later to smash them to pieces with the hammer of intention. There is beauty in that, I think.
Pain is information ~ Terri Schneider, endurance athlete
Pain is weakness leaving the body ~ General Lewis B. Chesty Puller, USMC
Pain is unavoidable, suffering is mandatory ~ Attributed to Siddartha Gautama
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional ~ Haruki Murakami, novelist
Pain is subjective ~ Various
One word frees us of all the pain in life-that word is love ~ Sophocles