Okay, so I'm sitting in the dentist chair this morning waiting to get my 1 cavity filled. As usual, Dr. Manning comes in makes his usual pleasant small talk and then takes a ridiculously long needle and jams it into my mouth. And as usual, he says, "There's a little sting. That didn't hurt too bad, did it?" I shake my head no, and then he leaves to let the novocaine set in. The funny thing is this time, I didn't curse him under my breath as he left, because of course it hurt! It always hurts, dammit! But curiously, not this time. Not so much. I pondered this for a moment and wondered if this might be another side benefit from all my running.
There's a favorite quote from one of my many geeky books that goes "No lesson is truly learned until it is purchased with pain." Or in other words...pain teaches us what we are capable of or what we can endure. I'm sure there is a fair contingent of my friends out there who will read this and say, "Look. That sick bastage is now into S&M!" For the record, I am not into S&M...but some light spanking can be fun. Just kidding! I swear! Maybe. Nevermind. In any case, for runners, and for me in particular, pain teaches us how far and how fast we can go. I just finished Personal Record by Rachel Toor. In her book, she asks this competitive runner what his secret was, and he replied that he could endure more pain than the other guy.
As I've mentioned, if you run long and hard enough, running eventually becomes an exercise in pain management to push yourself just a little bit farther and a little bit faster. Every runner must navigate the myriad of aches and pains that accompany our sport just to make it home. Shin splints, twisted ankles, pulled muscles, side stitches and general soreness are just a fact of life for most runners. We ride through these maladies like surfers trying to hang on to dear life as a gigantic wave comes crashing down on them. The hope with every run is that the ever-so-familiar pain will some avoid you and jump to that other poor slob behind you so you can achieve some brief moment of glory. For me, I have to constantly assess whether the pain in my left ankle or the ever present stinging in my shins are something serious or just another test to grind through. Usually when I've decided that those signs are minor and have pushed on through to my next mile, my lungs start to burn as I gasp to take in precious bursts of oxygen to keep my body moving. Runners know that if we can just make it to the finish line, then we can collapse, happily, knowing that we gave the run our all. While the pain and misery can be overwhelming and debilitating, it can also be cathartic and exhilirating. Every runner has at least 1 story of how they overcame pain and weakness to cross the finish line and meet their goals. The pain becomes our badge of honor and accomplishment to show our friends and peers how we overcame adversity to meet our destiny
Then comes the post-run recovery. A cold/ice bath is a particularly torturious activity. This alleged "remedy" tests one's endurance, and sanity, as you sit in a tub of cold water and/or ice to heal the numerous micro-tears that you have inflicted on your legs. For convenience, I prefer sitting in a cold bath for 20+ minutes. While any movement in the cold water is like a quick stab to the genitals with a pointy stick, I can usually expect that my legs will feel pretty good afterwards. I've become so addicted to this therapy that I even jump in the shower while the water is still cold and is heating up. I suspect that if I had a sem-reliable source that told me whacking myself in the head with a 2x4 would make me faster, then I'm sure I would do that also. I swear that I'm not a masochist. I'm just a runner, too dumb to know when to quit.