BY DEAN KARNAZES
My neighbour spotted me coming home from a run the other day and asked, “Isn’t running painful?”
I thought for a moment, “It is if you’re doing it right.” It just came out.
Apparently my sentiments are shared with others. Recent research published in Frontiers in Sports and Active Living surveyed 1,251 runners about pain when running a marathon. 99.8 percent of the study participants reported experiencing some form of pain during their last marathon. The study author, Dr. Patrick O’Connor, concluded, “Essentially, everyone experiences some pain while running a marathon.” If you’ve run a marathon yourself, surely you can relate.
And even if you haven’t run a marathon, pain is sometime common to most runners, a frequent, if not unwelcomed, companion. Given that pain is so prevalent it’s no wonder we runners have devised various mental techniques to deal with the discomfort. Perhaps most common of all is the mantra, a term or phrase repeated over-and-over that helps provide positive affirmation and divert attention away from the pain. Then there’s the game of counting down the mile markers as a diversionary tactic. And of course, listening to loud music is another common form of taking the edge off the hurt.
As someone that’s run hundreds of marathons, I’ve experimented with just about everything to repress the pain. Eventually, nothing works. You simply can’t fool yourself forever and at a point you admit that you’re only chanting a mantra in an attempt to obfuscate the simple fact that you’re in a world of hurt.
Seeing that attempting to conceal or ignore the pain was ultimately backfiring, I decided to try a different approach. Instead of running away from the pain, I ran toward it. Rather than attempting to repress the pain or subvert it, I now concentrate on it with the totality of my being. I immerse myself completely in the discomfort, tune my mental awareness squarely into the pain, and attempt to dissect and comprehend the sensation. When things get really tough, I no longer chant mantras or look for mileposts, I concentrate on the origins of pain and nothing else.
Interestingly, the more one focuses on deciphering the pain, the more ephemeral and fleeting it becomes. What exactly is pain, something electrical? Biochemical? What cells elicit such stimuli and how is that impulse transmitted to my brain and interpreted by the central governor? It’s as though having a deep awareness of the pain serves to diminish it. In maintaining this focused concentration on the sensation, eventually the pain is attenuated. This phenomenon occurs not by trying to disguise or suppress the pain, but by doing the very opposite, recognizing, accepting and fully engaging in it. While the practice might seem counterintuitive—focusing on your pain rather than repressing it—the technique works for me, so I go with it.
That being said, I always counsel other athlete to listen to everyone and follow no one. What works best for me might not work best for you. Experiment, test and try different approaches to find your personal recipe for success. Ultimately, pain is in the legs of the beholder.
While I’ve learned to embrace the pain, I still do everything I can to mitigate it. That’s why I use Hammer Nutrition Tissue Rejuvenator, Enduromega and Hammer CBD softgels*. Tissue Rejuvenator and Enduromega help preserve and strengthen my tissue and joints, and Hammer CBD softgels assist with a good night’s sleep, which is essential for recovery and optimal performance.
*CBD products are not currently available in Canada