Sunday, February 28, 2016

Embrace the pain

Last night my wife and I went salsa dancing, which seems like a normal enough statement until I tell you how awful I am at dancing, regardless of the style.  Picture one of those wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men outside of car dealerships.  Now put him at a wedding with an open bar.  That's me.  The upshot is that salsa dancing is not high on my list of things to do on a Saturday night, but I went because I know my wife likes it.

The night started with a half hour lesson on basic salsa moves, which was kind of fun until the instructor barked into the mic, "Ladies, rotate!"  My wife had failed to warn me that I would be dancing with about twenty other women during the lesson, the first of which was a foot taller than I am.  My face was directly level with her chest as we clumsily attempted the latest move. Nearby, a man in a tight black T-shirt and gold chain swung my wife around like a pitbull with a chewtoy.

Awkward does not begin to describe how I felt.

Which quickly brought to mind something my wife had told me about her time when she first moved to New Jersey.  Her living situation - five strangers as roommates in a Camden neighborhood vastly different from her native Florida - made every day an exercise in awkwardness.  Eventually they came to embrace the awkwardness, and it's something of a mantra that my wife has lived by ever since.  By embracing the awkwardness, they were able to rise above it.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  We're at the end of February, and a lot of people who are training for big spring races are starting to put in those long, hard miles to achieve their goals.  I am not training for a big race at the moment, but my Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with posts by those who are, and my message to you is this:  Embrace the pain.

Even if you train with others or with a coach, running is ultimately a solitary sport.  Your performance is the only one that matters, and so it's easy to pack it in when things get tough, because no one else is relying on you.  Another runner's success is not dependent on your own success like in the all-or-nothing world of team sports.  But I encourage you again to embrace the pain.

Embrace the cumulative pain.  That exhaustion that you feel after a 70 mile week with a full time job and tending to a family at home.  The mental strain of trying to balance it all appropriately.  The incessant aches of a body being put through the ringer.

Embrace the existential pain.  The crisis of faith that comes with such a ludicrous hobby.  The self doubt and the worry that your time could be better spent.

Embrace the possibility of future pain.  The idea that all you are doing may still not be enough to achieve your goal, and race day may leave you immensely disappointed, should not be enough to deter you from trying in the first place.

Embrace the pain in the small moments.  Every time your alarm clock goes off in the darkest hours of the morning.  Every time you gasp for breath at the end of a 400 meter repeat.  Every time your thighs burn in anguish from a steep hill climb.  Every time you push through the final mile of a long run.  In the heat and humidity.  In the rain.  In the howling wind.  In the ice and snow.

Embrace it.

Because it's easy to forget in the moment that the pain is only temporary, and that it serves a purpose. Invite it in and let it give you strength.  Let it fuel your passion.  You will know that you earned the pain and its subsequent rewards, that even in the absence of a goal achieved, you have built character and strength that will carry you forward in the future and bring you to the next level where all your goals lie.

1 comment:

  1. I love this! There is so much pain involved in race training, but it is temporary and worth every moment!


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