No idea why I am thinking about this now. I was in a group conversation several months back that started out about how drugs have hurt people and I started to contribute to the discussion with a spin on dealing with reality. I put it in terms of pain management. I realized I was going to start talking about my sister who had drug issues and has now passed away and so I sort of clammed up and withdrew my contribution to the discussion because I wasn’t drunk enough to open up and talk about it. I guess because I left the thought open ended, it has stayed with me and I want to close it. Not the thoughts about my sister but the notion of dealing with pain. This is a running blog.
I’m as big a whiny wimp as anyone – trust me. But I’m good with pain. To a degree. I’m not referring to the levels of pain associated with torture and such. I’m talking about pain that is there to reinforce that fact that you are alive. Pain is the perfect feedback loop on your running. Pain and fatigue establish a barrier that you can actually feel to understand your pace in a run or intensity of training. If you’re not sore after a workout, you should understand you are maintaining a plateau more than improving. And you couldn’t ask for a more clear signal than pain in a race to monitor your progress.
I think this thought came to me because I’m planning to run a couple of 5Ks this Saturday and I’m thinking of pushing them hard. I haven’t run a 5K road race in over 20 years and I’m curious if I can handle a hard pace for 20 minutes. Clearly I’m used to running a pace that I know I can maintain over one to four hours. Much longer on some of my high altitude hikes. But I’m not going to run that slow for 3 miles!
Working against me is experience. I don’t have any recent experience at running faster. I haven’t trained for a 5K. But I think I know the tricks because I do have knowledge from past experience. I can’t start out so fast that I immediately go into oxygen debt. I’ll know I’m in oxygen debt by the heavy pain that consumes my legs. And it’s possible that despite knowing better to start out too fast, I might anyway. The pain will be my signal to slow down. You can recover from oxygen debt. The human body is nothing if not anti-fragile. It learns from experience and recovers from sickness as well as workouts – sometimes even with future immunity. You can recover more effectively from the build-up of lactic acid the quicker you notice it occurring. So if I’m overly excited and launch off the starting line like a rocket, I’ll slow down. But I’ll monitor the pain and when I feel it subside I’ll begin to push myself again.
It will be much more efficient overall to warm up with a slow pace and gradually increase my speed, but in either case it’s a matter of being tuned in to the pain feedback. Again, this isn’t tortuous pain. It’s manageable. And it’s a tool. It’s fair for any coach to say it’s mental because at this level it really is. Like the line in the movie The Matrix, “There is no spoon.” Low-level pain can pass for numbness with the right focus. If I listen carefully to my body, I’ll be able to maintain a pace that is just below the threshold of oxygen debt. I think I can maybe do this for a 5K based on my ability to do it in a marathon. At least I hope so because I’m fixin’ to run the Colder Boulder 5K and the Prospect Rudolph Dash 5K this Saturday. I want to run well and it’s too late to start training for speed now.