At this very moment, I’m stuck in Edinburgh, as my train has been cancelled. So I did what any sane girl would do: re-camped to the nearest bar and got comfortable with a hamburger and a glass of wine. What else am I to do for the next two hours?
I read this article today about Scott Jurek and how he handles pain. Well, actually it’s publicising his new book, but the bit that interested me was how he handled the toughest of the tough during his races.
In case you’re not familiar with Mr Jurek, he’s a bad ass in the world of ultra-marathons: and that’s a world that’s full of bad-asses to begin with. This is a guy who completes races which last 24 hours, and wins. He puts a lot of it down to his vegan diet (he would not approve of my current coping mechanisms).
In this article, he does something that is very reassuring: he admits that he, on occasion, struggles with running too. In fact, he says that people almost expect that he doesn’t feel the pain as much because of his achievements, when he is just like everyone else.
What I like about what he says about pain is this: he walks towards it rather than pretending it’s not there:
When I ran my PB in Run to the Beat in September, I distinctly remember that every time I checked my watch, and saw I was on target, I was elated for about a minute. This was followed by about 5 minutes of ‘I can’t believe I have to keep this pace up, my legs/side/arms/head aches’. Those 5 minutes were really tough: I was suffering, and knew I couldn’t go easy if I wanted to get my goal time. But, once I’d acknowledged what I was feeling, it wasn’t long before my mind had moved on and I was distracted by something else.
I have also had runs where I spend so much energy trying to distract myself from the pain I’m feeling that I think it exhausts me more than the pain itself! You choose what you spend your energy on, and I reckon it’s worth listening to Scott when he says to acknowledge what’s happening, stay in the moment, and you’ll move on. Not doing so can be even more tiresome, and a huge waste of precious energy. Like worrying about exam results after you’ve taken the exam.
Personally, I can’t imagine running until I hallucinate, or until I have vomit running out of my nostrils, and I don’t intend to. Well done Scott, for breaking those barriers. Knock yourself out. But it’s nice to know that even the toughest ultra-marathon runner of them all still faces the challenge we all face: what do we do when the going gets tough? We should acknowledge the pain, feel it, and move on.
And I think his most useful advice is this: ‘try to keep it fun’ (FYI, Scott, if you’re reading this – I will never find hallucinations or vomit fun).