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You’re Tougher Than You Think
Our bodies have a simple feedback mechanism when something’s wrong: pain.
We’re all too familiar with pain. A sharp pain here. A dull ache there. Chronic pain that greets us in the morning and tucks us into bed at night. Pain tells us when we’re pushing too hard, when we need to back off. When our fire burns too hot.
But sometimes pain stops us prematurely. Sometimes we’ve got more in the tank. Sometimes that dull ache is nothing more than a dull ache.
Differentiating between pain as a stop sign and pain as a yield sign is paramount to achieving your fittest self.
A quick disclaimer for those who will misconstrue my words. I’m not suggesting ignoring real, tangible pain. I’ve been championing the “listen to your body” training mantra for as long as this blog has been around. When your body tells you something is wrong, something is wrong. When you body tells you time for a break, it’s time for a break.
I’m talking about differentiating between discomfort and pain. Discomfort is part and parcel with the fitness experience. Exercise is a stress on the body. We break down muscle tissue so it grows back bigger and stronger. So we can run faster and farther. So we can leap taller and taller buildings. That comes with some discomfort, perhaps even some pain.
For my 34th birthday last year I decided to run 34 miles in celebration. I could have just opted for a birthday cake with 34 candles, but I felt compelled to do something different.
There was pain.
And I was in fantastic running shape. During the shutdowns of the pandemic there wasn’t much else to do but run and run often. I would regularly run for several hours at a time. I was as ready as I’d ever be to take on a challenge like this.
It was brutal.
There were multiple instances in the final few miles where I had to walk, where I had to stop, where I thought to myself, “I’ve made it farther than I ever have before. This is good enough.”
But I didn’t stop. I kept going. I kept willing my body to move forward, one step at a time, defying logic and reason and sensibility. I got to the finish line an overwhelmed, exhausted mess, tears in my eyes, but I’ve never felt more accomplished in my entire life.
I thought a lot about ultrarunning badass Courtney Dauwalter’s words in those final miles:
“I enjoy that place we get to go to in these ultras, where it hurts really bad. I think that’s pretty cool…I call it the pain cave. It’s the place I want to get to, a place I get to celebrate that I made it there…Our minds are so powerful. This is what I wanted, now I get to do the hard work.”
Pain is an opportunity for us to discover who we are and what we’re capable of. Where we’re forced to look deep inside ourselves and see what looks back.
We humans are resilient creatures, it’s one of the many blessings the universe saw fit to grant us. We’ve lived through ice ages, through the ravages of disease, through great depressions and times so terrible they’re known as “Dark Ages.”
We can survive, even thrive, during the toughest of times and greatest of pains. Life is hard. Life is suffering. But humans have weathered the storm.
Maybe your idea of pushing your limits isn’t running your age on your next birthday. I’m not sure I’d do it again, and I love running as much as life itself.
But I bet you’ve got 10% more.
Every single one of you reading this today is cut from an ancestral cloth that fought saber-toothed tigers, staved off starvation and walked thousands of miles around the globe. That blueprint is inside you, waiting to be unleashed.
Whatever your choose to do, however you choose to stay fit, I bet you can push a little harder, give a little more. You’re tougher than you think.