For obvious reasons, pain is associated with suffering and thereby gains perhaps an unfair negative image. Let me preface this by saying any pain associated with injury or illness is a concern and should never be ignored. Induced pain, however, is something else completely. As an endurance athlete, dealing with pain is par for the course. Induced suffering is a way of life. As the old saying goes; why am I hitting myself with this hammer? Because it feels so good when I stop. For us, the burn in the legs, the ache in the shoulders, the fire in the lungs is that hammer. And we know that when we stop, we are better people for it.
When I first got into the sport, I was a borderline alcoholic who smoked a pack a day. Just like that, I quit smoking. It took me longer to stop drinking. I never made a conscious decision to stop, I just couldn’t handle the hangovers any more. The relevance of this is simple: Self-induced pain, or pain for a purpose is tolerable, pain for no reason whatsoever simply cannot do. It took me a while to realize this, and it made me a better athlete for it – the pain, the hurt will eventually stop – and we will be better on the other side. We also have the option to make this self-induced pain stop at our choosing, but I doubt that once considered from all aspects, not many long course athletes will want to stop – unlike a hangover.
However, in my humble opinion, physical pain is only one side of the coin. Yes, it is a massive part of success in endurance events, but it isn’t the whole story. Pain can be felt in other aspects of life. Waking up at 4am after 4 hours sleep when it is bucketing down outside, or waving goodbye to your partner knowing you won’t see them for another 5 weeks is just as painful as any trainer or sprint set that I have ever done. The mental anguish felt by athletes and families is astonishing, but it quickly becomes adapted to as we evolve to facilitate the hardships of family life, professional life and an athletic life all rolled into one.
So it’s prudent to consider what the average age grouper has to go through to get themselves just to the start line. The sacrifices are enormous, not just by them but indeed their entire support network – family, friends, and colleagues. The pain is felt by the group, not just the individual. However, when that athlete crosses the finish line, everyone crosses it with them.
So next time you are about to hit snooze on the alarm and bomb out of another set, or when your legs, lungs and shoulders are about to catch fire, or when you feel like you simply can’t take one more step – take a look at yourself, assess your situation, and think about what you are striving to achieve. Because if it were easy, everyone would do it.
Love the pain.
Ben Shepherd - Ambassador