Monday, 10 February 2014

Feel The Pain And Do It Anyway

Running a marathon is painful.

With enough training - if you are fit enough - jogging a marathon doesn’t have to be painful.

Walking 26.2 miles, if you have the time, doesn’t have to be too arduous at all.

But “running” a marathon is painful, pushing yourself to complete it as quickly as you can will hurt. I’ve run six marathons and at the end of each one I find myself quoting Apollo Creed at the end of the first Rocky film “There ain’t gonna be no rematch”. I always think I will never be able to endure that kind of pain again, nor want to!

But recently I discovered it is how we deal with pain that makes the difference between great Olympic endurance athletes and normal civilians like you and me.

In a classic 1981 British Medical Journal study they discovered three important facts that I think teach us something relevant not just for marathon running but in all walks of life.

Fact 1: Pain Threshold of elite athletes is the same as recreational athletes and is even the same as most non-athletes. That means the point you start to “feel pain” is the same for all of us.

Fact 2. Pain Endurance is vastly different for athletes compared to recreational athletes, who in turn are vastly different than ordinary people. This means elite athletes can endure more pain for longer. They are still feeling the pain the same way mere mortals but they can take it for more time.

Fact 3. Pain Endurance Changes Over Time. At the start of a season the amount of pain an elite athlete can endure when s/he hasn’t been training is considerably less than s/he can endure at the height of the season when they are at their best.

I find the first two facts fascinating. It means that it is not the ability not to feel pain that achieves greatness but the ability to suffer for longer. In the Rocky film, Rocky and Apollo Creed felt pain from the first time they were punched, it was the ability to keep on going punch after punch that made the fictional boxers amazing.

But it is the third fact that I take the most inspiration from. We are all able to increase the amount of pain we can withstand with training. We can all achieve greatness, or at least be better than we are today.

I think this is true not just in running marathons, fictional boxing matches and all endurance events, but in everything we do.

Rarely are the best people at my work the cleverest ones, or the ones with the best ideas. The best people are the ones who can endure more. The ones who can go longer. The ones who when you give them the impossible marathon-esq task just put it on their shoulders and keep on going.

So next time I am out running or doing a job that I think is just too big and want to give up I’ll try and remember the marathon runners and the people t work I admire the most. They too would be suffering the same as me but all I’ve got to do is endure.

(The picture today is of Dorando Pietri - in pain - who famously collapsed in the last 400 meters of the 1908 Olympics Marathon and created one of the most iconic moments in modern marathon history)

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