What do you do with pain?

Seems like a silly question – you feel it, duh. But bear with me while I set the context for this question. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why I haven’t qualified for Boston yet (read attempts 1, 2 and 3). Obviously, this is a challenging goal and one that people chase for years. On top of all the hard work for months leading up to race day, there’s often a bit of luck or maybe a day that things “just click.”


But for a lot of people, and a more than normal amount in my freakishly athletic circle, this is something that comes fairly smoothly with some natural speed and a million other pieces that vary person to person. I’m surrounded by people who qualify during their first or second marathon, and they often beat the qualifying time generously. I’ve even coached people who did just that, and while this isn’t to discredit anyone’s effort, it does make me wonder about why I haven’t accomplished a goal that I know I’m fully capable of achieving.

I train at a sub-BQ pace regularly now, I take care of my body, I’m consistent, and I’ve run 8 marathons, learning more and more each one. Yet I’ve fallen short, repeatedly. I believe there’s always more you can build on physically, but more than anything, I think I haven’t hit my goal yet because I have mental blocks that tell me I can’t do this, I can’t maintain this speed, and I need to find a more comfortable pace immediately because god forbid, I feel pain.


I was talking with my coworker/friend/very informal coach about what might be missing from my training and he said something along the lines of “You need to get way more comfortable being uncomfortable.” Sure, I run track every week but how hard do I really push it? I have a ton of long runs under my belt, and even though it’s tough to maintain a solid pace over 15+ miles, I never let it get particularly uncomfortable. So, as I mentioned yesterday, we agreed to do a speed workout together every week to challenge my body in a different way and build the mental toughness that only comes from getting way outside your comfort zone.

Before our first workout together last week, he gave me a pep talk that went something like this: “You have the strength from all those long runs so trust in that and relax. Stay smooth, release your shoulders, keep your elbows in, and don’t panic when it starts to get hard. Welcome the pain. That means you’re doing it right.” I obviously nodded to play it cool while I was silently panicking. I just had to stay close enough and he’d set the pace. The goal was to maintain between 6:45 – 6:55 for 20 minutes.

So off we went around the BC Reservoir. He looked like he was barely jogging while I felt something more like this. He talked the entire time giving me form cues, telling me to relax and that I was capable of this pace. First mile: 6:40. Yikes. He stopped sharing any splits after that, but I just focused in on everything he was saying and not panic when I essentially started to wheeze.

I squeaked out a word or two whenever he asked how I was feeling so he knew I wasn’t actually going to die, but other than that there was zero speaking on my end. Twenty minutes felt like a marathon, but I finished it. He said, “Well, you did that the hard way.” Meaning I ran positive splits with my second mile at 6:50 and third around 7. But hey, holding an average pace of 6:50 for 20 minutes is pretty damn fast for me and most importantly I didn’t quit when the effort intensified.

The biggest takeaway was to relax, welcome the pain, and trust in what you’re capable of. Welcoming pain sounds nuts, and I certainly don’t mean injury pain whatsoever, but it’s that other kind of pain that you know is fleeting. Naturally, my mind immediately connects running lessons to life lessons and this one really struck a chord given life lately and especially everything I witnessed at the Chicago Marathon recently.


At the pre-race dinner, I listened to people share stories of loss and pain with such a positive perspective. I told you about Chris Benyo, a man who ran the Chicago Marathon with his wife year after year. He pushed her wheelchair the last few years after she was diagnosed with ALS. He lost her this summer, but he still ran Chicago, pushing a chair decorated with her favorite things. He shared that it’s ok to feel every emotion, every pain, and move forward only through acceptance. He reminded us that the pain you might feel in a marathon is temporary and we’re capable of so much more than we realize.

That’s been the biggest lesson from the last few months – it’s ok to feel whatever you need to feel. Let your heart hurt. Welcome it. Let it move through you and then you can lift your head up to see things a little more brightly. I’m trying to bring this perspective to my running life and trust that whenever pain comes, I’m capable of dealing with it and things will turn around in time.

P.S. Semi-ironic I’m posting this now because I had to end a long run today from legit Achilles pain. That kind of pain is NOT welcome so send me good healing vibes, please :)

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