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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Embrace the Pain

As I’ve written about before pain can take a variety of forms and affect us in a variety of ways in life. It can fuel our desire to grow & change, it can weigh us down & hold us captive, it can be physical or emotional. Sometimes the latter is the hardest to bear and also takes the longest to fade.
Throughout our lives we’re taught to fear pain, that it’s bad. So many of us spent our entire lives actively avoiding pain. We actively avoid feeling anything. There are a variety of strategies employed to do this, from not moving, to eating & drinking to the point of not feeling. However through my recent experiences I have learnt this is not an effective way of dealing with it. Because you can distract yourself all you want but whatever it is that causes the pain ain’t going anywhere until you deal with it.  Even something simple as a stone in your shoe is not going to get better until you actively deal with the core issue.
Sometimes there is nothing you can do about the source of the pain to change the situation. So the steps you need to take are about getting through the hard stuff, taking care of yourself so the damage is minimalised, and using the experience to become stronger, and sometimes wiser. I don’t have a miracle cure for this sort of pain, and I still find it hard to manage my own some days.  But I know I am wiser for it and it is making me stronger.
I have come to love the pain associated with CrossFit. Both the physical & the mental pain. Because yes it challenges me emotionally & mentally as much as it does physically. If not more so. CrossFitter's wear their ‘war wounds’ like badges of honour. Comparing bruises, ripped hands and how sore everything else is. What other group high fives someone for throwing up during or post a WOD? There’s no sympathy or a ‘there there’, it’s about recognising someone has truly gone all out. And that’s why we love this sport.
I am learning now through my sessions with both James my CrossFit coach and also Tash my run coach about pushing through a little further than I think I can go before I stop or rest. For example when doing a WOD with a lot of reps I usually find it comfortable to just break them up into sets of 10. I’m still working hard, and I give those 10 everything. But James pushed me the other night to go extra reps before I take that break, so doing 11 or 12 rather than 10. He said that I’ve always got those extra reps in me, and mentally the next set is a lot smaller to consider.  It’s a slightly different way of thinking and learning to switch off when my ‘traditional’ feelings of ‘it hurts’ or ‘I’m tired, time to rest’ kick in. It was really hard to keep myself going and I felt every single one of those additional reps, but each time I got through the requirement before I rested.
Earlier this year I worked with my then coach Sam, on learning to take shorter rest breaks, rather than wandering around for chalk & water etc, just taking 2 or 3 breaths than back on the bar. Don’t think about it just pick it up. So I had begun to change my thinking and was able to get through workout’s a lot better. Rarely now in a WOD do I grab a drink. Unless of course it’s a long 30min+ effort.  I learnt during that time I had a much better work capacity than I thought and could push through even when I felt like stopping.
Yesterday in my run session I was again given a lesson in being able to push through when at first you think the task is beyond you.  It was my first run for a couple of weeks and to be honest I was nervous about doing it. Obviously not knowing what we would be doing I wasn’t sure how much ‘condition’ I had lost. I kinda felt like I was starting again.  I’m lucky I have a great coach who already anticipated how I might be feeling so we just set out on a steady run to get going. At the 3k point we stopped for a quick breath and she explained the rest of the run.
Note I am pretty impressed with myself in that I can cover 3k these days and not be too distressed by the end of it. Not all that long ago 400m used to be the end of me. Anyway I digress……..
I knew we had to make the return 3k and Tash explained for the first km we would be breaking it up into 10sec bursts of speed followed by 10sec slower jog, a fartlek style run. Immediately my head kicked in and when ‘Whoa, hold back there that is waaaay to far to sustain that’. I didn’t say anything as when I train with my coaches I am pretty compliant and do as I am told. So I pushed that thought out of my head and simply allowed myself to concentrate on listening to Tash’s count & instruction on when to go and when to ease. It was hard. But I kept up and pushed as much as I could in each burst.  Pretty soon we knocked over that km. Next km was 20sec burst, 20sec walk. Again the brain melted a little but again I just forced myself to concentrate on just that current segment and not think about what was ahead. Again got through the km.  The last km was going to be the most challenging as it was a combination of both 10s and 20s bursts and rests. I really had to pay attention to Tash’s count & instructions. A couple of times I really legged it in a burst thinking there would be an easing shortly but was caught out with a double effort. We had about 150m to go when Tash said to run hard to the finish. That was a hard challenge. But once again I got there and finished it.
That run was quite significant as it was the longest one I have done for over a year, a PB time for the first 3k and finishing off with the hard fartlek intervals. Had you told me at the start of the day I would have done all that I would have laughed you away. Once again it was a lesson in a) understanding my true work capacity & b) switching focus from it hurts, to getting it done.
On the path to becoming better within myself I realise that I have to embrace the pain, physical or emotional, and use it to push & grow. Channel that feeling into every rep, into everything I do to make it better, to make me better. Pain is not something to fear or ignore, allowing myself to experience it and push through it means that I am alive and in control. No longer watching life slide by from the sidelines.
So yeah, I may get a little banged up, some bruises, lose some skin or from time to time my lunch.  I’ll take some hits & get knocked on my butt. But that’s ok, it means I have done all I can in that moment. I wear them with pride because I know next time I’m that little bit stronger than I was the day before.
And for the pain that doesn’t just ease when my muscles have healed, for the pain that I can’t magically make disappear or wish had never happened? Well just like I did when my brain had a meltdown thinking of the run, I am going to learn to switch to thinking of it differently. To use it in a way that pushes me forward and not paralyses me. Not allow it to keep sitting me on my arse when something crops up.
I can’t control what happened, I can’t control the actions of others.  But I can control how I view it and use it.
I choose to embrace my pain, whatever form it takes. It’s my building block to being a better me.

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