Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Two for Tuesday - Pain and Suffering

So what is a little pain and suffering during your triathlon training or racing? We have all experienced the dark side of triathlon. The endless yards and miles that seem to never end. The muscle cramps that pop out of nowhere due to dehydration or poor nutrition. How about that strained muscle when we tried to squeeze out one more interval during training? Or that insidious IT Band that protests about the overtraining with pins and needles.

In The Triathlete's Guide to Mental Training there is a chapter about Pain. The authors help to define pain, suffering and discomfort, yes I know I have thrown in a third term on TfT....deal with it, I'm trying to make a point.

Everyone has a different perception of what pain is and their threshold to said pain is just as unique. But I liked the definitions they use in this chapter because I feel they hold merit.

What are the differences between pain, suffering and discomfort? Pain is a general term to express the physical feeling we have and how we deal with it. The fear of pain may prevent us from doing that extra interval or pushing our legs to run 5 seconds faster. We know it will hurt and be painful all the way through to the end.

But are we suffering or experiencing discomfort? Pain is the common factor between the two. The differences lie in how we deal with the pain mentally. In the book the authors differentiate suffering and discomfort the following way.

Some people suffering through pain caused by a life threatening disease or physical ailment that may be severe, long lasting, life threatening and possibly not under their control. A cancer patient puking their guts out after chemo knowing there are more treatments to come. The police officer run over during a routine traffic stop that now has to learn to walk again because his leg and hip were crushed. These people SUFFER.

As triathletes, or athletes in general, we place our bodies in uncomfortable situations. We accept the discomfort of training and racing. But we really never suffer. We can control the discomfort. We can slow down, walk, or even stop. We can see the light at the end of the 8th track interval. We can see the top of the incline and are glad to have a downhill on the other side. We know that the finish line is the end of this particular race and the immediate pain and discomfort will stop.

I use this comparison during my training. I'm on the bike doing big gear pushes. I'm into the wind. It's cold out. My legs are burning with lactic acid. I am not comfortable. I can stop. The "pain" will go away. But I don't stop. As long as I am not doing anything to cause an injury I keep moving forward. I remember the story of Blazeman, the ALS Warrior Poet as he was featured during Kona 2005. He never gave up. I think of my friend Tina who is battling breast cancer. She has not given up. I am not suffering like they do. I am simply uncomfortable, so I keep moving forward and pursue my IM goals.

To make sure I remember what I am doing I am raising money through the Janus Charity Challenge. Yes you will hear more about that later. My charity is the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. I think of the many women that have had to suffer through their cancer. Some have won, some have lost. I train and race Ironman for them

My favorite inspirational quote is from Steve Prefontaine.

"To give less than your best is to sacrifice the gift"

I have an athletic gift that permits me to train and race triathlons, this year an Ironman. I am not going to give less than my best because I am experiencing a little discomfort. I will move forward in memory and honor of those that suffer.

Have you given your best today? Have you sacrificed your gift?

Do your best, expose your gift....Game On.


TriSaraTops said...

Wonderful post, TriEric! I needed this today.

Shall I see you at the pool Wednesday or Thursday? Gots a new suit and I'm sooooo pumped to wear it. Perhaps it will make me faster. :)

E-Speed said...

One of my favorite quotes also.

It does help to have a real reason to be out there and in discomfort.

Glad you are raising money for a good cause while you train!

qcmier said...

Thanks for your thoughts. Yeah we're lucky we only have pain and discomfort and not pain and suffering.

trifrog said...

I wish I could remember where I read something recently about the mental pain threshold. It was something to the effect that we once thought that muscle failure above anaerobic threshold was based on some biochemical reaction actually shutting down the fibers. This new article seemed to indicate that it might only be our perception that's what is going to happen because of the pain telling us so. That depending on your threshold, you can conceivably go harder or longer as long as you are willing to experience the pain, that you are not going to actually reach the point of shutting fibers down or damaging them. Interesting thoughts 'cuz I no longer like pain the way I used to ;)

Yes, its true and I count it a joy that the only pain I experience on a regular basis is the self-inflicted training kind which I can change or stop any time I wish - and I wish to do that often. Which is what makes the fact that others continue on through uncontrollable pain even more amazing and inspiring.

Keep your game on, Eric, and you will reach your goals and win on both counts - completing IM and raising funds for Komen.

Bolder said...

quite possibly your best post evah!

thanks for sharing.