mundane adventures in running
Pain is part of the life of the runner. Not injury, pain. Pain needn’t mean suffering, pain can be your friend.
The dull ache of lactate acid filled legs, the delayed onset muscle fatigue after a long run is a gratifying pain. One can slip into the heavy legged throbbing of post long run like slipping into a hot bath. With this pain comes the satisfaction of knowing you’ve worked hard, that you’ve pushed yourself, that you’re a step closer to a superhuman resting heartbeat, that your muscles are more conditioned, that they’ll look after you better, fire better, support you better in the next run. Without a trace of masochism, this pain is to be enjoyed. It is a warm, comfortable, rheumy pain; a pain to be worn like a favourite old cardigan; a pain to be drunk like cocoa and eaten like a nursery supper. I yearn to ache, I run to ache: I want this familiar friend to fill my muscles, to beat in my body of an evening as a drift off to sleep.
Chaffed thighs, bleeding nipples, red, raw armpits are aides memoires for moments of heroism. The itch and pain of sensitive skin. Walking bow legged, pigeon toed to keep the weight off a blister and the denim away from soft, sensitive, rejuvenating skin. As your body hurts and you compensate, you remember your achievement; you remember how the chafing started at kilometre 15 and how you pushed through, you remember the salty sweat stinging as the rub grew into a chafe grew into a graze, you remember the mud at kilometre 20 that swamped you shoe, and left you trenchfooted, with soft skin clamouring to be blistered. You remember accelerating, pushing further, faster, you remember overcoming and prevailing. After the event, as you walk amongst crowds of people, ordinary people, these injuries are your secret badges of elevation, the marks which set you aside from the others. Each acts as a cilice, a self inflicted penance, a devotion to the body as a machine.
Worse: as you try to climb to greater heights, as you run faster, steeper, longer, as you experiment and try to perfect form, pain helps you. When calves cramp, arches ache, when quads are swollen and concrete hard to the touch, pain is there for you. It is more than a messenger, it’s a stern, friendly impediment: an absolute directive to stop. When your legs ache so much you can’t run, you can’t go downstairs, you can’t even walk fast, then the pain is helping you recover. Pain is the friend that takes away your car keys when you are drunk, the friend that talks you down from revenge texts, the friend who abides as you get back on an even keel.
We need a new name for this. Pain makes you think of suffering, and this is different. This is something to revel in, something to respect and something to be grateful for. It’s not something we need to fear, or something we need to avoid: pain can be a thing to embrace and enjoy. Understand it, make friends with it and let it help you get more out of your body and out of your life.