When To Say When

May 28, 2008

This whole ITBS thing has had me thinking a lot about training and racing psychology.  When I started working with my current coach, one of my biggest goals was to learn to push through pain more.  I have historically tended towards wimpiness when the pain sets in which has resulted in some slow runs during which I cheer on my competition.  Let the record state, I am an EXTREMELY competitive person, but being uncomfortable on the run has eclipsed even my most competitive races as I have allowed myself to ease up for comfort’s sake.  In January I decided no more.  And anyone who has visited my blog more than a few times has read lots about me pulling myself out of my comfort zone on the run.

I think it would be safe to say that I have had great success with this.  Along with my skilled and very perceptive coach, I have learned how to be a runner and how to make peace with physical discomfort.  HOWEVER, I now have a new condundrum: when to listen to the pain.  Now I have to figure out when enough is enough.  I have to discern when something is run-through pain versus injury pain.  My last six weeks of running hiatus are a direct result of several things.  One of these things was not stopping when an injury arrived on the scene.  There were two runs in particular:

1) I had a run on the track during which I was reduced to tears of pain and frustration and STILL I kept trying for more.  I could not tell my injury apart from my need to be faster and stronger.  I pushed too far and made things worse.

That in itself would be fine if I had learned from the experience and not repeated the mistake several days later:

2) I had a long run with some efforts thrown in.  It was a key run for me, mentally, and I refused to give up long after it was time.  I pushed through discomfort, then through pain, and then even further until I couldn’t walk.  And what did I have at the end?  An incomplete workout an a fully-established case of ITBS.  Was I a stronger person for pushing through?  No.  Was I fitter for pushing through?  No.  In fact, it resulted in weeks and weeks of no running, lots of tears, millions of desperate emails to my coach, and a solid amount of extra stress on my relationship and personal life.  Nice.

When I set out to get tougher on the run this year, I thought swallowing the pain would  be the hardest thing.  Boy was I wrong.  The hardest thing by far is listening to the pain and decoding it.  Is it the type you make piece with or is it your body giving you a clear signal that you need a break?  As athletes, it’s very difficult to admit when we have to step it back a notch.  We don’t want to be weak.  We don’t want to risk losing our fitness gains.  We are stubborn and we ignore the signs.

I have been doing triathlons on and off for more than fifteen years.  Every time I learn something new about myself, I discover something else that I need to learn.  It’s constant, the learning.  Between rest, and recovery, and intensity, and time, and nutrition, and coaching, and weather, and equipment, and mood, and life circumstances, there are so many variables.  I often wonder how will I ever solve the puzzle of being the fastest and the best I can be.  I guess that’s part of the beauty of this sport.  You can learn, and learn, and learn, and there’s still lots to learn.  Which means you always have the potential to be a faster athlete and a better person.

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5 Responses to “When To Say When”

  1. Candace Says:

    You are soooo right. Decoding the pain is the hardest thing to do. When I signed up with ELF this year the one thing I knew about myself as a runner was that I didn’t push myself through the pain. I wussed out when it got uncomfortable because I didn’t want to “get hurt”. She’s helped me work through some of that and really push myself to places I didn’t know I could go. Now with my big A race coming up this weekend, I’m worrying about little aches and pains that I’ve been experiencing for about a week… Nothing like yours that have left me in tears or incapacitated, just little nagging things that I hope and pray can hold off exploding until SUNDAY 🙂 Loved your post as usual. Keep working on that ITB. You’re going to be so strong from all the water running and therapy you’ll be amazed what you can do when you finally get back out there.

  2. darling coach Says:

    “I’m an EXTREMELY competitive person.”

    Ness, yesterday when I hopped out of the shower I shouted I’m the cleanest person in the house!

    No one responded. Know what that means? I WIN!! 😉

  3. finness Says:

    Liz, what time was it? ‘Cause I was probably cleaner.

  4. Jennifer Harrison Says:

    Ness….This is a great post and YOU will beat this thing. I wish I had more constructive feedback for you, but HANG IN THERE….you are STRONG and you will win and beat this thing. 🙂

  5. marit c-l Says:

    Ness – you are wise beyond your years. Yes – there are different levels of pain: the pain associated with a hard workout vs the pain associate with an injury. In the pool – being the super stud swimmer thatyou are – I betcha that’s its easy to discern one from the other. But as a relatively new(er) compeditive runner – that’s a different ball game. The GREAT thing, is now you know, now you’ve learned. And (not that I’m a betting man myself) – but I bet you won’t make the same mistake twice. Oh yeah, and stretching is important, too. 🙂


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