Mindful Perspective, Reinterpreting Pain
During U.S. Olympian Aly Raisman’s gold medal floor routine, NBC commentator Tim Daggett mentioned her unique ability to view the nervous energy associated with such daring gymnastics (something most of us call “pressure” or “anxiety”) into something much more performance enhancing. He called it “excitement”.
What a novel yet extraordinarily simple idea!
Embrace the nervousness, the anxiety, the pressure and transform it into something positive. Use it as a springboard for optimal performance. Face it. Take it. And run with it.
Digging deeper, I know that, for me, most of that pre-race energy comes from knowing the type of pain that will be involved. If you have ever raced a race, I mean, really put yourself out there, leaving nothing behind, then you know the type of pain I am talking about. It’s the type of pain dictated by the central governor, that annoyingly present theoretic portion of the brain that says, “Stop! Are you crazy? This is unnecessary!”
It’s also the type of pain that, when challenged and overridden, leads to bouts of ecstasy. That’s one of the reasons why I love racing. I love pushing myself beyond what I think I can do. Even in failure, I am guaranteed to experience something most people never will, a satisfying feat all by itself.
Overriding the central governor, attempting to accomplish extraordinary goals, I remind myself of Dave Terry’s wisdom as told by Scott Jurek: “Not all pain is significant.”
And just in case you don’t believe that, consider the fact that Jurek won the 2007 Hardrock 100 on a severely sprained ankle, or that Thomas Voeckler’s captivating Stage 10 victory at the 2012 Tour de France — the one that had him making all sorts of uncomfortable faces towards the end — was done despite a bum knee.
I know a thing or two about pain myself. Just look at my face as I crossed the finish line during my current marathon PR. That was a painful race, no doubt. But the pain has long subsided and all that is left is the purest joy I have ever come to know.
Jeff, your reflections are always inspirational to me. I admire your determination & your outlook on enduring pain. Thanks!
August 1, 2012 at 23:56
My pleasure, Kathy! Glad you are able to get something out of it!
August 2, 2012 at 09:56
When we woke up the morning of the Clinton Lake Ultra, my coach/pacer declared, “This is gonna hurt sooo baad!” I use that as my mantra before long races now. Something about extreme athletes – we KNOW we are going to push our body and brain to the limits and beyond, and we know we are going to suffer. And we revel in it.
Alternatively, I often say Running is like drinking … done correctly, by the end you are staggering, delerious, can’t see straight, hurt all over, possibly falling down, probably puking … and the nest morning you say “That was awesome! Let’s do it again next weekend!”
August 2, 2012 at 11:21
Ha! Hilariously true, Kirsten! I will remember that the next time I toe the line.
August 2, 2012 at 12:25
I needed a reminder of this.
There’s a meditation leader referenced in Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness who says that fear is excitement without the breath. I think it’s fascinating the way we like to categorize “fear” without acknowledging its similarity to excitement and anticipation in the way we experience it in the body. We get in our own way a lot of the time.
Great post, Jeff.
August 2, 2012 at 14:51
August 2, 2012 at 20:33
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