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Crashing The Pain Barrier

I want all of you runners who like to race and all of you coaches out there reading this to try to answer this question. Why do you train? Think about your answer. Why do you train? Every time I ask somebody this I get all kinds of answers. Most answers are short but some are long, bordering on Ph.D. dissertations. Some answers to the question are philosophical, while others border on mysticism and are even religious in nature. However, for all of you racers out there and all of you coaches of racers, the answer to why you train boils down to five words: TO DEAL WITH THE PAIN, period! That is it in a nutshell. Any other words you may want to add to the answer are just extra megatons to make the rubble bounce.

When you research the running literature, there are not a whole lot of comments written about the pain one feels during racing. Maybe that is because the pain is so common and so universal its just accepted and understood, and everybody gets on with their business of running.

However, one thing is certain, you cannot accomplish the goals you set for yourself, you cannot turn your dreams into action until you learn to accept the pain in racing.

It is not the fear of losing that causes a well prepared runner to choke. It is the fear, the dread, of what he/she knows he/she is going to have to put their body through in order to race well. The fear of pain is the subconscious saboteur of good performances.

It is human nature to treat pain as something to avoid. But in distance running racing how do you beat another runner with the same level of talent as you? Here is comes folks! By enduring the pain just one moment longer. That's all. By enduring the pain one moment longer, you break contact and 99% of the time you are on your way to crossing the finish ahead of your rival.

The pain that comes on in a race by most runners is perceived with dread, doom, gloom and fear. Rightfully so, because (no shock here) pain is unpleasant. The pain in a distance race revolves around supplying oxygen for energy production. The faster you go, the more energy you need. It takes oxygen to produce this energy. When your body cannot keep up with your demand for oxygen - aerobic energy production, it switches to anaerobic energy production which produces as a byproduct lactic acid. When this happens, you better be close to the finish, because it won't be long before you have to slow down. The pain in a race starts mild, goes to moderate, to severe and eventually reaches unendurable. The more you hold your pace while feeling sever and unendurable pain, the better you become at tolerating it for future races.

What is the pain we feel in race? Let's try to get more exact and specific so we can understand and deal with the inevitable.

The first type of pain we feel in a race is muscle weakness pain. This happens when we are not in condition for the effort we are trying to do. There is nothing one can do about this pain except to understand its going to be a long day and come back next time in better shape, better prepared or more rested; depending on whatever caused your muscle weakness - under training or under resting (over training).

The following pains are interconnected. They will be separated for explanation purposes but they are not separate at the time you are being subject to them.

Once again, when your body, particularly muscle cells, are demanding more oxygen for energy production than you can supply, they switch to energy production without oxygen that which gives off lactic acid as a byproduct. This accumulation causes fatigue and a rapid approach to exhaustion. Because the more lactic acid builds up, the harder the muscles find it to continue working. Eventually, you will stagger. Try to plan the staggering (tying up) to happen right at the finish. A half mile from the finish, and you don't need me to point this out, is extremely bad news and is not conducive to fast times.

Now comes the discussion on what I find to be the worst pain in racing; Respiratory Distress Pain. Once again, this pain is related to the demand for oxygen. But it is the breathing muscles being forced to work in an absence or decrease of oxygen. When your diaphragm muscle and intercostal chest muscles are working at their flat out maximum and they aren't getting enough oxygen, the pain is intolerable and unmerciful. This is the pain where your brain starts looking for an excuse to quit, to drop out. This is when your body begs you to slow down in order to stop the pain. This is the pain every runner dreads and fears. There are only two things to do about it; slow down or endure. This is the pain that separates great performances from average or poor performances. Because the longer from the finish line you are willing to tolerate respiratory distress without slowing down, (no surprise here) the faster you are going to time.

The last type of pain is total energy deprivation with muscle damage pain. Thank God this only happens in the longer races. For this is not a burning intense acute pain like respiratory distress pain. But a slow roast on an open barbecue pit.

Preparing to deal with the pain. The number one way to deal with what is going to eventually happen is to totally revamp your attitude and thinking concerning racing pain. You are what you think. If your thoughts are of fear, dread, doom and gloom, you significantly reduce your chance of running with the pain for any significant amount of time. Therefore you run slower to put the pain off. Notable times and achievements involve notable individuals who took chances and went a little berserk in a race, such as starting their drive from a mile out in a 5K instead of playing it safe and waiting until the finish. However, don't be a fool and run an impossible pace that is going to exhaust you prematurely. Calculated pace risks and gambling is what I find to be half the fun in racing. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn't, but what's the worst thing that could happen? You run a little slower. You'll be a better and smarter racer the next time out.

The number two way to deal with the pain is constant and frequent application of race pain simulation. What this means is you should make yourself hurt in practice every time your legs are fresh. Specifics details on how to do this are explained in my "Power Stroke" article and my "4RT" article.

Finally, this is an opinion of mine that is going to give me a lot of flak. There is no such thing as peaking. I'll repeat the blasphemous statement - There is no such thing as peaking. Time to explain. All peaking really is, is that given race day, you are prepared, fresh and rested. You have made up your mind. Notice the operative word here folks, Mind! You have made up your mind to endure the stress, fatigue, and pain just a few moments earlier and for a few moments longer than you have ever done before. That's what training and racing is all about! Therefore, stop worrying about the pain. Stop all of your self-defeating fears of the pain. Embrace the pain. Relish the pain. The pain of racing builds character and is what bonds all of us runners together like veterans of combat - the hardship we have all shared; running a hard race!