PAIN IN STRIDE

There is no such thing as a perfect run.

Or at least for us amateur runners (or for myself?).

There is always the thigh muscle that tenses up as you hit the 7th kilometer, the bad back that never manifested itself before, the slightly different way of tying the shoelace that you finally realize at kilometer number 6. No matter how hard you trained, how many pounds you’ve lost, or how correctly you’ve eaten (or not eaten), there’s always something.

As Haruki Murakami said in his book about being both runner and novelist, the only hard and fast rule about running a marathon is that you’ll never really know what you’re up against – your body condition, and how you’ll overcome them until you finally hit the road.

But we still try to train as best as we can, if only to approximate the conditions that we will face come race day. We approximate the number of hours, the distance, and possibly, even the time of day. I used to run 5 kilometers at 30 minutes as preparation runs. When the day of the 10k race neared, I ran 7k at around 45 minutes.

Then I started to hit a wall in my 10k time. I never got to cut it down to a duration I could be proud of. I became stagnant. I asked around, and my running friends told me that I should hike my running time and distance to at least an hour, if only to allow my body to get used to the idea of running for that long. My mistake was in thinking that even if I run shorter durations, my body could suddenly adjust come race day and use the spare energy I didn’t use in training. That actually worked for the first few 10k races – until, as I said, I hit a wall.

Murakami also mentioned this – so I have to add him to the people who gave me advice. Tell your body how long you intend to run. Let your body get used to it. Come race day, it will follow you.

So I began running for longer periods of time. From my initial 3o minute runs, I hiked it gradually to 45s, then I finally did a training run for an hour. Almost like the duration of an actual average 10k race.

This morning was my first 1 hour training jog. I felt like I could run all day (sort of ). However, nearing the 50 minute mark, I felt a familiar pain on my left thigh. I knew it the moment I felt it, as the same pain that appeared during my 10k race days. That was when I finally understood not only in mind but deep in my gut what my friends and Murakami was on to. You have to simulate the running time. You have to make your body understand what it will go through.

You have to simulate the pain. You have to learn how to run with the pain.

Come race day, you’ll never know what to expect, really. There might be a stupid, seemingly-insignificant way that I tied my shoelaces, with its repercussions manifesting themselves in the latter minutes. There might be a sudden wrong step that will shock my entire body.  Different pains will come. And I have to be ready to keep them in stride.

That’s probably what life is about at times, too. We will never be able to manage everything that comes our way. We’ll never really know what will happen with our work, our family, our business. Some stupid thing can start a war (as stupid things have done many times before). All we can really do is to brace ourselves, and train to take the pain in stride. We have to learn to run with our pains.

So after I felt the familiar pain this morning, I became keenly aware of the sensations in my thigh, approximating how this would actually feel come race day. Then  I imagined how I could possibly respond to this. I told myself that all I could really do, is to keep taking the next fucking step.

Come my next run, I shall not be as naive to think I could run it perfectly. But I could tell the road, that my body is ready for whatever pain it will bring. And that I will be confident that I could run with it.

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