Pain, Gain and Staying Sane (while Training for a Marathon)

Seattle Rock N Roll Marathon on June 25th. I was able to talk two of my friends into being partners in crime (sadly, one had to drop out because of a business conflict).

My original partner in crime has never run a marathon, so each time we completed a long training run, I got to re-live the excitement of her longest run to date. When we were nearing the end of our 16-miler, she turned to me and said, “My legs really hurt. I’m not sure I like this.” I then responded, “You probably don’t want to hear this, but leg pain on long runs is the norm. So get used to it!” This reminded me of a state of consciousness to which I have grown accustomed – pain is an integral part of running before and during a marathon. It’s a step above and beyond the well-known mantra, No Pain, No Gain. Particularly on long training runs, pain is the norm, whether you gain a lot from the experience or not.

Without a doubt, you’ll experience physical anguish of some sort when training for a marathon, and you’ll have to mentally work through the issues. It might be pain in the shins, quads, hip or feet – but prepare yourself. Because it will happen. And it is important to know your body well enough to differentiate between an injury and the usual aches that creep into the ‘ole bod after pounding the pavement for miles on end.

Last weekend, I ran my 20-miler with my other partner in crime. The early pace was a little fast for me, but I sucked it up and tried to keep up with him. (God forbid I simply say, “Can we please slow down?”) Despite my struggles for most of the way, with about 3-4 miles to go, he was the one who needed to slow down and walk. Don’t get me wrong – I was incredibly tired, too. I was simply anxious to get the run behind me. The way I saw it, the faster I ran, the sooner I got to kick my feet up on the couch and down another awful recovery drink. The first time he walked, I circled back to check on him. After that, however, I was too tired to back track. I knew I had 20 miles in me, but not an inch further! I felt guilty for leaving him behind to deal with the pain on his own. Not to mention, I felt personally responsible for his pain because I talked him into this race. As soon as I finished, I got in my car and tried to track him down. I couldn’t find him (making me feel all the more guilty), so I immediately went home and texted him to say: Please call me as soon as you are finished so I know you are o.k. He calls me an hour later (yes, a whole ‘nother hour to worry) and said he finished only a few minutes behind me. After all my anxiety, his lone comment was: “I’m so excited because I felt so much better than my last long run.” Whew! I wanted to share this story because this is the attitude you have to have when you experience pain. It may not be fun but it could always be worse. So here’s my short-list of how to handle the pain during those long runs.

  • Set your expectations before you ever start to run. Know the pain is coming.
  • Eat some Gu and play some tunes when the pain starts to kick in.
  • Run with someone who encourages you (unlike me, who left my friend in the dust because I was too tired to do anything else).
  • Play mental games to overcome the pain. (e.g., “when I get to that stop light, I am almost home.”) Remember: It is mind over body!
  • Always look on the bright side: You are making progress and doing great. It may hurt, but there’s so much reward for your effort!

Melinda Hinson