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The Tougher We Get, The __________ We Run
By Coach Roy Benson
Practice some Do It Yourself writing. Go ahead and fill in the rest of the title. Pick what you think happens as we learn how to push ourselves through the fatigue and pain barriers. You can even supply multiple answers if you choose.
But first, let me share a story about one of my closest friends from way back at the beginning of the running revolution in the early ‘70s. I was coaching over in Gainesville at UF in those days, just as the running boom started attracting Adult-Onset Athletes.
Our Florida Track Club star, Frank Shorter, had just won the gold medal in the marathon at the ’72 Munich Olympics. Thanks to that inspiration and with the jogging boom under way, those with undiscovered natural running ability found themselves attracted to competitive road racing. As an old broken-down half-miler myself, I, too, was learning the joys of slowing down and going longer. As many of us joined together for those weekly 20-mile long runs, the bonds of friendship were formed so strongly that for three of us, they have lasted to this day.
Luckily, the three of us are not only still around, but still working hard at staying in great shape. One, however, just dodged the speeding bullet of loose artery plaque when a physical this past January revealed catastrophically high blood pressure readings. Within days, his chest was sawed open and bypass surgery was performed on his two major descending coronary arteries. One was 70% blocked and the other was 90% blocked. In hindsight, he admits to ignoring two mini-episodes of what was probably the acute pain of angina at the start of workouts in the weeks before the discovery of the dangerously high BP. He preferred to attribute them to post-weightlifting soreness.
Now here’s the improbable part of his story: last August this prime example of an Senior Athlete (his marathon PR of2:57 at age 41 was set at Boston) finished 7th in his 75-79 age group at the NATIONAL Sprint Triathlon Championships in Milwaukee, Wis. This feat earned him a spot at the WORLD Championships this coming September in Chicago. All that with a very advanced case of hidden heart disease! Yes, it is obvious that all these years of training certainly enabled his cardiac circulatory system to develop some impressive co-lateral blood vessels that basically spared him from The Big One.
Yes, he is lucky. It’s now April and he has recovered from surgery. He’s been through supervised cardiac rehab. He has just completed his low-intensity reconditioning work. Next month his coach will have him start his training to prepare for those World Triathlon Championships in Chicago.
But that is not the real point of this article. He, like so many of us athletically tough adults, was almost capable of a fatal case of Athletic-0nset Stupidity.
My friends, I think it is important to learn the purpose of acute pain and its difference from fatigue pain. It is crucial that as tough runners we develop the ability to overcome the “obtuse” pain of fatigue. Fatigue pain is not sharp and stabbing and searing. It is not like the pain you feel when you trip and face plant on concrete or rough asphalt and grind the skin off your hands, elbows and knees. Fatigue pain is whole-body tiredness and lead legs and out of energy and/or out of breath total feeling of exhaustion at the end of a race or hard long run, or at the end of each repeat of a set of high intensity intervals. The obtuse pain of fatigue for runners is an accumulation of the symptoms that signal us to slow down or stop. Think of fatigue as healthy pain. It keeps us from running ourselves to death. It is Mother Nature’s yellow slow-down and red stop signs.
Acute pain is diametrically different. It is a symptom of something suddenly going wrong. It can be a pulled muscle or a ruptured tendon or a stress fracture. One second you are fine; the next you’re hurt, injured, kaput, done, finished. You’ve just had a wreck. You crashed your little toe into the door frame in the middle of the night in the dark on the way to the toilet. The Doc tells you that it is a “piss” fracture, but you don’t think it is too funny. Acute injuries hurt like “holy s…” when you touch the injured area. These are pains that we do NOT run through.
So I’m saying that we need to work just as much on our Mentally Wiser Quotient as on our Mentally Tougher Quotient. We must be smarter and know that both acute and obtuse pain can be telling us, “Enuf! You need to stop denying the pain on each step.” Or, “Okay! You need to back off and stop trying to keep up with a training partner’s faster pace on a hot and humid day.“
We need to aspire to higher MWQ’s, not just on improving our MTQ’s. Let’s not just train harder. Let’s also train smarter, my friends. We need as many of us out there keeping an eye on each other as possible. I think that being smart and alive trumps being tough and __________. Go ahead and finish that sentence, too.