All our lives we have been growing up with the fact that pain is something we should avoid. The relationship with pain is then pretty simple: it’s bad. When we feel pain, we immediately stop or in any other way try to escape from it. So, as runners we must be lunatics to be willing to find pain on a regular basis and invite it into our training, right?
This article touches upon the pain you feel in training and why you shouldn’t always stop! The pain of running is as unavoidable as is the benefits. Therefore, the essence of this is that your training shouldn’t always be done in comfort. If you want to improve – you have to move out of the comfort zone and welcome the “pain” into your life.
Pick your pain
It shouldn’t of course go without saying that there is a big gap between learning how to finish your workout strong and actually feeling an injury lurking from behind. It’s necessary to understand that fatigue is an important component of training. Running puts stress on muscles and causes the body to break down and to later repair itself. This is how you get stronger and faster.
To help recognise your pain, we have divided this into “good” and “bad” pain. Below we have tried to explain the difference between good and bad pain and in order to help you make smarter decisions on whether to keep running or to take some time off.
Good vs. bad pain
“Good pain” is the kind of pain you get during a hard session or race, where your body is screaming to stop and that you believe you have to slow down otherwise you can’t finish. Thus, good pain is when you push yourself out of the comfort zone – if you run a little faster than it is used to. For example, hill sprints are typically something that is “painful”, but this actually reflects positive change in the body, because it strengthens the muscles to cope with the increased physical load.
The limbic structure in the brain is responsible for the experience and expression of emotion. This will take over in times of stress and will respond with comfort seeking or distress avoiding responses, such as wanting to stop your workout because this is not comfortable to be doing anymore or to stop your race because you can’t keep your race-pace. It may explain how you rationalise why things might be hard and tough on you. On the other hand, the good pain can also be that you feel euphoric after a run or race and that you experience “runners high”. When we run it is therefore the brain’s chemical messengers that are activated to send the body signals.
“Bad pain” is the persistent burning or sharp stabbing that runners experience when they keep on running or when moving. These kinds of pain could result in injury. In our latest article, we have been writing about how quitters sometimes win. This is a good read if you actually feel the wrong kind of pain during your race or workout. It teaches you to save yourself without losing face. You can also read the inspiring article we did with SAYSKY athlete Kathi, who was injured and fought her way back to running.
Purposely hurting yourself over and over?
Runners who have been racing a marathon can maybe agree with that the toughest part of a marathon is the 30-38 kilometers stretch. Those kilometers aren’t necessarily tougher than the first or second kilometer, be the mental wall you run into, is pretty tough.
To overcome these, you must learn how to increase your tolerance of discomfort. This can be done in several ways, but it all comes down to building mental toughness and thereby changing your relationship to discomfort.
Let it go – tolerate discomfort
By far, we have discovered that the good pain is something that we experience in our heads and that our brain signals to us that we should stop. Experiencing some pain and soreness during your workout is normal. It’s how you perceive it that will change your entire workout.
So, whenever it becomes tough in a workout, try not to engage with these emotions or thoughts. Try to observe them, let them go and accept the “pain”. Another way to cope with pain, is to break down your workout into manageable chunks. Instead of grapping the whole distance in your head, just take one rep or km at the time. Then you will immediately relive the pressure. Tell yourself you only have to do the next rep and then you can stop if you want. You will experience that more often than not, you will actually be able to finish the entire workout without having to stop, and that it actually felt easier when you finished the workout.
Another good way to cope with pain is to focus on your goals and the reason why you are running. Tell yourself that you are working this hard because you want to achieve that specific goal or that specific time and connect that with positive thoughts and feelings. Creating positive affirmations to yourself will help ease the pain.
On our website we have made numerous guides that you might find inspiration in reading. We have been writing guides on everything from how to train for a fast 5k or marathon, to our where-to-run series.