Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Different Kind of Pain

I had gone through so much just to get into the kind of shape where I could 'complete' 2-4 miles on a regular basis. But, I was venturing into uncharted territory as my team's first 5K race of the season rapidly approached. I had no idea what a 5K looked like or felt like. Ignorance and naivete can be wonderful things.

I had played lengthy tennis matches finding myself dehydrated and cramping by match point. I had battled through soccer games that went into overtime and left me exhausted. But, the aforementioned activities always included some kind of break, no matter how brief. Typically, there were many breaks-halftime, a ball would go out of bounds, or you'd change sides of the field/court. There was always an opportunity to catch your breath.

One of the toughest things I learned during the crucible of pre-season training was to run in such a manner that I could 'sustain' motion for an extended period of time. I knew how to sprint from playing tennis and soccer, but I didn't know how to run for an extended period of time and my body wasn't adapted to it.

As race season approached, I had developed at least some vague sense of pacing that would enable me to complete the assigned distance. But, I had so much more to learn. Our first race arrived and I was extraordinarily fortunate to not know what was in store for me.

Legions of awkward, gangly 14-16 year old boys in every conceivable state of development warmed up, stretched, and engaged in bizarre pre-race rituals that included just about everything short of animal sacrifice.

Flying (or running) blind, I just followed the lead of those who seemed to have more experience than I did. I did a few windsprints, stretched out a bit, and did a few buttkicks (which seemed vaguely homoerotic at the time).

None of this activity allayed my pre-race nerves, but I assumed this was just part and parcel of 'being a runner'.

Lining up at the start was undoubtedly one of the most tense moments of my young life. I had no idea what I was doing or how this was going to unfold. All I knew was that I didn't want to be last. For all I knew, the race officials were about to unleash a pack of rabid, frothing hounds that would eviscerate all but the fleetest.

While this did not happen (somewhat disappointingly), there was still ample pain and suffering to go around for all. I honestly don't remember vivid details from my first race other than it hurt like nothing I'd ever experienced before pretty much from the very first stride I took. This was the purest, most visceral pain I had ever felt in my life.

Lungs afire and legs leaden, I careened across the finish line. I was far from victory, but the last runner wouldn't come through for quite some time. What I gained was a profound appreciation of just how tough one has to be to be a good (or great) runner.

Unquestionably, football and hockey are TOUGH sports that can be extraordinarily painful. But neither of these sports involve CONSTANT discomfort and pain for extended periods of time. I challenge anyone who plays football or hockey to run 3.1 miles as fast as they can. I promise the definition of pain you referenced previously will change markedly and permanently.

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