Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Embracing the Pain

If you’re like me, at the first sign of pain you back off and begin to worry. I’ve been dealing with knee pain off and on for about a year. As a result I missed two marathons (-$200), and I spent a ridiculous amount of time and money visiting various specialists from acupuncturists (-$65 per visit for approximately 30 visits), to physical therapists (tried one out of network, -$243), to sports massage therapists (5 times at -$125 per visit). I bought orthotics (-$70 twice), muscle hugging running pants (-$115), knee braces (-$40), calf brace (-$40), I attended a ChiRunning class (-$125)—you name it, I did it (or bought it), all in a vain effort to avoid pain.

Now let me just clarify, some pain DEMANDS attention, but in hindsight, I’ve realized that my pain was manageable. All I had to do was embrace it, and allow myself to fearlessly go through it. Running is as spiritual for me as it is physical. As a result, I began to allow myself to experience my knee pain and not go to pieces at the first twinge of discomfort. My natural inclination when I would feel knee pain during a run was to stop running and totally give in to the pain. Recently, when I feel pain, I scale back my effort (and as long as the pain doesn’t cause me to change my gait), I allow myself to fully experience it. I breathe through it, move through it, and give it to God.

I’m not suggesting that runners do this with all pain—if the pain is sharp or severe, by all means stop and get help. But if it’s just a little nagging pain, and you believe you can get through it without causing further damage, allow yourself to embrace it. This acceptance of pain hit me full force when my 91-year-old grandmother, Celia Frances Smith, passed away peacefully at her home on December 13, 2010.

When my devastated dad called me to tell me she had died, I fought to keep my emotions in check. I was determined to be strong for my father, and I did not allow myself to fully experience and embrace the pain of loss. A week later, my emotions washed over me like a tidal wave, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to pull myself together. After five days of no running, I was finally got 4 hard miles in, and I felt so much better. I pushed myself through the last mile, thinking of my grandmother’s strength and fortitude, and vowing to always allow myself to embrace my pain.