On Pain and Suffering (the good kind)

When I first got the bug up my ass to quit killing myself slowly with the couch, and actually try to get in some kind of shape, I was not motivated by the standard new years resolution, but by the impending doom of MY 40TH BIRTHDAY! It was good motivation.

I had been demotivated from working out so many times in the past, usually because I never saw any results, or I got hurt. Needless to say, this sucked. So I did the thing any OCD-enhanced individual would do, I started reading.

I buried myself in magazines, blogs, books – pretty much everything I could find about effective exercise. Doing some prep work turned out to be a good plan. Through one of my chains of reading I found out about Kettlebells, and the assorted books by Pavel Tsatsouline. In Enter The Kettlebell, There is an entire chapter entitled “It’s Your Fault”.

This was terribly enlightening. The whole section is the opposite of the usual bravado that you read in any fitness writing, and is an admonishment to pay attention and not get hurt. I really hadn’t read that anywhere else, as an explicit fitness topic, and it is one of the things that has kept me buying Pavel’s books.

After that, one of the online friends through the kettlebell forums summed it up better in a single phrase:

“Don’t move into Pain”

Of course, the difficulty in following that advice, is that as you push yourself harder towards a fitness goal, it hurts. You are moving heavier weights, testing your endurance, and frankly, hurting.

It is a fine line between pushing yourself through the hard work, and not injuring yourself. And if you are new at it, it can be a very fine line. For me, fine enough where I ended up almost damaging a tendon in my elbow before I realized that this wasn’t just part of my lifting, but something was wrong. It ended up costing me three months of physical therapy to recover, and probably another three months of starting from scratch.

That was fine. It gave me time to focus and see the difference between stopping before the pain, which is there to warn you about getting hurt, and ignoring the suffering that pushing yourself to the limits causes.

Really, we are actively seeking out that suffering, and trying to drive through it. That’s what makes us stronger – both physically and mentally.

When I did the Livestrong Ride two years ago, it was my first time doing an organized ride of that size. it was 45 miles, of flats, hills, city and back streets. It prepped myself and trained for the distance, but the race day was miserable. It started cold, then once we were part way into the race, started to rain. It was sticky, oily roadspray, with cold, biting winds. my hands froze on the handlebars, and I was sore all over. My lesson to myself as I was on the road was that I could tell that while I was sore, tired, and freezing, I wasn’t actually hurting or in Pain. I was just suffering through a crappy ride. It actually cleared just a bit as I made it to the finish line.

I had nothing left in the end. I could barely walk to the car until I warmed up, but I felt great. The sense of reward and accomplishment was indescribable.

After that experience, I would add an addendum to my earlier advice:

Don’t move into Pain, but feel free to punch Suffering right in the cock.