“Allow your acceptance of the universality of suffering to be a transformative experience.  You do that by simply looking at what pains you squarely in the face and then moving on.  You don’t have to move fast or far.  You can just go an inch.  You can mark your progress breath by breath.”  Cheryl Strayed

I ran 14.12 miles…for the first time…  I have now officially run more than a half-marathon.  The last 3.12 were HARD….PAINFUL….It had been a long time since I’d had a hard run.  PAIN as in wait, am I really going to run a full marathon in 3.5 months?  As in, did I really start a whole blog based on that decision and announce it to the world in Women’s Running Magazine?  As in, my legs feel like lead and am I going to have to run another 12.08 more miles than this on February 14th?  As in what in the world possessed me to think that just because I ran a few halfs and felt great, I would be able to double that mileage?

Here is a break down of how it went.  I was actually supposed to just run 7 miles with my L. A. Leggers training group, and 14 miles with them the next week.  But I knew that I would be out-of-town this coming weekend and not able to get in a double-digit run, so I decided to swap weeks.  I joined the Leggers for the first 7, and then continued on my own for the second half.

This is generally what happens when I run.  The first 1 – 3 miles are ok.  By mile 3, I’m in my rhythm.  By mile 4, I feel like I could run forever… Run 100 miles like Dean Karnazes, why not?  By mile 8, I usually still feel like I can give Dean a run for his money….I am invincible.  By mile 10, I start to think maybe I have less in common with Dean than I thought….maybe I can’t quite do 100… By mile 12, I abruptly go from I can run 100 miles to ok, well, I’m not sure that I can do even 1 more mile….

On this past run, the I don’t know if I can do this went from mile 11 – 14.12.  And as the pain and fatigue started to hit my body, I had a whole internal panic monologue that went like this….

Oh shit! There is actually only 3.5 months left until 26.2.  I am in pain! I am tired! I am dehydrated.  Why did I have 2 glasses of wine last night and not drink a gallon of water after when I knew that I’d be doing this in the morning….I am an idiot.  Why didn’t I bring proper fuel…one pack of Gu and a handful of toasted marshmallow jelly beans does not get you through 14.12 miles!  Why didn’t I get to bed on time?  And then I start thinking about some quotes about PAIN that I have read and have resonated with me….quotes that I have written down or taken screen shots of …. quotes that according to Cheryl Strayed, can act as “mini-instruction manuals for the soul.”

Recently, my obsession has been turning away from Kristin Armstrong and towards Cheryl Strayed.  This happened after I read her book Tiny Beautiful Things and wanted to underline every single word.  I had read her book Wild a few years ago, and honestly thought …Meh… but Tiny Beautiful Things….  It is filled with wisdom about pain, hardship, and personal growth. After reading it, I want to be Cheryl…. I want to give advice like her, I want to write like her, I want to set up a sleeping bag in a tent in her mind and live there….and I hate camping…. I want to do all of that without having to go through what she has…without losing my mother at a young age or being a recovering heroin addict or hiking 1,100 miles solo through the Pacific Crest Trail….(I’m scared when I attempt a little mid-city LA trail run by myself.)

So at mile 11, I start thinking about Cheryl, as well as some other pain quotes that have resonated with me. I recall one from Elizabeth Carr’s blog Roving Muse that I read and re-read and then wrote down immediately..”Once I figured out during that first marathon that the thing about pain is that it demands to be felt, and once I admitted that I felt it and moved on, I could keep running forever.”  Until I read that quote, I was somehow determined that if I was going to run a marathon, I was going to do it pain-free.  I’m not superwoman.  It’s ok to have pain.  It is ok to feel it and still move on.  Sigh…relief.

I recalled a quote from Haruki Murakami describing what others say about running, “‘Man this hurts, I can’t take it anymore.’  The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself.  This pretty much sums up the most important aspect of marathon running.”  I recall reading something years ago from Eckhart Tolle about “the pain body,” but can’t remember if it would somehow apply to running, and I make a mental note to re-read that chapter in his book.

Thinking of these quotes calms me down despite my legs that feel like lead but are still moving, and at a decent pace of still just under a 10 minute mile.  I become a little more rational again.  I go over what I know.  This run today is harder than I would expect for 14 miles because I had 2 glasses of wine last night and didn’t properly hydrate the last few days.  I promise myself that for the next 3.5 months, I will limit wine consumption to 1 glass at most if any the night before a double-digit run.  I will work on hydrating better all week.  I will fuel appropriately.  I will sleep properly for at least 2-3 nights before.  I will do all the double-digit mileage with my running group when possible.  I’ve recently been cross-training more, so my legs are sore from that.  On the actual race day, I will have the energy of the crowds and the event which will help drive me.  I still have 3.5 months to get my mileage up….the marathon training has really only finally now begun….I will have many more progressively increasing double-digit runs before February 14th.

I need to start mental training.  I know that at some point the pain will come….hopefully that point is much closer to mile 20 than 11….and I need to work on my mental game as much if not more than my physical one.  I need to channel my inner Cheryl, without having to be a recovering heroin addict and sexually abused by my grandfather as a child, and use pain as an opportunity for growth rather than a reason to hide and scurry away.  “Hello fear, Thank you for being here.  You are my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.”  Thank you for this quote Cheryl…I will see pain and fear not as my enemies but as my coaches.

**The quote from Elizabeth Carr on pain demanding to be felt can be found in her post here entitled Exactly One Year.


On a recent trail run in LA…. the closest I’ll likely ever be to having a Cheryl “Wild” experience….


About Paria

Runner, mother, pediatrician, blogger

20 comments on “Pain

  1. Heck, Paria, you survived a residency, you can do a marathon!!! Think of all those marathon on calls you did. Nights in the NICU saving teeny tiny babies. Talking to parents in the PICU about their critically ill child. You’ve got this! It’s in you.

    • Thank you Wendy…that is most definitely true…It has been 13 years since I finished my residency, but yes, I’ve done marathons of sorts, and I can do one again. Thanks!

  2. God, this is SO good! I absolutely love every word.

    And I wrote this down: “Once I figured out during that first marathon that the thing about pain is that it demands to be felt, and once I admitted that I felt it and moved on, I could keep running forever.” YES. That is 100% true. I can honestly say I think that realization is what has allowed me to do well in the marathon. I can’t even imagine how much more challenging a marathon would be without understanding that. It would seem impossible. Pain is inevitable. Accept it. Feel it. And run through it.

    I remember having all those same thoughts with each new personal distance record. I remember thinking “how am I ever going to run 10 more miles?” after my first 16 mile run. It truly seemed impossible and unthinkable. But in the end… you just do it. Can’t wait to read all about the rest of your training and how you feel once you’ve run 16 and 18 and 20. Love following your journey!

    • Thanks Kate! I loved that quote and have been carrying it around for months…. It just hit home and gave me permission to have pain. It is really humbling for me to write my journey to marathon, and have a speedy repeat marathoner and BQ’er like yourself enjoy it and be inspired by it. Thank you!!!

  3. I love that you were able to turn it around and use quotes to push through the pain. I’m not sure if this is helpful, but when I was marathon training, every now and again I’d have a terrible run, without anything to blame it on. It helped to remind myself that bad runs just happen now and again, but so do really amazing runs (the kind where you feel like Dean *all* the way through!). Really loving reading your training updates. 🙂

    • Thank you Carly…yes, I guess one could say that if you don’t have any bad runs, then you may not be running that much… so it will go with the territory of my journey…thank you for following along:)

  4. You have got this Paria! Distance running is painful, period. Good job working through the pain. We run marathons as we are addicted to that moment where our body is failing us and our mind says yes I can go on and prevails. It is in that moment that we truly feel free. It is addicting and wonderful at the same time as it proves we are alive.

      • Yes 🙂 I hope so! I am training for my 6th full marathon and I try to remind myself a bad run means you are due for a great run soon! I have been following your blog for a while now and really enjoy it. As a mom and a runner a lot of your posts hit so close to home for me. Your doing awesome with your training and I can’t wait to hear all about how it pays off at your race in February!

        • Thanks Michelle for letting me know you have been following along…I never know who is reading this out there….and knowing that there are people I don’t know out there following my journey and rooting for me gives me the push to both run and write more:)

  5. Here’s the thing about pain… there’s pain response and pain tolerance.

    I read in a study on how exercise helps us tolerate pain. One group exercised, one did not. Similar in age and activity levels. After one group exercised for 6 weeks and one group did not, here’s what came out of the study:

    The people who exercise become more stoic and find pain not as threatening once their fitness level increases. So pain will still hurt, but not as much, which fits in with the beliefs about the physical fortitude of athletes.

    Also, the longer we stick with an exercise program, the less physically dis-comforting it will feel, even if we increase our efforts. The brain starts to accept that we’re tougher than we thought, allowing us to continue longer although the pain itself has not lessened.

    So, continue training your pain tolerance levels and that will tie into your mental training. You’ve got this!

    Putting on my instructor’s hat, here’s my .02 cents on pain:

    If a movement hurts, it has something to teach.
    Every exercise can be modified into a pain-free experience.

  6. I had a similar reaction to reading Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things – Wild was med but I fell head over heels for her words in Tiny Beautiful Things. I love your perspective here and that you were able to draw on those quotes during your run. For me, the biggest thing was learning to embrace the suck during training and the race. Like you said (and Elizabeth said), the pain will come and there’s no way to run away from it.

    • I’m going to learn to “embrace the suck”…btw, since you are a Dear Sugar and a podcast fast, I just found out recently that she does a podcast series called Dear Sugar and have started listening to it…great stuff!

  7. I know that much of my struggle on long runs is mental. I have had so many of the same internal dialogues on runs that you describe above. You have survived much harder than this you so got this. I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned but they sound great and I obviously need to check them out.

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