A couple of months ago NPR posted an article about athletes’ high tolerance for pain.
Exceptional physical fitness, of course, sets the ultramarathoners apart from the rest of us. But scientists say what might be more important is athletes’ excellent ability — both psychologically and physically — to cope with pain.
It turns out that most athletes’ high tolerance for pain while exercising may also help them deal with it when they’re at rest.
I’m somewhat in that camp. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been able to handle mental and physical pain for an elongated amount of time. I actually handle mental pain a bit more than physical because I spent the late part of my teens and most of my 20′s dealing with depression.
When depression sets in, you develop some toughness to help endure the pain that seemingly never goes away. It’s actually good stuff because you learn skills that help you get through it when stuff does come at you to get you down (although sometimes it ain’t pretty).
To quote a famous line from Star Track:
Pain. We deal with it.
My spin teacher was really redlining us in class. It hurt. She said “Now take that pain and turn it around,” and that really clicked with me. Your mind is very strong and can basically tell the body to do what it wants when it wants. Sure, fitness and technique while biking are extremely important but it’s also important to command your legs by saying “You’re going to continue moving, and you’re not going to quit no matter what!”
This is something I do when I climb a hill and start to fatigue. I know my legs are screaming in pain and agony, but I’m able to make them go on just by simply telling them “you must continue.” It works, and of course the reward comes when you crest the hill and your legs get a huge reprieve while your body adjusts from an anaerobic state back down to a normal breathing level, and the you realize you just kicked ass up the side of a mountain!
an·aer·o·bic - pertaining to or caused by the absence of oxygen.
One day I was working with my coach doing pushups and my shoulder was giving me a lot of grief (I’ve messed up both collarbones and neither of them are 100% now). My coach said “are you okay?” And stubborn me said “yes!” with gritted teeth. He asked again “are you burning or hurting?” I knew what he meant, he meant am I feeling the burn of an exercise, or is my body actually sustaining damage? At the time, I was sustaining damage, and I told him – he immediately told me to back off.
To be able to listen to your body is important. If you are trying to be all mister big shot and you know something is hurting you – the long term effects of the damage could be enormous (and enormously bad). You can quickly end your cycling career if you don’t listen to what your body is saying. There have been times I was extremely sloppy on the trails because I was fatigued or hurting – once I ended up over the handlebars, and another time I, without apology, told my group “you know what, I have to bail – I’m going to get hurt.”
If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably over 21 or under 200 (I have one or two readers that age) and you’ve encountered some hardships in life. If you cycle (and that’d be you as I have no other idea why you’d be coming to this blog) then you know how hard it is to climb hills. Both hardships and hills are extremely tough but can be conquered with enduring some pain.
Using your mind to tell the body what to do was my big aha moment in my life. I’ve been able to apply it to many situations to push on through things.