Pain and sacred spaces

Where would be a good place to puke?

It was a thought that crossed my mind during the fifth of six 800-meter intervals on the treadmill this morning. Would I have time and opportunity to rush into the locker room? Were there any trash cans around? When doing speed workouts on the track, there is always the option to pull off into a grassy area if the urge hits, but the biodegradability of, um, the “substance” doesn’t quite matter on a carpet.

Granted, I have never actually thrown up during a workout before. I only felt like I could throw up. I’ve dubbed it “pushing back the puke factor” this ability of interval workouts to bring me to the edge of capabilities and allow me to grow. And actually today, there was a bit of joy in having that feeling. It’s been a while since I felt brave enough to spend it all on a treadmill speed workout.

While  recovering from my intervals of pain, I remembered something that my good friend Hitch wrote about in his race report from his incredible PR at the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia:

When I was helping to coach some new runners last year I would always get the question: “When does it feel good?”

Seems like a common enough question for newbies. Running is hard. So is swimming, cycling, yoga, hiking, rock climbing (you get the point). But people who participate talk about how much they love it, and the newbie wonders when they will start to love it, or even like it, when this sense of joy will come to then. When does it feel good?

The simple answer: It feels good when we decide it feels good. It’s not necessarily about things getting easier, it’s about becoming more comfortable with the uncomfortable. I learn to settle into the pain, not the type of pain which says to stop to prevent injury or illness, but the kind of pain which, when I honestly evaluate it, is really just overrated discomfort. When I decide to embrace the challenge, it actually starts to get easier. On the physical discomfort is still there. It’s still “hard” but I find that I enjoy the hard, the hard is what allows me to not only get better in my running, but to expand and grow as a person.

Full of these thoughts about pain, I checked my Twitter feed while making my post-workout breakfast and was hit with this bit of wisdom from the Dali Lama:

Overcoming negative tendencies and enhancing positive potential are the very essence of the spiritual path.

One of my negative tendencies is to undersell myself. Athletics has forced me to confront that tendency, to redefine what it is I can and can not do. The thought that my intervals were hard, maybe too fast for me, maybe something I can’t do were negative aspects weighing me down, making the work that much more difficult. Enhancing my positive potential — thinking about being brave, being strong, giving the best I had — gave me joy through the pain.

And connecting to that feeling that difficulties and pain are not obstacles in life, merely waves to ride, changes everything. It is a spiritual place, this space where I challenge my body and create a positive reality in my mind. In some ways, it’s a sacred space which I live in throughout the course of my day.

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