Part 3: A Marathon Without Training - Lessons About TMS / Chronic Pain
Life Lesson #3: Don’t “white knuckle”
As a coach empowering chronic pain / TMS sufferers to permanently overcome their pain, part of my job is to show my clients that their bodies are infinitely stronger than they’ve been conditioned to believe. That’s why I decided to “run the run” - completing a marathon of 26.2 miles / 42.2 kilometers without training. Read below to learn my 5 keys to success, how to apply them to your life, and what it has to do with overcoming chronic pain.
On mile 6, as our feet gently pounded the deep sand of the picturesque Ventry beach, the voice of the waves in our ears, we were still making good time. 20 miles to go.
Before we started, Luke and I had agreed that it was more important to finish than to be fast. (My inner competitor sometimes wants both!)
Often when I’d pursued physical or psychological challenges, my strategy was to distract myself, or “white knuckle” it.
Take a cold shower for instance. Moments before I would step into the icy water, I’d harden myself, escape into my head, and tolerate it just long enough before I couldn’t take it anymore, distracting myself with whatever thoughts came. After doing that for years, my ability to take cold showers was actually decreasing. Instead of making me more resilient, the approach started to make me more and more afraid of the cold.
“White knuckling” can play a useful role if we're in a truly dangerous situation. Once, when swimming in Singapore, I realized I was in the middle of a field of jellyfish (conveniently enough, also with my friend Luke.) A nervous open-water swimmer, my body surged into fight or flight and I quickly became laser-focused on getting back to the shore, blocking the depths of the danger from my mind.
But we’re not often in a truly dangerous situation. Uncomfortable? Yes. Dangerous? No. And when we “white knuckle” through the discomfort, we reinforce a belief that we’re not strong enough to handle it. That’s how our fear can build to epic proportions, because what we resist persists.
My new strategy: Drop resistance. Be present with the discomfort. Let it come and welcome it with open arms. This isn’t tolerating the experience, but rather letting go, and relaxing into it.
As we approached Kruger’s Bar, our half-way point (and the Most Westerly Bar in Europe), Luke was slowing down considerably. His body was starting to fight him at every step. And my body was starting to protest, too. As we saw the bar, he said he was going to throw in the towel, completing over 14 miles. Not bad for someone who had been cooped up inside a cabin in the snow for six weeks, unable to walk outside (let alone run).
But I had a decision to make - would I wait with him for the shuttle back to Dingle, or continue on to attempt the second half of the marathon?
At first I thought of how nice it would be to sit on a bus, in a comfy chair, and watch the scenery roll by. Then my thoughts turned to the fear and uncertainty of what would happen if I were to run a second half-marathon today. Resistance was creeping in.
But then my internal voice spoke.
“How often are you in a position to complete a marathon without training?”
I grinned as my body relaxed.
My mind was made up.
Life Lesson #4: Nourish your body
During my cycling career, I’d trained myself to go on 4+ hour bike rides with little water and food. I assumed I could get by in the same fashion with a marathon.
This was a critical error.
I wasn’t prepared for the nutrients that my body would need for 5+ hours of running.
In my little Camelbak, I had packed a bottle of electrolyte water and two little granola bars. This was like bringing a light jacket to the arctic in the middle of winter. To make matters worse, the isolated coastal landscape provided very few places to fuel up with water or food.
In my quest to run a marathon without training, I was (inadvertently) trying to also do it without adequate nutrition or hydration. Talk about a double whammy.
Luke gently reminded me that I want to put my body in the best possible position to succeed. Not succeed in spite of it. Wise words. I should have internalized them earlier.
Chronic pain / TMS might not have a physical cause, but it’s important to take proper care of our bodies when we’re suffering with it. Chronic pain can affect our sleep, our mood, our diet, and restrict our exercise. When I was in the depths of my pain, vices like ice cream and late nights playing video games helped me escape my reality. But these did no favors to my body. As is the case for running a marathon, healthy food, regular meditation, proper hydration, nourishing sleep, and gentle exercise can be wonderful companions on the road to recovery from chronic pain.
As Luke limped into Kruger’s Bar, I spotted mini bags of peanuts. Perfect. The bartender, perplexed when a sweat-laden American asked him for 4 bags, duly obliged.
Unfortunately, the bar had just about run out of unflavored peanuts, so I received three bags of the “dry roasted” variety. It was like eating a concoction of powdered, salted barbecue sauce. Disgusting. Not what I wanted half way through a marathon.
Nevertheless, I gobbled a couple packs down and stuffed a few into my Camelbak, cognizant this was the only food I’d have for potentially the rest of the marathon. I took off again leaving Luke with a hug and a smile.
I was half way through, but the biggest challenge was yet to come.
Alec Kassin is a chronic pain coach and founding partner of Changing Work.
If you’ve been suffering with chronic pain and are serious about overcoming it once and for all, I have limited slots available in my 1:1 coaching program. If you have any questions about my story or just want to say hello, you can message me or set up a free consultation with me here.