Part 4: A Marathon Without Training - Lessons About TMS / Chronic Pain
Life Lesson #5: Leverage a Resource
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.
As I embarked up the climb out of Dunquin village, leaving Luke in the distance, I felt the loss of the presence of my friend running by my side. The next 6 miles, running by myself on windswept coastal roads, would be among the hardest of the day.
This called for one of my favorite techniques: Resourcing.
Resourcing is an amazing tool for healing chronic pain, and is anything that helps us feel safe, good, and secure. We have both external and internal resources at our disposal. External resources can be memories of positive experiences we’ve had, places in nature, people who we love, pets, music, etc. Internal resources can be strong beliefs, personal qualities, or mantras.
Resourcing works because every single thought we have affects every cell of our body. Through the production of neuropeptides, thoughts create chemical reactions in our brain, which produce physical effects throughout the body. It’s the same reason why we feel butterflies in our stomach before we give that big presentation. Except in this case, the vivid thought of a resource produces an effect that helps soothe the body, quiet the amygdala, and turn off fight or flight.
Resourcing has helped me dig deeper in bike races, move through emotions like sadness and anger, and be more present in everyday life. Today, it would be my shepherd.
Without my physical resource running alongside me, I tapped into mental resources instead. Memories of feeling safe and secure, being surrounded by loved ones, the deep knowing that I would still be loved, even if I didn’t finish this marathon. These resourceful thoughts and memories produced sensations that felt like a golden orb of light surrounding my body. I felt held and safe, through thought alone.
Still, crossing the 20-mile mark, I was feeling the effects of nearly 4 hours of running, and my pace was slowing considerably. I had developed blisters on my feet, and pain behind my right leg. But worst of all: I had exhausted my peanut reserves.
As I approached Ballyferriter village, a small enclave of 700 people, I prayed that the little corner shop, the only one in the village, would be open.
As I dazily waltzed into the town and turned the corner past the Star Wars mural (scenes from Star Wars: The Last Jedi were filmed just outside the town), I saw a welcome sign.
“Your stop” in bold letters above the store. Appropriate, I thought.
I gingerly walked into the corner store, grateful to have a break from the run. I did two laps around the tiny shop, and finally asked the woman behind the counter:
“Do you have energy bars?”
“Um, no. Sorry," she replied.
Bummer. My nutrition saga would continue to plague me. I purchased a Lucozade (Ireland’s Gatorade equivalent) and downed a banana.
As I left the shop, I knew the local shuttle that Luke was on would be coming any minute. At this point, I was slowing considerably, and I knew my planned route would already be overshooting the 26.2 mile goal.
So, I decided to hop on the 5-minute shuttle to take me to Ventry, the closest village to Dingle.
It was the best decision I made all day.
It was there that my partner (and resource) Claire, was waiting for me as she embarked on her own no-training half-marathon.
Happy. Days. I had survived my physical resource-less period.
Claire was my savior. Studies show that when we do things together, we are not only happier, but also more likely to be successful. This is also why good coaches are so important. They’re a resource to help you go farther than you would go alone.
Tired, yet with a pep in my step, Claire and I began the run back to Dingle after downing energy balls that Claire had. (The nutrition theme continues: They were so dry that I almost wanted to throw them away. Once again: plan out your nutrition beforehand!)
We were in the home stretch. As I settled into a rhythm, Claire recounted everything that had happened to her in the past few hours, how she didn’t intend to run a half-marathon today but felt compelled to do it, and how she was feeling amazing.
I, on the other hand, was in the pain cave, unable to do much else besides fake a smile and nod. At the same time, it was nice to hear her voice, reminding me that she was there by my side, helping me stay present alongside the soreness that was enveloping my body.
The hardest part of the whole day came as we approached the outskirts of Dingle. I started to succumb to an internal monologue of “are we there yet?” Doing the math in my head, trying to control my experience, I realized I only had 4 miles left! Yet at my pace, that would be about 50 minutes. The temptation to white knuckle kicked in. The desire to escape into my head. To resist my experience and blow those 4 miles out of proportion.
But I caught myself.
I remembered how four miles isn’t a big deal compared with 22. That my body is herculean. That I just needed to relax into the moment, into my resource, into my body, and be present with the sensations of muscle fatigue in my thighs and pain in my right knee. There was nothing to resist.
As we entered Dingle, it became clear that we’d need to do an extra lap of the town before heading home in order to hit the 26.2 miles. My “usual” running route of 2 miles. Appropriate, I thought. I told myself I would go at my own pace.
Soon, we found ourselves ascending the final hill. The same one that Luke said would suck on the way back. But it didn’t. I was finding a rhythm, a new energy. Almost bouncing from stride to stride, left to right. I was determined. I could taste the finish line.
We crested the hill, turned the corner, and our house was in full view. As we came up to the door, the triumph was close at hand.
And then I looked at my watch: 26.05 miles.
Claire and I hilariously did two laps our street until I hit the magic number: 26.2. We had done it.
We had done it.
A year ago, I could barely run a few miles, and today, I had completed a marathon without training.
Both Luke and Claire completed half marathons, for each their longest runs ever. Like me, neither did any training in preparation.
I walked straight over to our couch and plopped down. I was exhausted, yet exhilarated, for doing something I never dreamed was possible for me.
Yes, it’s possible to run a marathon without physical training.
But I don’t share this story to inspire you to do the same. Rather, I hope it encourages you to find your own unique "marathon-without-training" challenge.
Each of us has that challenge, that feat nibbling away in the back of our minds that we really want to do. It might be swimming across that lake, picking up your child without pain, taking that trip to Paris, signing up for that dance class, or even just running a lap on the local track without stopping.
Whatever it may be, hold tight to it. Challenge and release the ways you sabotage yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you, don’t make it a big deal, and just be present with your experience. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish.
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.