is mental pain harder than physical pain?

I had an interesting run this morning. I haven't been running much the last couple of months (due to injury, vacations, or whatever other excuse is available), so I knew today would be challenging. I also ran "empty", meaning no food or water in my system* - just wake up and run! But I wasn't prepared for the mental roller coaster that lied ahead.

Here's what I went through:

  • Start - 10 minutes: felt good, better than expected
  • 10 - 20 minutes: felt really good, pushed to a faster pace
  • 20 - 30 minutes: still felt good, but my gps app showed I had slowed down
  • 30 - 40 minutes: felt tired, and started thinking about maybe walking for a bit
  • 40 - 50 minutes: my legs got heavy, and my body kept telling my brain that I should take a break and walk. Why aren't we walking? Walk!
  • 50 - 60 minutes: heavy legs and now cramps in my hips. probably a physical ailment? - maybe I had been running anaerobically earlier, and now I was paying the price for having lactic acid in my muscles. By this point my brain was screaming to stop with every step, telling me I simply wouldn't be able to run anymore.
  • 60 minutes - End: with the end of the run in sight, I was able to tell my brain-body to shut up and finish, and I picked up my pace.

Here's what I learned:

There may have been some physical pain, but the fact that I never stopped running shows that my mind was telling me things that simply weren't true. The pain story in my brain was an embellishment, telling me things were worse than they really were.

Identify the pain:

There's a big difference between pushing through phantom muscle pain and doing actual damage to your body. Internal knee pain (could be a sprain or a tear), shin splints, dehydration - there are some pains that are worth stopping for. It's best if you can know the difference.

* Running Empty

I've learned over the years that I can go 60-90 minutes first thing in the morning without a pre-run fill-up - no water or breakfast. My pace is usually slower, but it gives my body practice at using its own reserves for fuel, which makes it more efficient at doing so. It also gives me a chance to know what my body feels like in these situations, so that when I'm out on a longer training exercise (or hike, or whatever), I have a reference point for what it feels like to be burning your own fuel, or to be on the dry side (flirting with dehydration). I also know how much water it takes to fully re-hydrate during the rest of the morning. (a little more than 1/2 gallon.)

As a bonus, my racing times are always faster, since I'm fully awake and properly fueled up. :)

Thanks for reading; keep moving.

-Chris Butterworth

#Running #MentalPain #RunningEmpty