A big smile at the finish line

By Keri Mandell

Over the last year, I have been working on getting comfortable with being uncomfortable when I run so that I can get stronger and faster.  In the past, I’d often settle into what I considered to be a nice easy pace. Every time I tried to go a little faster, my breath shortened or I experienced some muscles soreness, so I backed off.  

But when I started having time goals for my races, I knew I had to begin pushing through some of that discomfort in order to grow and make progress.  Over the last year, I was able to shave 23 minutes off my marathon time and that feeling was incredible.  If I never pushed myself through some of that discomfort, I may have never known what I was truly capable of.   

Pushing through some level of pain when running is pretty much unavoidable if you want to improve your endurance fitness. The “Overload Principle” is an important fitness concept which basically says, in order to improve your fitness (endurance and/or strength), you need to work harder as your body adjusts to workouts.  With running, this means either by increasing the speed at which you run or expanding the distance.  

Your brain sometimes associates pain with injury, but that’s not necessarily the case. When we think about pain, there are a couple types of pain we need to consider. There is the pain associated with an intense physical effort such as fatigue, muscle burning, and joint aches or there is pain associated with an injury.  Being able to decipher the difference between the two is important.   

Getting to know your body and understanding the signals it’s sending you can take time, but here are some tips to helping you reach inside yourself and find that toughness to keep pushing on.   

First, change the way you handle pain.

If you increase the demands of your training over time, you will better understand your body’s messages and learn to develop more efficient coping strategies to dealing with the pain. You will learn to recognize it and work to push past it. For example, elite athletes train for hours a day.  They put themselves through more pain in a week than most of us endure in a year. But they acknowledge it and work through it knowing it won’t last forever. That’s how they get to the next level.

So here is what you can do when you feel certain pain and when you need to stop.

Pain-Coping Strategies I Use When Feeling Fatigued, a Little Sore, Etc.

  • When I hit the point of pain, I try to tell myself that the pain means I’m getting fitter, stronger, and faster.  
  • I’ll tell myself to just get through the next mile and when I do, I tell myself to get through one more, etc… and before you know it, I’m done and feel great. I feel grateful that i didn’t give up or give in to the sensation.  
  • I try to connect pain with a positive thought because if you connect with a negative emotion you’ll feel more pain. So stay positive and keep working hard.
  • Remind yourself that the discomfort is temporary, and each step forward is one closer to the finish.
  • Research has even shown that pain is often purely in your head and not an accurate signal of physical distress. Keeping this in mind will enable you to push through the discomfort so you can run faster or longer.

If you feel the following pain, you should stop. If these pains persist, consult a medical professional.

  • Sharp foot, shin, or hip pain that worsens as you run
  • Limping (having to change your stride mechanics to adjust to the pain)
  • Chest pain
  • High body temperature (higher than normally associated with exercise)  
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness