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a dance with pain

Ultra-runners often joke of the “pain cave.” I hear, “Well, I’ll hit mile 75 in XX hours and then burrow into the pain cave.” Or, “Of course you can do Bear after Wasatch. Just man up and go into the pain cave.”

…Like the pain cave is “time-out” for little men who haven’t become big men yet.

But lately I've been thinking about the ENJOYMENT of pain. Yes, enjoyment.
one of the most painful runs of my life. also the fastest and most rewarding.

The sweet way pain seduces, her coy way of wistful escapes. The consumption of thought that pain offers, and the following longing for relief. Her graces and enchantments, sought in dizzying twirls within a dance…

The sadistic nature of loving trashed legs. Wobbly miles and the knowledge that this is what the end of a 100 feels like. Of running, literally, through hellish circumstances as “training.” Of taking the words of the terrible hulu commercial (below) and instead of falling in love with the process of becoming great, falling in love with the process of pain.

I often hear “you can’t run for hours unless you love yourself.” And, in that sweet sadistic nature I think, “you can’t suffer for hours unless you like it a little.”

Dizzy (sick) and in a painful massage, I found myself enjoying the different levels of pain, the types, where it radiated from. The source. Objectifying the pain as something to be observed, analyzed, and then enjoyed.

…and then I thought, what is wrong with me? Who goes to the pain cave not leave but to linger?
Heartbreaker 5.10d, City of Rocks, ID

The bliss of rock climbing lies in the fear. Oh, sure, climbing “isn’t scary” and is “totally safe” for those with proper equipment and training. I’ve taken many risks climbing R rated routes (and soloing, shhh don’t tell my Mom), feeling safe and competent in my abilities. This is incredible since, on the most basic level, climbing is dangerous and a little bit scary. To the trained climber, the fear is optional. The focus necessary to project and climb at a difficult level is so thought consuming that nothing exists to the climber except the next move. Falling exists as only an objectified risk potential, not as a fear source. I would go out on a limb to say that this freedom from thought and severe focus in climbing comes from the subconscious processing of fear, which allows the conscious to focus on perfect physical performance that is required for safety.
Getting the FA on a trad route I helped put up! Crack-a-Lackin' 10a Midget Widget, ID

In the same way, I think that the beauty of running lies in the pain. No run is entirely pain-free. New runners often comment on how it hurts. Sweet newbies, it never really becomes painless. Ever. But it becomes enjoyable as we chase a state of mind where worries and thoughts melt away and all that exists is a beautiful, timeless moment of peace. I don’t think that “peace,” “flow,” or “runner’s high” exists without the subconscious acceptance of pain, which pulls our conscious away from thoughts. In essence, while our minds are busy storing and processing the painful discomfort of running, we are able to experience the universe

“Only the most saintly and delusional among us welcomes all pain as challenges, perceives all loss as harsh blessing.” –Scott Jurek, Eat & Run

You can't remove the fear from climbing, nor can you remove pain from running. But lately I'm ok with that.
Winter running, even when it's -5. Tibble Fork, UT


  1. This reminds me of when I first started running - I was laying on the floor, gasping for breath after 'running' only 1.6 miles. I vowed to myself that "I never want to feel this way again..." It didn't take too long before I realized that, although I was going much farther and faster, I was actually craving that feeling of exhaustion and utter depletion that I had vowed to never want to feel again...
    I don't think the pain cave is a 'time out', though. For many (myself often included), it's a place where one merely treads onto the caves threshold and retreats quickly, not wanting to 'overdo it'. I believe it is the elite (or big men, to use your example) runners that charge full bore into the cave and just set up camp - completely comfortable and even (to your point) relishing the pain they bring upon themselves. I guess as we train more and more, we become more confident venturing deeper and deeper into the pain cave.


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