April 05, 2007

Not Allergic To Pain

Is it just me or do you also get an overwhelming feeling of doubt before a race? Is it the kind of doubt that makes your butt-cheeks clench and your stomach rumble - or are these things we shouldn't talk about in public? Maybe it makes you become really quiet in the minutes before the race. Or really loud. Are you, like me, the type of person that gets really agitated before the gun goes off? Maybe all your family and friends know better than to speak to you - or perhaps even breathe near you - right before the start.

So tell me, are you like me?
[Are you my mother?
No I'm a steamroller.
I'm sorry... I've digressed from clenched butt cheeks and stomach rumbling to a children's book. I need some serious help.]

No matter the race distance, I always get nervous. Century ride, 10k run, Ironman triathlon - you name it, I've got that feeling of doubt in the beginning. It makes me quiet and it makes me angry. If you see me before the starting gun, you are more than welcome to come over and talk to me. I'll smile and talk back and try my hardest to be friendly. But deep inside I really want you to leave me alone. Let's talk after we finish, ok?

Once I cross that finish line, everything is fine. In fact, everything becomes fine before I even get to the finish line. There is a certain point in a race when the blanket of fear that has covered me in darkness suddenly gets blown to the wayside. I once was blind, but now I see. More specifically, I see the finish.

This emotional freedom usually happens about halfway through the run. It's the point when I finally realize that I will make it to the end. Everything will be ok.

So you see, what this all comes down to is an irrational fear that I won't be able to finish the race. As I'm standing at the starting line, that little voice inside of me is poking at my brain in the most annoying way and trying to convince me that I will have to drop out of the race. Mind you, I've only had to drop out of one race in my life, and I knew before I even started that I was too injured to finish the run. Yet still that little voice with the annoying poking seems to always seep into my brain and taunt me.

I don't like that voice. It's like the little fella in the idiotic devil suit that sits on the guy's shoulders in all those stupid antacid commercials. Annoying little bugger. I hate those commercials.

Here's the funny thing - just about every time I pony up to the starting line of a race, I know in my heart that I could go the distance. It's not even a question. Even at the Ironman start, I didn't doubt that I had the physical wherewithal to finish. What the little devil poker is hitting on has nothing to do with physical ability, it's mental stamina. This voice tells me that I don't have the mental stamina to make it to the finish. It tells me that I will experience lots of pain and I don't have the strength to handle the pain.

As I said, it's an annoying little fegger.

You know what else I also recently realized? This same doubt isn't confined to races. I have the same damn feeling about long training sessions. How crazy is that?!

Take yesterday's swim for instance. 3500 yards total, with a main set of four 600s. I've swum much further than 3500 yards before without coming close to drowning. Yet when I got into the pool this morning, I didn't think I'd make it to the end. Seriously though, was I really thinking that I'd end up drowning in 3 feet of water with a woman in full scuba gear next to me?!

Yet somewhere about 2600 yards into the swim as everything was going more than fine (like it always does) I felt that blanket of doubt fall away. I'm going to make it, I told myself. It was the same feeling I have near the end of every race. I'm going to make it.

The truth of the matter is that I have a fairly high tolerance for pain when it comes to athletics. I'm not a strong guy. I'm not particularly fast. My mental stamina is probably the biggest thing going for me. I've been through some hellish races, physical pain, bonking, mental meltdown... yet I always keep moving forward. Always. Yes, I have walked through the valley of death, and I wasn't scared. In fact, I stopped for a sno-cone on my way through.

So I'm not quite sure why doubt follows me around so.

I was in my doctor's office the other day for a follow-up appointment after my recent surgery. As I sat there in the office waiting for the doctor to show up, my eyes glanced around the room. I saw my patient file sitting on the table, spread open for the doctor to read. I was bored so I squinted over to look at the file and see if it said anything interesting - like maybe when I was passed out the doctor hid a gem in my gums like some cross between Little Shop of Horrors and Blood Diamond.

I couldn't really read most of the words on the page though I'm fairly sure none of them said anything about diamonds in my face. What did stand out were four words in red written in the nurses handwriting at the top of the page. It said:

Not Allergic To Pain

A wave spread over me as I read those words. She's right, I'm not allergic to pain (or pain medication, for that matter..which I imagine is what she meant).

I started thinking about that devil of doubt that pokes my brain before a big challenge. How he continues to annoy me, yet never has brought me down. I don't like that little guy. I want to squish him.

Bring on the pain, I say. Let it rain down on me. I will finish the race. Always. I will see the brighter side of the finish line.

I am a survivor. And I'm not allergic to pain.


Robin said...

That little devil guy sure gets around, he pays me a visit before every race too. You hit the nail on the head here: Not allergic to pain: I love it.