I ran 12k hard this morning. I finished gasping for breath, tasting blood in my lungs, with legs that felt like they were encased in cement.
Which was entirely the point because I was racing. A virtual race. The only kind of race our Covid world allows. No other runners, no spectators, no finish line. Just me and my GPS watch.
If I had not signed up, this morning’s run would not have hurt. I would not have pushed myself to run maximum effort for nearly an hour. I would not have subjected myself to voluntary pain.
I would not have relaxed.
Hurt and relaxation. Essential elements of running hard. Essential elements of living.
Running brought a good friend into my life years ago. An accomplished runner and even better person. I was Luke, and he was my Yoda. He was smooth, I was ungainly. He ran fast effortlessly – I did not. I equated speed with pain – my body clenching, tightening, straining. My friend helped me understand that less was more, that letting go, breathing, unclenching, loosening, relaxing, allowed me to run smoother, stronger and ultimately, faster. It was both counterintuitive and made perfect sense. And it worked. My best runs, my fastest times were under his tutelage.
I thought of him today when I ran, struggling for speed, fighting to hold the pace. Hurting and relaxing. Relaxing and hurting.
Running is a wonderful metaphor for life, but not a perfect one. When running hurts too much, I can choose to slow down – even stop – I can make the pain go away.
We can’t do that in life.
There is pain. For all of us. Pain that comes and goes, pain that ebbs and flows. Chronic pain. Pain in our bodies. Pain in our souls. Fleeting pain. Pain that heals.
Pain that reveals.
Pain reveals our weaknesses, in our bodies, in our psyches.
Breathe. Walk. Meditate. Read. Listen. Sing. Hug. Pray. Love. Share. Give.
And then – stop relaxing. Do things that hurt. Run hard. Lift weights. Cycle until your legs are on fire. Take a cold shower. Hold your breath until your lungs explode. Do something that makes you want to scream – do it because you can – do it because you control the pain.
Do it because when you choose to suffer – you can relax. It is within you. It is in your breath. It is in every fiber of your body. Pain and peace are not opposites. They are not mutually exclusive. They are in all of us, always. Co-existing. Waxing. Waning. Teaching.
Pain teaches us to relish its absence. This afternoon my daughter and I played in a park, walked in our neighbourhood, and saw some of her friends. All those moments were just a little more precious because hours before I ran hard and made myself hurt.
And then the hurting stopped. Not long after my run, my body felt better. My lungs didn’t taste like blood anymore. Instead, it was as if my airway had tripled in size and oxygen was being pumped into my chest. The air I was breathing was cleaner, fresher, more potent. My legs stopped hurting. Instead, they ached – good aching – the aching that only comes from pushing past comfort. Aching that satisfies.
Relaxing in the midst of pain teaches us … teaches us that we can relax in the midst of pain. We don’t have to enjoy pain. We can hate the pain. But we can co-exist with it. We can conquer it. The next time it happens to you, you will emerge on the other side. Maybe scarred, maybe scared, maybe aching everywhere. But you will be stronger, better, and more equipped to deal with the next time. And all the good moments – joy, fun, normalcy, Netflix, will be that much sweeter, for what you have endured.