No Pain, No Problem: The Running Pain Myth | 86.47 Miles

A creek in the New River Gorge Of West Virginia

Running pain is not mandatory, soaking in moments like this on the trail should be.

There seems to be a pervasive belief in the running community, from trail running to road running and all steps in between, that pain is an integral part of the sport. I think that’s bullshit. I know you know what I’m talking about. If you run, talk to runners, read about running or watch videos about the sport the discussion of running pain seems to be as ubiquitous as running shoes. I believe that we’ve brought a self destructive mindset into the sport of trail running by giving so much power to running pain.

The hearts of any superstitious readers are about to skip a beat with my next statement. I’ve been running about a year and a half now and to date have no injuries (sure, I’ve drawn blood, but I mean real injuries) and have experienced no significant pain on the trail. I don’t believe I possess super human running genes. Nope, really I think it’s that I have a slight slacker mentality around my trail running that places personal satisfaction of mileage and time. It’s led to the following strategies that I believe help dodge running pain and injury.

  1. If you’re not feeling it, stop. I believe in listening to my body. If I crave greens, I buy some and cook them… or better yet juice them. If I’m sleepy, I go to bed. So why would I push my mileage for the sake of mileage if my body says “Nope.”? I’m not talking about that feeling that always hits me a few miles into a run as my body adjusts to the activity. That urge to admit running is hard. I’ve learned that comes just before I fall into a rhythm. What I mean is that if I’m on a run, and it’s consistently feeling wrong I just turn around and head home. Hey, that trail isn’t going anywhere!
  2. If something hurts, something is wrong. Figure out the cause and change it. When I first started running and pushing my mileage I suffered from some brutal shin splints. Shin splints, also called tibial stress syndrome, are caused by inflammation of the muscles in the lower leg. Trial and error lead me to isolate my shoes as the issues. They where $30 Nike “Trail Running” shoes from a discount store that really weren’t built for anything more then a couple miles on your city jogging trail. I upgraded to a better made shoe, some Asics I picked up at my favorite discount running gear site, Sierra Trading Post. With a lower center of gravity, less drop and a wide stance the shoes made my pain vanished. ( I later ditched them for a pair of lightweight, minimalist shoes – a blog for another day).
  3. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. Seriously. I believe it’s great to have goals. Mileage goals, time per mile, distance. Those are great motivators but I believe it’s critical not to let the desire to accomplish your goal keep you from losing the moments of your run – forgetting we’re out there because we want to be. When a goal takes control as the only drive for your running you just might start ignoring the warning signs that you’re pushing your body too hard. Own your goal, don’t let your goal own you to maintain happiness and pain free running.

All of this considered I will say there’s a time an place for running pain. Without it world records would never be set and we’d never push the absolute limits of the human body. Ultras would never be completed and gold medals would never be won. But maybe running pain is a consequence better left to the top 1% of our sport. We do ourselves and fellow runners a disservice if we frame it as a mandatory aspect of the sport. We encourage the ill-prepared, weekend warrior, first time marathoner to flirt with cardiac arrest and dehydration. We promote gritting through repetitive injury caused by poor techniques rather then seeking out safe and sustainable running habits.

Forget “No pain, no gain”. No pain, no problem is the new anthem. Let’s run because it feels good.

1,113.53 miles to go!