“Pain is my friend.”
My dad unknowingly drilled these four simple words in my head, where they echo endlessly when I need to hear them most.
Pain definitely is my friend, even my best friend at times, like when I ran my first marathon in 2010. Pain paid me an expected visit at mile 13 all the way to the last .2 miles, and decided to spend a week with me when the race was over.
Pain’s stay during the marathon was indescribable agony. Every time I thought I overcame the uninvited guest’s visit, it would come back with a vengeance in my knees, in my toes, in my shoulders, in my entire five-foot tall frame. It was unbearable.
I’m enduring the 26.2 mile journey all over again in four days. The Twin Cities Marathon (TC Marathon) is this Sunday, October 7, and the pain will undoubtedly accompany all of the race’s 12,000 runners, whether they realize it or not.
As much as I condemn my supposed “friend,” there’s obviously something I’m enticed by if I’m willingly reliving its stay for a second marathon. What about this pain is so attractive?
It’s the determination that goes hand in hand with pain. Admittedly, there are very few achievements in my life that can be traced back to the kind of dedication needed for running a marathon.
I traveled to Chicago, Japan, and New York this summer, and I kept up with my training as best I could thanks to determination. Imagine trying to complete a long distance run in Manhattan’s concrete jungle when you’re nowhere near Central Park. Getting up to run early every morning before my internship was a routine that took some adjusting to for me.
Studying abroad in Japan wasn’t any easier. I remember the monotonous circles I ran in to complete my 15 mile run because I didn’t want to get lost in Tokyo. On top of that, the stares I got for running the same one mile lap were priceless, considering running is an unusual hobby in Japan. But I didn’t care; I was determined.
It’s the strength I build from pain when I’m beginning to lose sight of my goal. People commonly underestimate the power of mental strength. I vividly remember running 10 laps of Staring Lake in Eden Prairie nearly three weeks ago. By this time, I trained enough so that the first 16 miles were a cinch. It was the remaining 6.5 that questioned my ability to finish the run.
My toes were uncomfortably numb, my knees were comparable to those of a 90-year old woman, and I was hoping to stumble upon those gold neck rings tribal Burmese women wear since I thought my neck was going to go limp. But my mental strength came largely in the form of those four words, “Pain is my friend.” I reiterated that phrase in my mind countless times, until I completed my final lap and saw where my family’s pearly white Prius was parked, my personal finish line throughout summer training.
In my first marathon, the physical strength lead me to the halfway point, but it was the mental strength that brought me to that spectator-filled finish line two years ago.
Lastly, it’s how accomplished I feel when pain thinks it’s getting the best of me. Let me start off by saying that I’m not innately athletic. I didn’t do sports in high school (does one season of cheerleading count?). I played basketball up until the point where being vertically challenged was an issue. I would run short distances every so often, but that was only when my mean older brother would chase me with his used tissue (true story). Otherwise, that’s it.
Needless to say, training for and running my first marathon with my father was a watershed moment in the history of my athleticism. When I feel the pain of doing my interval training, while I’m trudging my way through those long, weekly runs, and during the speed work days when I’m drenched in sweat, that same pain brings forth an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It’s that feeling that makes all the pain worthwhile.
And the greatest feeling of them all: crossing the finish line. All the hard work I put into training and all the sacrifices I made to my social life and diet made this finish line moment possible. As a non-athlete, it makes me proud.
The self-exploration this 26.2 mile journey provides has helped me define the true meanings of determination, strength, and accomplishment. These attributes are the reason I’m a marathoner, and they all stem from pain.
The course for the TC Marathon goes past the arches on Summit Avenue, so I strongly suggest making a stop there between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to cheer for those who dedicated their time and energy for this monumental race. You can go to admire the scenery as well (TC Marathon is voted the most beautiful urban marathon in the nation).
My former-marathoner dad was right. Pain is my friend, and we’re about to get pretty cozy this Sunday, and all over again for my 50k race (31.25 miles) in April.
Geena Maharaj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.