In life, there are many forms of pain ranging from physical to mental to spiritual. To an extent I’ve managed to deal with most of them quite well, and unfortunately this gift was learned through trial and error, not passed on. As an example, if I were to look at my dad, who was quite successful in life despite several shortcomings that should have limited that success. As many believe, that because of my father’s success I had it easier because common misperception states that he passed the knowledge of how to be successful in spite of problems on to me. Sadly that wasn’t the case, in fact quite the opposite was true – all he really did was make it look easy, when we all know being successful is anything but. In short, my dad passed on the idea that good things just happen, not that the vast majority of people have to work their ass off for the rewards.
In terms of physical fitness I had a lot less to go on than that. Neither of my parents were active – at all. My mom’s hardest activity of the day (at least when I was a kid) was chasing after us. There was no biking or jogging though she did go for the rare walk from time to time. My dad golfed a couple of times a week but he rode in a cart almost exclusively. Both of my parents managed to maintain their weight – as heavy, but nowhere near obese – through diet alone. When I started running I had nothing to go by. I did have some friends that I ran with that offered some help but generally speaking the available advice didn’t always fit my situation… I learned a lot by doing my best, motoring through what I could and talking to my doctor or local pros/shop owners for the rest.
When I started running, my biggest problem was that I knew nothing about purchasing running shoes. I’d been a size 10 since puberty, so when I went shopping for running shoes that’s what I told the guy I wore. The clerk, a long time runner himself, offered to measure me up but I poo-poo’ed the idea as unnecessary. After a year of running in shoes that fit just fine for walking, I could barely make it up and down a flight of stairs unassisted the day after anything longer than a 10k. After a time I spoke with my doctor about my problem so he gave me a sheet of paper with some stretches on it and I did those daily for months. The pain subsided quite a bit, but not fully, so I talked to the owner of my local running shop about my issue. The first thing he did was measure my feet, only to find out that I’d been running in shoes at least a size too small for more than a year (I’m between 11 & 12 now depending on brand). I was right as rain within a couple of weeks and was even able to stop the stretches. That was the last time I ever waited more than a couple of weeks on pain to “get better”.
Since, I’ve been through a couple of bouts with plantar fasciitis and a pulled plantaris muscle, but certainly nothing major. On that pulled plantaris muscle, I did notice something incredibly weird reading about other’s run-ins with that little sucker… If you search the internet, and even talk to some doctors, they’re recommending rest to recover from the pulled muscle. My doctor told me under no circumstances was I to take another day off (I took three over a long weekend) and that he wish I hadn’t taken those off. He recommended cycling immediately to help the muscle recover (slow speed, 80-90 cadence, drop the heel to stretch the muscle back out) and to get back into running on my next scheduled day. I’ve heard of as much as two to four weeks of rest prescribed… I missed three days and was pain-free after my third run day (about a week). I don’t know for sure (because I’m not a doctor), but I really believe that the difference is that my doctor really pays attention to keeping people on the road – he is unbelievably well versed in the need to stay active – and he pays attention to what is needed to stay that way.
A couple of other things that really help manage pain are inversion stands (those dealios that you lock your feet into so you can hang upside-down). If you’ve never tried one, they are indeed little miracles and are worth the investment. Finally, I wear a bite splint at night – it’s a quaint little bite guard that cushions my teeth from being clenched too tightly (I have cracked teeth because I clench so tightly in my sleep – but that’s for part 2). I wrote about the bite splint here and here. I highly recommend them… I can remember how good I felt after only the first night wearing it – it felt like someone took a grease can and lubed all of my joints. I felt so good I got misty – because I finally knew what it felt like to feel good.
Beyond that though, the best thing I’ve bumped into in all of my years of running that helped heal me up was cycling. Running, whether I am doing it wrong, or was never in good enough shape, was never an everyday activity for me – I needed a couple of days off in between runs to recover. The day after I was usually quite stiff. The second day I started to feel better and I could manage a 5k, but would then need another couple of days before my big run on the weekend. Once I started cycling though, especially if I can ride after my run, the healing process is much quicker. Cross training (thus, cycling) has changed my life for the better in more ways than I can count, but in terms of pain management, it’s tops on the list. I’ve been riding or running almost every day for two seasons and with the exception of one stupid mistake, I haven’t even sniffed an injury.