No Pain, No Gain

Do recre­ational run­ners suf­fer dif­fer­ently than elites?

Canadian Running - - Body Work -

Dr. Wil­liam Bridel was hav­ing the worst race of his life: swim­ming through nau­sea, cy­cling with se­vere back pain and shuff ling through a full marathon ex­hausted, sore and de­hy­drated.

“In any other con­text, if I was feel­ing that level of pain, I’d have taken my­self to the emer­gency room,” he says. But he didn’t. Be­cause this was an Iron­man and, as it was chalked on the marathon route ahead of him, you’re ex­pected to “suck it up, but­ter­cup.”

A pro­fes­sor in the Univer­sity of Cal­gary’s fac­ulty of ki­ne­si­ol­ogy, his experience led him to seek out other “week­end war­riors” to un­der­take a the­sis on per­cep­tions of pain in sport.

Through his in­ter­views, he dis­cov­ered some wor­ry­ing trends among the at­ti­tudes of en­durance ath­letes and a need for us to change the dia­logue about pain.

Nor­mal­iz­ing the hurt

Re­search shows elite ath­letes con­sider pain to be part of sport and non-elite ath­letes are no dif­fer­ent. Ac­cord­ing to Dr. Bridel’s study, re­spon­dents not only ac­cepted pain, they ex­pected it.

“The nor­mal­iza­tion of pain in sport is con­cern­ing, es­pe­cially among non-elite ath­letes who have to be fit to re­turn to ev­ery­day life af­ter rac­ing or train­ing,” he says. “Of­ten a sense of achieve­ment sur­passes the feel­ing of pain which can lead to a dan­ger­ous state of tun­nel vi­sion.”

Which is some­thing Dr. Bridel ex­pe­ri­enced in his own night­mare race.

“I crossed the fin­ish line, col­lapsed and as the vol­un­teers are drag­ging me to the med­i­cal tent I’m yelling ,‘Best day of my life, when can I do the next one?,’” he laughs. “It was ab­surd.”

Boys don’t cry (and nei­ther do girls)

“There’s a com­plex re­la­tion­ship be­tween pain and gen­der,” says Dr. Bridel. “But when look­ing specif­i­cally at the experience of pain in sport among non-elite ath­letes, re­sponses were re­mark­ably sim­i­lar from both men and women.”

“There’s this no­tion that pain isn’t some­thing that we talk about in sport,” he continues. “But there’s also a f lip­side where ath­letes will talk about their in­juries to any­one who’ll lis­ten but won’t stop train­ing in or­der to prove how ma­cho they are. Wider re­search has shown women tend more to­wards si­lence; which is likely due to the fact they’ve had to fight harder for their place in sport than men.”

Hurts so good

Over­whelm­ingly Dr. Bridel’s in­ter­vie­wees be­lieved sports-re­lated pain was all part of a big­ger pic­ture: pain in the pur­suit of per­ceived health­i­ness. “We have this idea that to hurt is healthy in sport. Hurt­ing means we’re get­ting stronger. Which is some­what true when re­lated to adap­tive re­sponse, but we need to be care­ful how far we take this idea,” he says. “Not all pain is healthy. Not all pain is good. Not all pain makes us stronger. More of­ten pain is our body’s way of alert­ing us to in­jury.”

Good old Vi­ta­min I

When one re­spon­dent asked Dr. Bridel why he hadn’t asked him about Vi­ta­min I, he had no idea what he was talk­ing about. Then the re­spon­dent ex­plained that he was re­fer­ring to ibupro­fen. “I hadn’t heard that phrase be­fore: Vi­ta­min I, but af­ter that ini­tial in­ter­view it came up sev­eral times. I ad­mit I’ve been guilty of it my­self; when you’re head­ing out for a long run and you grab some gels and a packet of painkillers.” But overuse of over-the-counter painkillers is by no means healthy. “Ex­ces­sive use of Ibupro­fen can cause all sorts of health is­sues in­clud­ing re­nal fail­ure. It’s far from healthy as a strat­egy for pain man­age­ment.”

“Of­ten a sense of achieve­ment sur­passes the feel­ing of pain which can lead to a dan­ger­ous state of tun­nel vi­sion.”

Natasha Wo­dak push­ing through the pain to pass Rachel Han­nah and win the 2015 Canadain Cross-Coun­try Cham­pi­onship

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