by Joshua Taylor March 28, 2016

Why would anyone knowingly take up a hobby that is going to cause great pain?

Good question. But anyone who calls himself a triathlete has done just that. A triathlon of any distance is hard and painful. Training for a triathlon requires hours of being uncomfortable.  Yet many of us are devoted to this sport. Go figure!

In the sport of triathlon, physical ability is a primary determinant of performance, but the ability to suffer or tolerate pain is also a key factor. The simple fact of the matter is: You can’t perform at a high level and not experience pain. Clearly, those who have learned to deal with the pain, and use it to their advantage, have a leg-up in this type of sport.

What seems perfectly clear is that a triathlete looking for high performance would do well to make pain tolerance the fourth discipline and train for it.

Here are some thoughts about learning to deal with pain, maybe even embracing it:

We’ve all got more to give than we realize

People smarter than I say that we humans will reach a limit to our tolerance for suffering before we hit our physical limitations. These folks will provide plenty of scientific data to prove that theory, but I look at it a little more simply: If I were finishing a race and was totally wasted, not able to take another step, and then a lion came after me looking for his next meal, I know for certain that I would suddenly find enough physical strength to try and outrun that lion.

There’s always a little more in the tank. Keep pushing.

Know your pain

There is pain that is useful to you – work through it. And there is pain that is an indicator of something wrong – probably better to stop.

An uncomfortable feeling is good. It’s a necessary part of the process of getting better.

Likewise, if your muscles, lungs and heart feel like they’re going to explode, know that they’re not about to do any such thing. This is not a threatening situation – just another very uncomfortable part of getting stronger and faster.

If you feel a niggling sort of pain that you’ve felt before, this might be a sign that there’s a potential problem. Be smart and address this quickly before it becomes a full-blown injury.

Acute pain that occurs suddenly is a sign to stop. It may be nothing, but don’t take that chance. If it is a serious injury, trying to work through it is probably a mistake.

View the pain as a physical and mental benefit

When you’re suffering, you’re building greater pain tolerance as well as building the physical systems critical to better performance, making you stronger both mentally and physically.

Head into a tough workout or race by reminding yourself that this upcoming task will be tough and is going to hurt, but you’ll come out of it a better athlete – and who can’t get behind that?

When you’re deep in the pain cave…..

  • Focus on something other than the pain. Giving it your full attention will exaggerate the discomfort and tend to slow you down. Zeroing in on your form is not only a good distraction from the pain, it’ll probably reduce it as well.
  • Welcome it as a tool used to gain better performance.
  • Remember that everyone else is feeling it, too. Think of yourself as better equipped to handle it than everyone else.

There’s a time for comfort and a time to be really uncomfortable

Comfortable is what you should feel during a recovery workout and while resting between hard intervals or sets. Uncomfortable is what to expect (and strive for) when your workout goal is a prescribed power or pace and during every race. Without that discomfort, you’ll never discover the athlete you might have been.

Be prepared for pain.

Be willing to experience it.

Be committed to holding on.

At the end of a tough workout or a hard-fought race, what will make you happier: Having been comfortable or having suffered and endured?

No need to respond to that – we both know the answer.

Good luck

Joshua Taylor
Joshua Taylor


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