You don’t realise how sore it is until it stops

A sliver of glass in my finger courtesy of a broken bottle in a box of beer. (Perhaps Karma trying to tell me that proper athletes don't drink beer). A sharp scratch and a bead of bright red blood wells up. It nips, nothing more. I run it under water and have a tentative poke and conclude there is no glass in it.

As the day passes there is the odd sharp intake of breath when I inevitably catch the nick of skin. After a particularly sharp one I responded subconsciously, as we often do, and popped my finger in my mouth. I am not sure why we respond is this way, but we do. My tongue felt something hard and sharp: glass. So there was glass in it. No problem; a pair of tweezers and some good light and it was gone.

A short while later I comment to Alasdair that I had not realised how sore it was all day until after it stopped hurting.

A bit like why are you banging your head off the wall?

Because it feels so good when I stop

He mused.

Pain is a strange thing. We all have a different tolerance levels and what one person may find painful another won’t. I always recall my mother saying to me ‘child birth is the worst pain you will know but the quickest forgotten’. She was right. If we did not forget it none of us would have another child. I took no pain relief of any type when having my girls, something that a doctor friend regarded as both masochistic and insulting.

 ‘We have spent decades developing pain relief and you just throw it back at us’.

Of all the things it was a needle going into the back of my hand during Briony’s birth that elicited an ‘ouch’.

As ultra-runners pain is something we all know about. Sooner or later it will hurt. It is a masochistic sort of pain as we tolerate it and push through it and keep going back for more. It also feels so good when it stops, but is like labour too, quickly forgotten as the sense of achievement takes over: why else would we keep going back for more.

It is however, for us lesser mortals, often replaced, by a whole other world of pain: the post-race DOMS that reduces us to shuffling and groaning our way around like an arthritic pensioner to comments of

Self-inflicted You’re not getting any sympathy.

We don’t need it because to warm glow of achievement takes the edge of it.

We learn to tolerate the pain, to find distractions, to push through with a mixture of adrenaline and mental strength. If we didn’t we would never finish races. Recently I ran with a friend who had the most horrendous blisters and she pushed and pushed through the tear inducing pain determined that she was not going to fail because blisters. Another friend lanced and stitched her blisters during a multi-day event.  I am not sure that I could tolerate blisters at that level, but then during the West Highland Way race I ran for a considerable number of miles with a painful foot eventually no longer noticing the pain of what I later discovered was a huge blood blister caused by a small stone in my shoe. I have run with back-pain and hip pain which others cannot, but will pull up with a tight achy quad. We all have different triggers.

Our ability to do this is a double edged sword. Sometimes we ignore pain that we should not and end up injured or making an injury worse, and how often do we hear of people running with fractures. It is difficult to learn which pain to ignore and which to push through. We struggle mentally with enforced rest, not starting a race or worst of all not finishing one, so we push. Even when our sensible head correctly identifies a ‘stop now’ pain, our adrenaline fueled mule head says, ‘MTFU, it’s only a bit of pain, keep going’ and so we do.

Then there is that exquisite torture that is the pain of the sports massage.

I’m off for a massage’

‘Oh, nice’, is the response of the uninitiated.

No not really. The massage that quite often leaves me feeling a bit queasy and a bit short-tempered. Self-inflicted pain is one thing but lying there trying not to punch the masseur as your muscles are stripped and trigger points released is something else. These are techniques that have made grown men cry. It is a very pure pain – exquisite – that leaves the greatest sense of relief when it stops, and ultimately relieves you of the aches and pains that brought you there in the first instance.

Oh, and then there is that instrument of torture: the foam roller that has us rolling around on the floor in a world of pain and silent screams.

How I love that wall that my head keeps banging and the selective memory that makes me forget how sore it is and repeating the experience over and over again.

And I am not even going to start on the 'go faster' waxing sessions.