running trail

On pain and steep learning curves

As you start this week, may you learn to appreciate the purpose behind your pain. I know that’s what I’m learning right now.

I recently started running again after a year hiatus, when I tore my ACL and needed complete reconstructive surgery (it was a doozy). Most of last spring I was in regular physical therapy, followed by a slow but steady build back up to basic life skills like climbing stairs, straightening both legs to the same degree, and sitting in a tiny airline seat all the way to Syndey, Australia. Stuff like that.

The rules were: no trail running, yoga, pilates, or sports that involved a back-and-forthness for one year (because of all the knee twisting). No skiing or snowboarding for two years (because that’s how I tore my ACL in the first place). But after a few months in to therapy, I could ease back in to stationery biking, swimming laps, steady track running, and easy weight lifting in order to build strength.

Can I just admit right here that I did almost nothing for a year? That’s right. I went from running several miles a day, several times per week, to nothing. That “easy weight lifting”? Nada.

Needless to say, my strength went downhill pretty fast in 2013. I turned in the Blue Bike manuscript on January 31 after nonstop writing for a month. I tore my ACL on February 9. It was a super-active year for me.


So now that we’re back from our travels, I’m back at running. It feels amazing. But not only have I needed to start slowly because of my knee and general pathetic weakness, I’ve also decided to try out minimalist shoes, taking all the precautions I’ve both read about online and talked through when I was fitted for them.

(Minimalist shoes force you to run differently than with regular running shoes; as though you’re running barefoot through grass. It takes time to get used to them. But that’s a different post for another day.)

And even though it does feel amazing to be back at running, I’d be seriously lying if I didn’t tell you: I’m also in complete pain. I feel every single muscle down both legs and throughout my feet. My upper arms ache. My core, shoulders, and neck are sore. My toes are okay, but that’s about it.

I’m learning the consequence of negligence, of physical idleness, and I’m paying for it now. It sucks, to be perfectly honest. But I know it’s not without meaning. It serves a purpose.

I’m learning the benefit of pain right now. I’m learning that pain is worth it because it’s a symptom of progress. It means I’m farther than I was yesterday. It means I’m trying something new, I’m learning, and that new often equals pain in the beginning. It’s good, I’ve learned, to always have something in my life with a steep learning curve.

She stopped making excuses and started making progress. (Print by Pen & Paint.)
Art from Pen & Paint

This doesn’t mean pain is a skip through the meadow. I’m still in the early phase of forcing myself to get out the door to endure it all. But I know it’s worth it, and both my future goals and the daily joy of completion and progress are helping me run through the pain, one step at a time.

If you’re enduring pain right now, step back and reflect on its purpose. Do you see any? Even if it’s no fun, are you able to wade through the Hallmark-card thoughts about pain giving you strength, and unearth the truth that pain isn’t meaningless? It’s not. I promise.

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