Today’s post is a short and sweet ditty on the phrase “pushing through the pain barrier”. I’m sure most of you will have heard that when tackling something that requires extreme effort or hard work, all you need to do is push through the pain barrier and things will get easier from thereon in. I’ve been thinking a lot about this term lately and I’ve decided that it is a phrase so laden with negatives that it’s bound to lead to failure. Pain is not something we want to head towards and barriers usually signify a no go area, so the idea of approaching and then pushing through your pain barrier feels far too unpleasant to me and actually makes me want to sit in a comfy chair with a nice cup of tea and piece of chocolate cake instead.

Having said that, one could argue that I have actually managed to accomplish this feat in one area of my life and lived to tell the tale. That area is running. Around seven years ago I had a twenty-a-day smoking habit and I hadn’t exercised on a regular basis since Highschool. My flatmate at the time came home from work one day and asked me if I wanted to take part in a run for charity, ‘we don’t have to run, we can walk it’ she reassured me, so without giving it any proper thought I signed myself up.

My first ‘race’ was a 5K fun run for Cancer Research. I warmed up for the race by smoking a cigarette and I celebrated it’s completion by smoking a cigarette, but something happened to me in between that was going to change my life forever. I started out walking as was our intention, but as I watched people overtake me I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to run and so I did. I had no idea when I woke up that morning that a fun run in the local park was going to spark a passion in me that would last a lifetime. My next race was a 10k run a year or so later and a year or so after that I threw caution to the wind and signed myself up for the London Marathon. At some point over the years I gave up smoking as it was starting to interfere with my running!

Training for a marathon meant that I quickly learnt about the pain barrier and what exists on the other side. When people would say to me, I’d love to run but I can’t even manage ten minutes, I leap to tell them that the first ten minutes is the hardest and then trust me it does get easier. The reason I’ve been thinking about this concept so much lately is because I recently started running again after a 3 year break. In late 2009 I was training for the 2010 Brighton Marathon when my knee started to hurt, I stopped running for fear of doing some serious damage and I never really ran again.

Every time I tried, even if only for 5 minutes my knee would swell up and start to throb with pain. I saw countless physiotherapists but never really got a proper diagnosis. The last appointment I had was a week before I left the UK and as we were finishing up  my physiotherapist casually said to me that I would probably find that the pain would cease once I stopped sitting at a desk all day and spending four hours a day commuting. That last glimmer of hope is what saw me cram my running shoes into a backpack that had barely enough space for a pair of flip-flops and I left with the firm intention to put her theory to the test.

Yesterday I ran a whole 20 minutes without pain and my next run will see me push that up to 25, when I hit 30 I will also hit the 5k mark (where it all began). When I did my first run in Koh Lanta about 5 weeks ago, I could barely run 3 minutes before I felt like my lungs were going to explode, but it wasn’t my prior knowledge of pushing through the pain barrier that kept me going, in fact I doubt I’ve given my “pain barrier” a second thought. What kept me going was the prize at the end of it all. The utter joy and freedom I feel during a run and the sense of peace and achievement that comes after I’ve completed a run.

So the moral of today’s story? Don’t think about pain, don’t think about barriers, don’t even think about pushing. Just think about your goal and why you are doing whatever it is that you are doing and as you work towards it, let yourself fantasize freely about claiming your prize. When I was training for the London Marathon, people would often say to me ‘don’t you get bored on long runs?’ I’d always answer no, but was a little too self-conscious back then to explain that what I did do for the duration of any long training run was to fantasize about marathon day. I’d picture my friends all turning up to cheer me along and I’d see myself triumphantly crossing the finishing line, to the cheering masses on the mall. The actual day lived up to all expectations and I can honestly say that the day I completed the 2008 London Marathon was one of the best days of my life.

If you have experience of achieving something that you once wouldn’t have believed possible, let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear how you did it. If you liked this post please do share it by hitting one or several of the buttons below.