The Anatomy of Pain.

girl in pink jacket on wooden bridge in the forest
Photo by Zac Frith on

Pain. What does it mean to you?  How would you define it?

This is a topic that I’ve been digesting quite a bit lately.  Why, I don’t know for sure. It just seems to keep popping up for some reason.  Or at least more often than usual, since pain is part of what I do for work.

I work with athletes that are having pain all of the time.  We talk about symptoms, issues, problems, and the like.  But, we all seem to have different definitions for pain.

Rich Roll talks about pain frequently in his interviews and when he writes.  I took some time recently to re-read one of his books and watched a couple of interviews the other day when I was on the bike trainer.  I like the way his mind works; mostly because we agree on the topic of pain.   More on that later…

I also like to watch ultramarathoners on YouTube as they share their stories about the “why” behind their quest.  Recently, a particular runner struck me with his honesty when he talked about pain.  His opinion was that we have become too comfortable these days.  We no longer hunt for food, or fight for our lives so that we can survive another day. Instead, we have become somewhat soft.  We rely on creature comforts, and are safe and warm in our cozy little environments where we can control almost everything.

He rebels against this societal norm, and chooses to go out and look for pain and suffering.  That is when he feels most alive.  I can understand that, and happen to agree with that sentiment 100%.

Rich Roll talks about how he constantly pushes the outside of his pain envelope.  That is where is feels happiest.  He likes to challenge his mind and body to keep moving, no matter what he is experiencing, fully knowing that he is capable if he can get past his brain telling him to quit.

Again, I agree.

There’s something about pain and suffering that is attractive at some level.  Maybe that’s at the source of why we do the things we do.  I know that I never want to feel satisfied and complacent with life itself; I’d like to continue to strive for something better.  I also know that I look at my pain and/or suffering as a way to sort of “offer it up” to God.  The pain that Jesus went through or the suffering of someone going through cancer treatment makes my little discomfort seem so small.  Surely, I can put up with running more miles when I compare what I’m going through with true suffering.

I look back on my life, and I can see all of the times that pain transformed me.  I can say with all honesty, that I’m happy I went through what I did so that I am the person that I am today. I’m not afraid of pain. I am comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Before Ironman Ohio last year, as we dropped my bike off at T1, my husband and I were talking about the race.  I told him I was actually looking forward to the suffering that I knew would happen on the run.  I wanted to feel that pain, I wanted to experience it completely.  And, then I would be like the Pheonix; a new person on the other side of that race.  And I am.

Surely, if I can get through that, I can get through anything.  And this is how I view life.

If I can make it through all of the pain I have experienced, I can let it transform me into someone that is fearless. After having broken bones, bearing 4 children, having two cardiac ablations while I lay awake watching, having kidney stones and lithotripsy, and the countless other things that were so painful I can barely talk about them….surely, I can get through the next challenge that rolls up.  And, I will.

I will continue to push my own envelope, as that is when I, too, feel most alive.  I will continue to come out on the other side a stronger, better version of myself who is unafraid.  I will walk willingly into the darkness of the next challenge, and I will come out of it changed.  And I will be thankful.

Run Happy, Run Long.


Amy is an ultramarathoner and triathlete, a mother of four, an Exercise Physiologist and a Physical Therapist. She lives with her husband, Dan (also an ultramarathoner and triathlete), and kids in Ohio.

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