Researchers have studied the strong connection between addiction and distance running, proving that many recovering addicts have a unique disposition for the sport. For many, one obsession is replaced by another (usually less destructive) one. The traits that can predispose a person to addiction can also produce fierce athletes.
We hear less about runners who struggle with chronic pain. Of course, the cause of pain determines whether or not a chronic pain warrior is physically able to run without causing further damage. But those who continue to run through the pain, like those who have turned to running as an anti-drug, have a unique mindset and stamina that can lead to success in running and in life.
But what about endurance athletes who already live in a chronic pain state? The jury is still out on this one. We know that activities like running increase feel-good hormones that can help reduce pain, but further research is needed to explore the relationship between chronic pain, endurance and performance.
As a runner who lives with chronic pain, I have my own theories. I think running appeals to me because it puts the ball back in my court. I didn’t choose chronic pain, but I can choose to run. And the pain associated with running is one that I can practice some control over with proper training, recovery and determination. That feeling of control, coupled with the mental fortitude required to run long distances with chronic pain, gives me a sense of power over my pain.
Running isn’t an easy sport, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you’re interested in giving it a try, keep in mind a few tips to start running as a chronic pain warrior:
1. Check with your doctor before you begin running or any new exercise program.
Your doctor can help you decide if running is safe for you and may be able to give you some recommendations based on your diagnosis and current fitness level.
2. Pace yourself and progress slowly.
A general rule of thumb for beginner runners is to increase your weekly mileage no more than 10% each week. Runners with chronic pain should be especially mindful of this rule and give their bodies extra time to adapt.
3. Make rest and recovery a priority.
Any running routine, from the low-mileage beginner plan to an elite training regimen, requires adequate rest and recovery. Take time to listen to your body and don’t ignore any unusual aches or pains. There’s nothing wrong with taking a day off!
Are you a runner with chronic pain? Share your tips in the comments!
I remember flipping through a magazine when I was a sophomore or junior in high school and coming across an article about a celebrity who had started running local 5Ks. I think it was one of those teen magazines (I have no idea who the celebrity was). I wasn’t a particularly athletic kid, but I found myself thinking, “maybe I can be a runner. I don’t have to join a team, and I can wear cool shoes.” It seemed like a logical choice for a 16-year-old with no interest in organized sports or after-school practices.
So I went to Kohl’s and bought a crappy pair of running shoes (something I wouldn’t be caught dead doing now that I work in a running store). I decided I would start by just running around the block. That seemed reasonable. But I quickly realized that I couldn’t even make it the 50 yards to the corner from my driveway.
At 16, I had already been diagnosed with migraine disease, but it wasn’t well-controlled with medication. I wouldn’t know about the endometriosis that was making me anemic and sucking the oxygen from my muscles until almost fifteen years later. In the meantime, my doctor would give me an inhaler for what he assumed was exercise-induced asthma. Each time I’d hit the road to attempt a run, my lungs would seize and burn, making it impossible for me to do anything faster than a (very) slow jog.
But I stuck with it. If it had been easy, I don’t know that I’d still be running today. Each time I went out, I tried to pass a few more houses before I had to stop and walk. Eventually, I was running a mile nonstop. I might have had a very loose definition of “running,” but I was putting one foot in front of the other. And you have to start somewhere.
Most days, I came home from school with pain and swelling behind my right eye, some degree of nausea and severe sensitivity to light and sound. When you have a migraine flare, all you want to do is curl up in bed with the lights off. And while that’s a totally acceptable response to migraine, it wasn’t my response. After all, I was in the angsty throes of teenagerhood. Running became my way of saying “fuck you” to my illness (and some days, the world). I was doing the very thing that I shouldn’t be able to do. I was sticking my middle finger up in the face of a disabling disease. I was running out of spite.
I’ve run a lot of races since the Pumpkin Dash. In just a few weeks, I’ll run my longest race yet – the Hot Cider Hustle 15K in Detroit. And I’ll need all the motivation I can get to reach that caramel apple waiting for me at the 9.3-mile mark.
I know plenty of runners who repeat empowering mantras or wear shoelaces with inspiring quotes when they run. The only mantra that seems to work for me has always been “Fuck You.” So if you see me on the race course swearing under my breath, just know I’m not cursing the weather or cramping up. I’m in the zone. This is my mantra, my power move.
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During the month of May, I took on the challenge of running and/or walking at least one mile every day for mental health awareness. The Still I Run Streak is the first "run streak" I've ever completed. Some days, that mile took everything out of me. Others, I happily ran 3-4 miles and felt great afterwards. By the end of the streak, I had run/walked a total of 60 miles in 31 days.
1. It's easier to form new habits than it is to break old ones.
I was surprised to find that creating a new habit - running/walking every day (no matter what) - was much easier to commit to than "quitting" a bad habit. Something about adding a new activity to your routine is more appealing than subtracting something that's already ingrained in your everyday life. So instead of giving up ice cream (not going to happen), I've committed to eating more fruit this month. And guess what? I'm still enjoying my ice cream and reaping the nutritional benefits of eating more fruit at the same time. After all, it's not about depriving yourself of the things that make you happy - it's about intentionally doing things every day that are good for your body, mind and soul.
2. It actually takes less mental energy to be intentional.
When you stop seeing an activity - in this case, running/walking - as optional, you eliminate the mental battle that goes along with choosing to participate in it. The time and energy that I would usually spend debating whether or not I should go for a run (and coming up with excuses not to) was entirely eliminated when I committed to the run streak. There was nothing to debate. My run suddenly became a priority. It would happen every day. No. Matter. What.
The weird part? Not having an option was somehow incredibly freeing. I felt like a little kid again: no stressful decisions, just me, my shoes and the road.
Have you ever completed a run streak? Tell me about your experience in the comments!
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If you follow me on Instagram, you're probably already getting annoyed by my #runstreak posts (sorry, not sorry). May is Mental Health Month, and I've committed to running and/or walking at least one mile every day in support of people with mental illnesses.
I recently learned about Still I Run - an organization dedicated to raising awareness and stopping the stigma surrounding mental illness - whose founder, Sasha Wolff, was featured in the May issue of Women's Running magazine. In celebration of Mental Health Month, hundreds of Still I Run community members are streaking (running or walking every day) for the entire month of May.
In addition to supporting a cause I care about, my personal run streak is a challenge to become both more intentional and more consistent in my daily exercise regimen. I've always struggled to maintain consistency, whether it's in running, writing, or any other routine. Just as blogging has given me a weekly deadline to keep me writing consistently, my hope is that this streak will get me back in the habit of moving every day. No excuses.
My motivation for taking on this challenge was sparked when I completed the Run For It 5K last month in support of another great organization dedicated to mental health, To Write Love On Her Arms. My friend's sister hosted the fundraiser, complete with a post-walk cookout at her house, raising a record-breaking $5,000. It was a beautiful day for a walk and a helpful reminder that it's going to take intentional action to overcome the stigma attached to mental illness.
Some people see duathlon simply as a training tool for triathletes, but I think it deserves to be recognized as the unique sport that it is. After all, it presents its own set of challenges and requires the same level of training and discipline as any other endurance sport.
I completed my first sprint duathlon in 2016 and completed two more races in 2017. Lots of appointments, tests and a surgery in the summer - smack dab in the middle of race season - kept me from competing last year. But 2019 is my comeback year.
Getting back into race mode is especially convenient now that I work for a running company that manages some of the best races in Northwest Ohio. As an ambassador for the company, I not only have extra incentive to run, but I can register at a discounted rate. It's a win-win.
Beginning in May, I'll undertake my most ambitious duathlon season to date. The DC Duathlon Series is a four-race series that kicks off with the Dooby Du event on Sunday, May 5. The final race, the Whitehouse Duathlon, concludes the series on Sunday, June 9.
Duathlon training presents some unique challenges for anyone with chronic illness and/or physical limitations. Even with my knowledge of training and the human body's response to exercise from years working in the fitness industry, there's no "magic pill" for duathlon training with limitations. The keys to preparing for a successful duathlon are pacing and transitioning.
If you've lived with a chronic illness for any significant period of time, you already understand the concept of pacing. It's the basis of the spoon theory and an unfortunate reality for many chronically ill people. Pacing becomes even more important in training for any kind of endurance event.
My training workouts will consist of what are known as "bricks" in the multisport world. Bricks consist of running and biking combinations in various distances, to prepare for the challenge of the full duathlon distance. My bricks, however, will be much shorter than many athletes' training workouts.
Because I have to pay special attention to pacing myself and conserve energy for race day, I'll be completing mini-bricks in the weeks leading up to my first race. While the mileage will stay relatively low, the brick format will allow me to practice transitioning from running to cycling and back to running.
That transition isn't immediate. Your body needs time to adjust to the new demands of running on legs that have become accustomed to the bike over the last several miles. This transition is what I'll be practicing in my brick workouts.
Why I'm Du-ing It Anyway
There are several reasons I love the sport of duathlon. I'm not much of a swimmer, and du allows me to compete in the multisport world without getting wet. I enjoy running 5Ks, but duathlon combines running with one of my other favorite activities - biking. I can experience the thrill of completing a 15+ mile course without the strain on my knees and lungs that running long distances requires.
Duathlon isn't for everyone, but if you're interested in giving it a try, talk to your doctor first to get their approval. Start with some mini-bricks and build your endurance slowly. Remember - it doesn't matter how slow you go. Just take the first step and pace yourself!
Follow my training journey on Instagram and try some mini-bricks for yourself! For the best gear (you'll need some good running shoes, comfortable clothes, a bike and helmet at the very least) visit Dave's Running and Cyclewerks. They both have multiple locations in Northwest Ohio, or you can shop online if that's more convenient!
To learn more about the DC Duathlon Series and other events organized by Run Toledo, visit their website and check out the race calendar.