Comfort zone

When I run, I have a tendency to constantly assess how I feel. If I don’t otherwise occupy my brain, I will spend the entire time I’m pounding pavement registering each twinge, ache, and burn. How’s my breathing? Is my knee okay? Why does my calf feel stiff? Am I tensing my shoulders? When something hurts, even a little, my willingness to continue plummets.

In general, I think that pain serves as an indicator, a warning signal. Pain means, Stop! Something’s wrong! But what if–WHAT IF–there’s a difference between pain and discomfort?

This idea came to me during my run yesterday morning. The day before, I had done a long run that taxed my body more than I wanted to admit. I had some sore muscles–but no real injuries–as I hit the pavement. Every step seemed arduous, and my calf muscles made themselves known each time they flexed. More than once, I had the thought that I should cut the run short, that I wasn’t up to it.

Thankfully, I started to consider the logic. The route/distance I had planned for the day was a normal one for me; I’ve done it countless times. My muscles were sore, but that was because I had given them a pretty good workout the day before. There was no pain signal to stop, just reminders of my earlier activity. I might have been uncomfortable, but I wasn’t risking injury. If I stuck with it, not only would I feel better about myself afterward, but I would also likely work out much of the lactic acid plaguing my muscles in the first place. Instead of killing me, this run might actually help me. Though it was far from my best ever, I finished it. And I’m glad I did.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between pain and discomfort ever since. True pain should be an indicator to stop what I’m doing in order to avoid injury. Discomfort, however, is usually just a signal that making progress isn’t always easy. To realize success, I plow ahead.

I wonder how many times I’ve confused discomfort for pain. I wonder how many times I’ve given up on a project when I should have muscled through it.