Pain tolerance

I'm cleaning out my drafts folder and it looks like I wrote this back in July of 2014. (I know.) We're having our first snowy weekend of the winter, so I thought I'd take care of some New Year's housekeeping in this poor, long-neglected blog of mine. Hope everyone is staying warm!

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Before I left for our trip to Europe last year, my dentist couldn't seem to figure out why I was having such horrible jaw/headache/tooth pain. He suggested it might be TMJ, which I hadn't ever heard of. before. The details of what TMJ is doesn't matter (and I wound up just needing an ordinary root canal, hooray) but I came across something interesting in my internet research:

Thanks, Dr. Google.

Thanks, Dr. Google.

See that? "Exercise to increase pain tolerance." 

In the throes of my tooth pain (waking up in the middle of the night in Bonn, Germany in desperation and despair, crying and bargaining with myself to just try to hang on for 15 more minutes to let the Tylenol 3 kick in), I felt myself growing panicked, irrational. To calm myself I listed every painful thing I'd ever experienced, to try to convince myself I could endure it. I thought about waking up after surgery in 2010, with wild spasms that felt like electric shocks coursing through my stomach where they'd cut through my muscles. I thought about running my second marathon (the one that hurt). I thought about the word "endurance," and what it means. Endurance -- a funny word that to me, until then at least, just meant "long-distance running."

Of course, it's more than that. While thinking about these things I slowly counted to ten, slowing my breathing and gently talking to myself in my head. "There you go, almost there, ten more breaths. Just a few more minutes of this."

These are all the same tricks I use to get through a bad stretch of miles, or a tough speed workout.

Quite literally, endurance training trains the body to endure -- endure more stress and at greater intensity. It's not right to think of a race as the only time to "cash in" on my training. I'm an endurance athlete, enduring is what I'm good at. I can handle pain. This is what I've trained for.

There in the dark, in a strange bedroom far away from home, I straightened my shoulders and relaxed my grimace. This is what I had trained to do. I stopped suffering like someone awake in the middle of the night with a toothache, and started suffering like an athlete.