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Growing Through the Pain

Pain is often the catalyst for enormous personal growth.

People who aren’t familiar with running often ask what the attraction to long, painful runs and races is. This weekend, for instance, I ran a 32 mile trail race through mud and water and briars. I fell on my face three times, wiped the mud off and kept going. And it was an absolute freaking blast!

And the kicker, I paid money to do this. If you run, you probably understand how that sounds like a perfectly logical thing to do.

But running isn’t the only place where we fall down, get up, dust ourselves off and keep going. Life, in general, is mirrored in these experiences, which I suppose is the attraction.

Just like in life, on those long, grueling runs, we experience high points where everything feels great, everything’s flowing, and we feel like we can do anything. And then the low points hit. The hamstring pain, the nausea, the doubt, the boredom, and the voice that was once a whisper starts to get louder-

“You’ll never make it. Who were you kidding? What the hell were you thinking? You can’t handle this. You’re not strong enough. You’re underprepared. This is for REAL runners, not you.”

Sound familiar?

That voice isn’t specific to running.

That voice lives inside all of us, and it comes up every time we decide to challenge ourselves or push outside our comfort zones to reach for something bigger.

It’s the voice of fear. It wants to keep us small and safe. That voice is the sum total of all the messages we’ve received over our lifetimes from caregivers, teachers, ex-boyfriends, bosses, “friends,” and society in general that says we can’t or shouldn’t. That voice is not us, but it sure feels like us when it’s screaming in our ears.

So when people ask me what it is about these long runs and races, this is my answer-

These runs allow me to go to those dark places, face that voice head-on and prove it wrong. These experiences give me a tangible opportunity to push through my doubts, to come to know a deeper, stronger side of myself. To grow. Just like we never come out of life’s challenges the same, we never come out of these long races the same.

Each time we face that voice and call bullshit, we learn something new about ourselves.

Exactly like life in general, during these runs, the low points hit, and we have a choice. Quit, or conquer them. If we choose to push, we feel amazing for a stretch and then another issue pops up. So we conquer that one too, over and over, and each time we come out stronger for pushing past it, proving to ourselves that the voice is wrong.

Running is a perfect metaphor for life. It allows me to see the beauty in each moment, even the painful moments, and to know my own strength. It allows me to face my weaknesses and doubts and come out the other side with so much more confidence. It shows me that the low points will pass, and that those low points are nothing to fear. In fact, low points are often gifts in disguise, allowing us to experience our incredible strength firsthand.

In life, every failure, every heartbreak, every dark time is an opportunity for us to remember our own strength and beauty and faith.

And a chance for us to slow down and take care of ourselves.

We don’t need to understand why challenges arise. Just like I have no idea why my knee suddenly hurt for about 10 miles of my race this weekend. I knew it would pass, and it did. In years past I would have let something like that consume me, and the voice would have taken over – “See, you’re too weak for this. Why are you even out here?” I would have stopped pushing for greatness…

And my life mirrored that. Every time things got scary, the voice would yell out “Yup, you’re out of your league again,” and I’d run back to safety.

Not anymore.

Knowing that the voice is not OUR voice, but the voice of fear, is a game changer.

Each time we push past that voice, past doubt and fear and discomfort, we remember just a little bit more of what we knew when we were young and fearless – that we can do anything.

And we can.

Xx Jen

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