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The Pain Cave: You’re On Stage

Written By George Callahan

Nov 20, 2018

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The Pain Cave

You’ve been there, or heard other runners talk about it.

Eighty miles in, chopping away at the distance, trudging uphill and falling downhill toward a distant finish line.

Feet aching, knees swollen, hamstrings twitching into a cramp.

The pain cave isn’t just about the sore feet and swollen knees and cramps though, is it?

Pain cave refers to the mental fatigue, the dread of twenty, or forty, or one hundred more miles. It speaks to the massive weight of sensation wrought by trail behind and, at the same time, the task that lay ahead.

This manifestation of the fatigue and incredible discomfort of running an ultra marathon provides purpose for the runner. He came here to learn of himself. She wanted to know if she had indomitable will. The pain cave provides the answer; once you’re there, and you make it out, you learn of yourself and certify an indomitable will.

A runner’s pain cave is a mental isolation from the world.

Your pain cave is your Why?

 

The World Beyond the hurt

An ultra marathon is unique in that it’s the incredible intersection of adventure, endurance, community, and mental toughness preparation. Ask any ultra runner, wearing his Patagonia shorts and Nathan Vapor Krar hydration pack or her Altra Trail Shoes and Wicked Trail tech tee, what he or she loves most about ultra running, and one of these will probably come up. In fact, I bet that person can’t pin down just one of these reasons he or she takes to the Wicked Trail.

That final point, the one of training mental toughness, is one ultra runners don’t have to work too hard to experience; the Wicked Trail, any ultra-endurance event, will greatly test one’s mind. The Taller Peak demands a test.

Our test as ultra marathon runners is delivered in discomfort, fatigue, and the relentless expenditure of energy on a trail that never seems to end.

Discomfort, pain, must be managed to find successYour mind must be managed in an ultra marathon.

What is success?

Earning a belt buckle?

Finding a story to tell?

Exploring adversity?

Take from an ultra marathon the breathtaking mountaintop views, the lush forests, the warm community, and the inspiration of the other runners.

And take the joy of seeing your crew and the volunteers, the warmth of the overnight broth, and the ecstasy of the sunrise.

Take the beauty of the ultra marathon with you.

But don’t neglect the adversity.

Take with you the pain, the fatigue, the fear, the trembling hands and shaky knees. And take the blisters and cuts and bruises of the Wicked Trail, that which climbs on into the mountains you love.

Use your ultra marathon as your own rejection of comfort, a testament to your culture; put yourself in a place of fatigue, distress, and vulnerability. Find where it starts to hurt. Explore the world beyond the hurt.

The Pain Cave | Forest Path
The Pain Cave | Text Image
The Pain Cave | Forest Path

You’re on stage

Place yourself in the pit of pain, of adversity. The pain cave. It’s dark, there is a storm churning the sky, the trail is rugged and leads up a steep ridge, and your feet and bruised and beaten. Rains form mud beneath you. Feel it. Place yourself into your own pit of pain and adversity. The pain cave.

Let your mind wander out and look down at yourself in the cave. Your bruised and beaten feet sink into the mud. You scramble toward the light, only to be pulled back in. The damp cave echoes your heavy, fatigued breathing.

What do you see when you look down at yourself, struggling in the cave?

See the blood, the sweat, and the tears. The trials and failures and fear. You scramble toward the light, but are pulled back in and fall to the floor. Sitting in the mud of despair, all seems lost.

Welcome to the pain cave.

Your mind has wandered out; you are self-aware. You know where you are, this cave, and you understand the predicament: You continue to struggle toward the light of relief, of comfort, but cannot get a footing. Sink deeper into the mud. Count your blisters, cuts, and bruises.

Look at yourself, down in the cave. What do you want to yell? Do you want to show yourself the way out? Should you drop a rope and pull yourself out of the mud of despair?

Will you allow yourself to quit?

No. Wait.

Remember why you first came here. You entered this cave for a reason.

Why are you running the ultra marathon?

Look around you; you’re not the only one watching yourself struggle in the cave, this pain cave. Standing around the mouth of the cave are your friends and family and the volunteers and spectators who came to watch; your children, parents, siblings, coworkers, and friends are watching!

What do they see?

Certainly they see you scramble about the cave. It’s hard to miss the mud, the water, the treachery. They see your blisters and cuts and bruises. They see the adversity.

But do they also see an iron will and mentality forged by extreme conditions? A body capable of much more than what seems possible? Do they see indomitable character?

Or do they see self-pity and a deterioration of will, embers stifled by the rain and wind, by the cold cave?

Don’t call out to them “Help! I’m in the pain cave. I can’t find a way out. Throw me a rope! It’s cold and dark in here!

Steady your voice. Change your perspective.

I’ll find my way out. I’m exploring this cave. I’ll learn its passageways. Sure, I’ll trip over rocks and roots, but I’ll understand its structure. I’ll find my way out.

Welcome to the pain cave.

What will they say about you? Will you example leave a lasting impression on them?

The Pain Cave | Ultrarunner Posing

New Perspective

You see, when you put yourself down in the pain cave, the pit of adversity, and expose yourself to extreme conditions and physical toil, you’re setting an example for those watching. An example of adventure, and experience, one of fortitude and perseverance.

Let your mind rejoin your body; explore the pit. Explore all the roots and boulders, its stalagmites and rocky ledges. That’s what the ultra marathon is: Familiarization. Placing ourselves in the pain cave, the pit of adversity, is a way to become familiar with what is to come upon our return to society, our return from the trails and mountains.

Life will not be kind to you. At any moment you are subject to crippling disease, death, heartbreak, mental degeneration, complete loss of comfort, violence, oppression, and rejection.

Familiarize yourself with discomfort. Prepare for these and remember who is watching: yourself and those you interact with daily. You came here to find out what you’re made of and now you get a front row seat to the show, to the cave.

Take a new perspective on the pain of ultra running; allow your mind to wander out and see your actions on the trail, in this cave. Explore it. Align your life with discomfort and set an example for those around you. The ones who, aligned with the culture of the common man, say “I could never do that” or “Be realistic” or “I’m comfortable here.

Live as a shining light in the darkness of complacency.

Stay on the Wicked Trail.

The Pain Cave | Text Image

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No Credit Card Required!!

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