The Pain Cave

During the winter months of racing, every weekend brings with it anywhere from one to three (to nine if you are competing in the Tour de Ski) opportunities to enter the pain cave.  During the summer training months, however, we don’t get as many chances.  A body can only take so much in one season, so we typically reserve all out efforts for closer to the start of the season, and of course the season itself.  But every once in a while during the summer months, we enter the pain cave.  Just to remember what it feels like.  As if we could forget.

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The ultimate shape shifter, this week the pain cave took on the form of a 2 mile uphill run test.  And yes, it is just as hard as it sounds.  The one brief downhill just following the half way mark seems to mock me more than help me (downhill running just isn’t any easier than uphill running), and with no rest the test truly is a hammer-fest (note the rhyme).


Before I go further, I have a confession to make.  Saturday was the first time I actually wanted to punch my 2 mile uphill run pain cave pass.  In the past, I’ve viewed the pain cave as something to be reserved solely for winter racing.  Not to be entered during the summer, during a time trial, and especially not in running shoes.  Looking back, I think I did this on purpose.  I believe that I used this as a cop out, an excuse, if only to myself.  I rationalized that if I didn’t check-in to the pain cave during a workout, then I could tell myself I had more to give.  A disappointing time trial result became a little less disappointing, not finishing the last set of pull-ups justifiable. I could have gone further, faster.  Could have done one more pull up, five more minutes of mobility.  But if I stopped myself intentionally (however sub consciously), then my under achievement didn’t matter.  Because I could have done it, had I wanted to.

I didn’t even realize I had been committing self-stagnation until this spring.  During some tough workouts at the PowerHouse, I discovered a new ability to push myself.  Did doing 4 rounds of a circuit versus 3 rounds have an immediate effect on my ski racing?  Physically, probably not that much (although added up over an off season of training, the effect is likely noticeable).  Mentally, however, a huge effect.  Instead of politely knocking at the pain cave’s door to see if anyone was home, I was breaking that baby down.

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On Saturday, I broke my previous personal best on the uphill run test by 48 seconds.  I am certainly fitter than I was last summer, but I think the biggest shift has been in my mind.  Right from the get-go I was pushing, and pushing hard.  I didn’t wait for an invite to the pain cave, but just crashed the party from the moment the clock started.  And, it was awesome.  The 13 minutes and 19 seconds hurt like hell, but I survived.  Then, everyone rode an endorphin high for a solid hour before crashing hard into a midmorning nap.

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It’s not necessary to go into the pain cave every workout–you don’t want to overstay your welcome.  But every once in awhile, it’s good to reacquaint yourself.  That way come winter, you can greet one another like old friends, skip the casual talk, and get to racing.

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Also, look for a post later this week about a Fund/Friend-raiser I’ll be hosting in coordination with the PowerHouse on September 27th.  It’s gonna be good!

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