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PAIN – where do athletes draw the line?

The tearing of skin. The brilliant flash of a bead of blood. Then, the sharp ache of a blister.

A build-up of pressure. A constant dull pain in the shins which intensifies into a knife-edge on any contact. The fear of shin splints, of stress fractures.

A fall, out of the blue. Grazed knees and palms which smart with the brush of the cold morning wind. A worrying seed which plants, suggesting that something else will go wrong, that something else has gone wrong, that something has twisted or pulled or bruised.

Do you keep going through the aches and pains? Do you carry on running or lifting or climbing past the first warning signs? Do you know when to take a step back?

I don’t. I’m bad at letting myself slow down or take a rest day when I haven’t already planned or scheduled it into the week. And I find that it isn’t until after I feel the sharp pain or see the blood that I take any injury seriously enough to stop.

When I first started running, I thought blisters where a badge of honour, a necessary evil that occurred whenever I pounded the pavements. I would run through the pain, practically tearing my feet into ribbons, leaving them tattered and torn and white-hot to the touch. It wasn’t until I changed my running shoes that I realised how wrong I had been, and I now get through 16, 18, 20 mile runs without a single blister. In fact, one of the first signs that I should change my shoes is when they get worn and my feet start to rub.

Blisters on my hand are more of an accepted pain. As a climber and a lifter, I’m used to having thick calluses at the base and edges of each finger, my body’s self-made protection against the pressure I put it under continuously. I’m used to the white peel of dry skin, of the top layer coming away to reveal a shiny patch of newly-christened skin, ready to face the onslaught of another hour at the wall or the bar.

Recently I took 2 weeks off climbing and lifting, as I was at home with no way of accessing my gym or my climbing centre. Coming back to climbing was like beginning anew – my calluses ripped off, leaving me with bleeding and raw messes to call my hands. I should have considered this a possibility, especially after not having stressed my hands with my bike handles for a month either, but I just didn’t even think about it. Because of my naivety and my rush to get back to climbing in exactly the same way and intensity as previously, I’m going to have to take another couple of days off before stepping back to the wall or the lifting racks.

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On the other hand, some pain shows you the way to progress and to better form. The term DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is often used to describe the “good ache” which comes from pushing your body up to, but not beyond, its maximum capabilities. I know that whenever I have done a good intensive lifting session, I welcome the ache in my muscles the next day.

If you come back from a hard run, or a heavy gym session, and don’t feel tired and ache-y, it’s a sign you could have pushed yourself further. Especially for track sessions or PB lifting sessions where the aim is to test the limits of your body, no ache would show that your muscles weren’t put under the pressure they should have been.

Nonetheless, you shouldn’t come to expect the ache after every single session. Some workouts, like recovery miles or light lifting session or a fun afternoon playing about at the wall, are not meant to be intensive. Always waking up with sore legs or heavy arms would suggest that you need to slow down, to leave time for rest and recovery, otherwise it could lead to a more serious injury.

It works out as a balance, but getting and maintaining this balance is a constant work-in-progress. I still need to take steps back occasionally to check my progress, to examine my body and to just think STOP. Some weeks, I push myself too hard and pay for it with aches and pains, some weeks I don’t get enough sleep and make clumsy errors and fall. By recognising these weeks when they happen, I can change what doesn’t work for me, and adjust my training and my lifestyle accordingly. A week of stress here or there doesn’t make a difference in the long term, but if they start to run together into months of pain it could put my whole lifestyle at risk. There is no easy method to find out what works, as it isn’t a one-size-fits-all, and training has to fit around all the events of life which changes constantly.

Sometimes, I let myself wear my old shoes for too long, and come home with sore and bleeding feet. But, luckily, there’s a simple answer for that one at least – I just go shopping.

How do you maintain your progress without getting injured? Do you ever feel like you always get to a certain place in your training then get injured? How do you deal with aches and pains if they threaten your fitness?

As normal, I’d love to hear what you have to say on this topic! Comment below, or send me a DM or a follow on Instagram (@primallyimperfect). And have a great Wednesday!

7 thoughts on “PAIN – where do athletes draw the line?

  1. Returning from a break is always tough. I guess you have to assess the pain/injury and decide accordingly! Once you know your body you can tell what is normal and what is not! I have trained through injury before, as it developed a few short weeks away from my first marathon and I’d worked so hard, thankfully it worked out OK for me but it very easily could have gone badly wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment! Yes I think the main thing is to take that step back and assess – some things can be worked through with little adjustments, but others need complete rest… I just need to work on stepping back at the right time 😂 I’m glad your injury worked out okay in the end!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello,
    Pleasure to meet you and thank you for taking the time to visit my blog page and having a follow, I appreciate the support.
    This was an interesting blog post about pain and when to know how far is too far when training. Personally, I can’t remember the last time I might have overtrained but I know it has happened to me and this caused long term soreness but because I overlook things like this, I kept training nonetheless. I have taken some days off because of my knee bothering me and knowing that I can’t push myself because of it and that annoys me, but normally to refrain from injury, I test the waters of my muscles and do a good warm up, I can usually tell when it will be a good workout day or bad one because of how exhausted i may feel after my warm up session. Looking forward to reading more blog post from you.

    Shay-lon

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment! I think maybe it’s something that comes through experience, and through learning how your body copes to different things? I know that when I first started running, I never thought about the possibility of “over-training” because I was doing so few miles, yet my body wasn’t used to it and I got very sore very quicly. Now, however, my body is a lot more used to the high strain I put it under day-in, day-out and I feel stronger and healthier and more able to withstand the high mileages and tempos.

      Thanks for stopping by and giving me a read!
      Izzy

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Izzy,
        I can agree to that, because I also feel like when I started running when I was working on increasing my cardio because of my plans of losing weight before deciding to lift more weights, I was getting sore much more quickly but again likes yours my body got used to it and I was able to do much more for a longer period of time.

        Shay-lon

        Liked by 1 person

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