“Pain is weakness leaving the body”. This phrase is common in fitness circles of every kind, with origins from the US Marine Corps. This phrase, of course, only refers to one type of pain – that of fatigue and muscle stress when exerting energy weight lifting, running, or performing body weight PT. The guiding theory is that pushing through the pain of fatigue causes you to come back stronger.
There is some truth to that statement, but there is also another pain. Pain is essentially the human body’s way of protecting itself from debilitating injury, from furthering damage to parts of the body that have been injured in some way.
I am often asked “Why would you want to subject yourself to the torture of GORUCK/Death Race/other seemingly stupid activity?”.
The answer is complex. There is a feeling of community, of camaraderie that is unmatched in these events outside of a military context. Something about shared suffering, and suffering together to achieve a common goal.
The hard part to justify has always been the pain. The muscle burn from the 500th flutter kick, or the 750th pushup. The excruciating shoulder pain of carrying the burden of the log, or the lower back pain from carrying a 200lb guy with his 40lb ruck for what might be miles, the burn of being in icy water for way too long, the fatigue from exertion under a 95F sun. I’ve seen injuries in peoples knees, ankles, shoulders, hip flexors during a challenge or death race and have been subjected to some of those myself.
Its from these long moments of pain that phrases were born, that turned into mantras and patches. “ICABW” meaning “It can always be worse!”. Suffer In silence. Embrace the suck. Suffer with a smile. The list goes on.
These mantras work. Over time I developed skills to make the pain disappear. Smiling and making jokes. Concentrating on helping others succeed. Focusing on breathing. Humming or singing a tune. These are all techniques I have used to quell the pain of a log carry, of taking the 80lb sandbag, of dealing with an awkward concrete block. These techniques do the opposite of complaining or whining about how much things suck, because focusing on that always makes the pain worse. Experience is powerful here and it IS possible to have the mind turn off pain receptors.
So lets get back to the question “Why do you do those stupid events?”
As most readers know, I as involved in a serious motorcycle accident a little over two weeks ago. Things could have been worse but they could also have been way better. I lost my lower left leg from the calf down. Without going into details, this has resulted in constant (but varying degrees and types of) pain since. Almost every day and night I have multiple periods of intense, sharp pain and an undercurrent of significant constant pain. I have no choice but to deal with it somehow.
“Rely on your training!”. I’ve heard this many times from GORUCK cadre. And in the past two weeks that is EXACTLY what I have done. Death Race and GORUCK have given me the training tools to deal with pain.
When I anticipate pain, I box breathe or close my eyes and meditate. I focus on smiling. I find the humorous side of my situation where I can (not always easy). Most of the tips revolve around slowing down my heart rate, and reducing my overall stress level. All of these techniques were honed under the log, under a huge rock, or under a heavy dude in a fireman carry.
The last few years of events have, then, merely been training for the troubles I find myself facing today. They have been practice for the poor cards I was recently dealt. They have been training to help me cope in a way most people can’t.
So when asked why I do GORUCK/Death Race type events, my answer will now be “Because they are training me to handle the worst that life might throw at me, and to handle it with poise”