Breakthrough Performance – Embracing The Pain

Breakthrough Performance – Embracing The Pain

Beating the Demons – Chapter 6

by Coach Joe

Why do we repeatedly throw ourselves into painful training sessions and races?  The answer to this question in one of the biggest secrets to Beating the Demons.

Our competitive and survival instincts are deep in our gene code.  For millions of years, we have pushed ourselves to improve.  To win the game of life.  Our ego system is designed and hard wired to lean us this way.  It knows that without this drive, without this willingness to fight and maybe even die for what we believe in, life will soon be over.

I see this drive and fight in endurance athletes every day.  We continually execute painfully difficult workouts to stress our bodies, knowing that this is the only way to grow, to survive.  The races are even more painful, sometime we don’t even know if we’ll live to the finish line.  Yet, within minutes of crossing the line, we are magically ok and ready to go again?  Why do we do this?  Are we crazy?

We do it because we somehow know there is growth in pain and we also know that we’ll slide back if we don’t move toward the pain.  So we seek pain, yes we look for it as often as we can.  This is a critical step in becoming all that you can be in training, racing and life.  You must embrace the pain.  You must not avoid difficult and uncomfortable situations.  You must look for opportunities to find the edge and push over it one more time.  You must Dream, Believe, Achieve and Become!

charlie wittmack

Outside The Lines – Charlie Wittmack World Triathlon by ESPN

Chapter 1 – Risking it all on Vimeo


Many people might view Charlie as extreme or even crazy.  But as endurance athletes, we don’t see that, do we?  What we see is ourselves and why we do what we do.  Here are a few quotes from Charlie’s video that I feel illustrate how we are more similar than different.

“Every day is so vivid, so colorful and so emotional.  To live in those experiences is a powerful thing.  It’s an addiction.”

“We laugh, we cry, we survive…”

“The times that I excel are the times when I failed. The failures are what make you grow more than the successes.”

Whether it’s our first 5K run race or the Ironman, we push our own boundaries to find growth.  We are willing to embrace the pain of our training and racing.  We complete one race and quickly sign up for the next challenge.  We somehow instinctively know this is the path to growth.

One thing you can do to improve your personal game is to stop hating the pain and embrace it.  Years ago at my Next Level Challenge class, I introduced the concept of loving the hills using a chant like, “The hills are my friend, they make me faster and stronger, I love hills.”  It’s a positive affirmation that can be repeated as we run uphill.  This audio tape replaces the often used, “I hate hills, this is hard, when will this end, I’ll never get to the top” type voices in our heads.  Over the years, dozens of athletes have told me they now enjoy hill running due to this simple little change in their mental programming.  This works because our minds don’t know the difference between what we tell it and reality.  The mind listens very closely to the monkey chatter.  If the chatter is positive, it stays positive.  Simple, right?  Yes!

It’s not a surprise that the pain demon works the same way.  If you focus on how tired you are, how much it hurts, asking yourself, “Why did I sign up for this race?” and all that other negative stuff, the pain will stay with you and get worse.  If you do the opposite and change the affirmation to positive chatter like “No pain, no gain,” “I love pain,” “Pain is growth,” “Pain makes me stronger and faster,” “Pain is my friend” and “Pain is the weakness leaving my body,” the mind will believe you and embrace the pain.

Seattle based Dr. Brian Krabak is a leading researcher in the field of pain and endurance athletics.1

“The mental aspect is fascinating,” says Krabak. “Athletes typically don’t think of that when training. We think of stretching and the amount of miles we log. These people can run through pain. What makes them different? A lot of it may just be how they have trained, slowly adapting their bodies to the task.”  So why do they do it?  Part of it is about tapping potential and pushing boundaries. There seems to be some ego involved, maybe a midlife crisis or two. But Krabak says you can’t overlook the camaraderie. They share more than they differ. They gather strength from competition. They aren’t going it alone.

As a coach, I see several things in Dr Krabak’s findings.  First, he mentions training, the slow adaptation of the body’s muscular and cardiovascular systems.  This is the week in and week out cadence of our training, the science based customized training plan progressions that our coaches design and our athletes follow.  Adding just the right amount of overload stress to break the body down and then prescribing the right amount of recovery time to make it grow stronger.  Let’s face it, without the proper training, no amount of positive affirmation programming is going to carry the day.  You must be fit to do what we do!  The next research finding is “tapping potential and pushing boundaries.”  This finding points to having dreams and visions of a better you, a better life, the drive to become the athlete and person you were meant to be.  Then he points to ego, the central driving force for survival.  The need to keep going and to not quit the training, the races, the dreams.  And finally, he mentions camaraderie.  The fact that we are social beings at our core and that we feed off that friendly competition that exists within the ET crew and with all the athletes on race day.  It pushes us faster, farther and it’s fun to be around others with like interests that understand why we do this to ourselves.  This final piece seems to be the reason why so many athletes attend our group functions and stay for hours to chat.  It’s like having an extended family that “gets you,” and it’s FUN!

So, are you ready to Embrace the Pain and become the person you are meant to be in training, racing and life?  If so, then join us!  Contact me and we’ll help you make your dreams come true.

Joe LoPresto is the Founder and Head Coach of Experience Triathlon.   As leaders in the endurance coaching industry, Coach Joe and the Experience Triathlon coaching team help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in training, racing and life.  Learn more about Coach Joe and Experience Triathlon at

1  Seven, R., (2007, Nov 11)  Dr. Extreme studies athletes who push through pain. Seattle Times.

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