All ultras require running through pain. There are plenty of tough and painful moments to deal with; ups and downs. The highs are high, and the lows are low. But on you go.
On Monday I will be running upandrun 14. This time it is to raise money for the NHS staff at Kingston Hospital, my local one.
Many years ago I worked at Kingston Hospital as a Registered General Nurse. I spent time in ITU, A & E, the surgical wards and Coombe Wing. Mostly I did nights as I was studying at the time.
Nursing was my first training out of school. I took this option over the police. I wasn’t sure why at the time and I think it puzzled a number of my friends. Looking back now, the three years from ‘93-96 was the time that shaped me more than any other. The experiences I had, the situations I encountered and the real world it opened up for me were all vastly impacting.
It was during my nurse training that pain became a fascination. It was extraordinary to me that people would be having the same operation yet respond so differently. Observing this and caring for the patients, my curiosity was piqued. I spent time with a pain team that whizzed around the hospital seeing patients on different wards. It was mainly medical treatments, but the fact that we spent time with people at their bedside seemed valuable. Perhaps more valuable, I thought.
It was a few years later that the penny dropped. A lecture from Dr Mick Thacker introduced me to the science of pain. Skipping ahead, I haven’t looked back since. My purpose has been to understand pain and pioneer ways that we can help people overcome their suffering by living their best lives.
Running through pain
I started ultrarunning last May. Since then I have competed 13 ultras, and continue to run one each month to raise awareness of the problem of pain. This pairs with workshops and Pain Coaching that I do with my Understand Pain (UP) hat on. UP is a social enterprise I co-founded with the purpose of changing the way society thinks about and addresses pain. Pain is the number one global health burden affecting millions and costing billions.
Ultrarunning is painful. It pushes you to new limits that you can explore. This is a unique method of self-examination. How can I get through this moment? You learn ways to keep going, to change gears and state, to energise and continue to put one foot in front of the other despite everything somehow telling you to just stop.
Recently I fell and landed on my right shoulder. That was almost three weeks ago. There is still some sensitivity and pain and stiffness and limited movement, but it is better. There is a small part of my body that is injured and healing. The pain has a role: to motivate me to look after myself, to look after the healing area and to make sure I resolve the problem in the best way. Of course it is unpleasant. It is meant to be.
My shoulder can hurt while I run. You soon realise what you actually do with your arms as you trot along. This will be an additional challenge on Monday. The viewpoint that I take is that the body is healing, I am doing no harm, and that this is an opportunity to gain deeper insights into the experience of pain — my pain, and no-one else’s. I learn my style: how do I do pain? What do I think? What is my outlook? And more. This is my own laboratory.
Easy couple of days
Now I will take it easy. And eat. Monday morning will come soon enough. The aim is to get going around 530am. 20 loops of a 5k route to total 100k over the day. If you are local, you’ll see me coming past. Say hi or give me a wave if you like. It all helps.
Ultimately though, this is about raising money for the staff at Kingston Hospital. If you can spare a few quid, please donate and know that you are contributing their wellbeing. None of us know if of when we might need them for ourselves or our loved ones. That’s the reality. We can now choose to care for the people caring for the sick. Now that’s a positive step.