Running Isn’t Painful-It’s Just Uncomfortable!

It's finally warm enough to run outside!

It’s finally warm enough to run outside!

“I would like to run but it is just too painful for me.”  I hear this all the time.  Too much actually and it is time I take a stand!  The people who are saying this have it completely wrong, well sort of.  Painful, by definition is not the right word.

Pain: Physical suffering caused by illness or injury.

You probably feel like you are physically suffering when you start running.  I will give you that much.  But if you are suffering from an illness or injury, you shouldn’t be running and you need to stop blaming running for the problems.

Uncomfortable: Cause or feeling of slight pain or discomfort.

Hmm, sounds a lot like the start of about 90% of my runs, and the others are just flukes.  Running isn’t painful, it is uncomfortable.  When you use such drastic terms you are doing yourself a disservice and psyching yourself out of something that could be really beneficial to you and your health.

Part of learning to run or taking on any physical fitness plan is learning to be accountable for yourself and your actions.  Getting up and going to the gym in the morning or just putting on your workout clothes is the start to being accountable.  In order to take on running and be successful at continuing with it you have to learn to be accountable as you progress.  Every run starts with some level of discomfort.  When we do cardiovascular exercises our bodies always go into a short phase of anaerobic activity for a brief moment at the start.  Anaerobic by definition means “without oxygen” and that sounds pretty uncomfortable!  Just about every run is going to start with this short bout of the sensation of breathlessness.

Once you learn to settle in, relax, and accept this mild discomfort your body will start to take you to new levels.  As you begin to be accountable for your actions and allow your body to push past each new level, whether it be an extra 2 minutes or an extra mile, your body will start to transform from the inside and that discomfort will soon start to fade away.

Nobody that ever started running began without some sort of discomfort.  You are doing something that is taxing on both your body and cardiovascular system.  It would be impossible to start at zero and run swiftly around the track without feeling some sort of changes going on in your body; namely that burning in your lungs.

Once you can learn to distinguish the difference between actual pain (which you shouldn’t be running with) and discomfort, you will mentally be much better prepared to try taking running to new levels.  Your body is capable of many things, and dealing with discomfort is something it is pretty good at.

Your mind is also an amazing thing and you can use it as a tool to help you focus on something besides that discomfort.  Play games with your music.  I like to imagine that 3 songs equal a mile and as each mile ticks by I count how many more songs I get to listen to. Sort through your day or a problem you are having.  Have a conversation with yourself.

Every Friday Runner’s World comes out with “The List.”  This is a list of the top 10 talking points of the week for runners.  They put it out on Fridays so that anyone who is doing their long run has something extra to think about.  It works!

Sometimes the talks I have with myself on my runs are pretty bizarre and often humorous.  Yesterday I was running under an overpass and a homeless person had left his scraps behind.  As I ran by a pile of orange rinds I thought to myself, “That homeless person has a healthy diet of vitamin C.”  What?!

My husband claims that during yesterday’s 10 mile run he made a menu for us for the week and a mental grocery list.  Looks like we should do 10 milers more often, I love it!

The next time you are ready to go for a run try to remind yourself that this is not a painful experience.  Try to use words that mentally help keep you going.

A swim at the beach would be painful!

A swim at the beach would be painful!

And remember running is uncomfortable.  Your sore legs the next day, that is painful!

Happy running.

A shout out today to my friend Kyle who won the Frozen Foot 5 miler on the Old Mission Peninsula this weekend!

I can't believe it.  It's grass.  I missed you!

I can’t believe it. It’s grass. I missed you!

25 thoughts on “Running Isn’t Painful-It’s Just Uncomfortable!

  1. I have to say where I mostly agree with you, and what you say is right for a lot of people who really mean “I don’t want to run” there are some people for whom, running is painful. If you are at the start of a weigh loss journey for example, and are very overweight, the pain in your joints and feet when running can be very definitely more than discomfort!

    I am not saying this is the fault of running, and I agree that the difficulty of something shouldn’t put you off, especially when it comes to improving health, just putting forward another point of view. 🙂

  2. Here, here.

    I do run with pain though. Not a lot of pain, but enough to let me know I need to take it easy. Knees are a fickle thing.

    I can attest to the number of people that bail on running because of the transition period. Most don’t stick to the 21 days to make a habit rule.

    Happy running.

  3. I really loved your post! I had no idea that Runner’s World comes out with that list, I’ll definitely have to check it out. Some runs are definitely more changing than others. I love it when my mind just drifts away, and the next moment I know I’m already half way through my run. Sometimes, I also do ‘counting’ with songs; this helps especially when it’s one of the tough runs. Anyhow, thank you once again for a great post!


  4. Thanks for this! I hear this a lot. Running IS uncomfortable, but it’s also a battle of the mind. Glad you touched on that. You get out of it what you put into it.

  5. Yes! A huge difference. I try to explain this to new runners sometimes – that they will feel discomfort for the first couple of weeks (or months), but they aren’t actually injured!

  6. Superb, post! If anyone would’ve mentioned to me that you must run past the initial phase “without oxygen”, I would have started running earlier than 43! Thank you SO much for describing what happens to our bodies. Knowing this, perhaps more skeptics would attempt running. And now, I am a runner–because I know better.

  7. I’d dare to say that I’ve managed to get in some pretty painful speed work on the track. You know the type that leave you yakking in the dustbin. Too bad my track is covered in snow now.

  8. Pain is temporary, Pride is forever…
    Never would come through my mind that running is painful. If it is, then either body or mind is injured indeed.
    Uncomfortable as you rightly point out is part of all runs. Takes me probably 2-5km to get really comfie (and yes, during this time it always is some thoughts about turning back home… Never did however as I know I need this warmup before getting in the running mood or so.).

    Thanks for the tips on RW note on Fridays. Will check this out!

    Have a great running week!

  9. First – thanks for liking my recent blog (on biking/running/athlons)

    And after reading this posting I should reallllllly go back to mine and take out the parts where I am less than complimentary about my fondness for running! 🙂

  10. Great post. I have a lot of people say they hate running, and I usually respond that the first few months pretty much suck, but then it gets fun. Of course, half those people then retort, “why the hell would you put yourself through all that pain for two months?”

    It is really discomfort, even when muscles are sore after a tough workout. Thanks for pointing this out so I can explain better 😉

  11. Besides regular pain, I’ve also run with several runners over the years who say they breath too hard. So, I ran with them and kept it at their pace, and it turns out they were previously running with a spouse or SO, and were trying to keep up them! (usually a woman trying to keep up with a guy). So, after they ran with someone who kept their pace (this was when I was much faster, and I slowed down for them), they really enjoyed the experience.

    But, yes, I also think of it as uncomfortable … a good uncomfortable.

    • I completely agree. I would much rather someone start out running as slow as they need to. It isn’t about speed at first, just simply about making it a habit in whatever way works for them.

  12. Haha, I love the photos and captions you added in this post. Swimming at the beach would be painful indeed, even where I am in California! Eek! Great topic. When I started running, I hated the first uncomfortable part so much that I would stop before I got to the fun part of a run. To this day I rarely enjoy the first mile or so of any run. I start to feel really good around mile three. After that, it’s just another world! Totally worth the discomfort at the beginning.

  13. Pingback: Make It Suck So Good | Running On Healthy

  14. Hi, Having read your post I have to disagree, I am probably an exception but I’m a keen walker albeit seriously overweight one. After Christmas I weighed in at >397lbs am 6′ 1″ so I decided that the walking wasn’t working. I started a Couch to 5k program and it is painful, I suffer shin splints every time I run, have a rest day and then a walking day before I run again, I’m determined to finish the program even if it takes longer than expected but it is not uncomfortable, its painful! Greg.

    • I’m sorry to hear that Greg. I hope that as you continue to run and find better fitness you will find that the actual act of running or walking becomes less painful! Our bodies are pretty miraculous machines and do adapt pretty well. Happy New Year.

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