Good Pain, Bad Pain? Too Hard, Too Easy? Running Along the Fine Lines

One of the trickiest things about running is it’s wrought with ambiguities. So many fine lines: how hard is too hard, what is too easy, when to push rather than pull-back, and differentiating between what kind of pain requires you to put your big girl/boy pants on and suck it up versus the kind of pain where you need to stop. That’s not even the full list of running ambiguities.

For a runner that’s training, in order to improve there are plenty of times where it just plain hurts. Part of training becomes callousing your mind to that pain, using mental tricks to dull the complaints from your mind and muscles, and getting used to the discomfort. But then we also are told of the importance of easy days, recognizing the signs of burn-out, or days when the legs just don’t show up and the workout needs to be adjusted.

running in circles

All this is enough to make your brain run in circles!


Paramount of all kinds of pain for runners to be able to correctly identify are the ones signaling an injury. Catch that pain early enough and you could avoid a chunk of time off and lost training, or push through that pain, keep running, and wind up going until you’re literally broken.

The conundrum only goes further as no one can really EXPLAIN all these wrong pains and fine lines. Tired versus lazy, too easy versus too hard, etc. because everyone interprets pain differently and has a different pain threshold. When one runner says their leg hurts, depending on the person that could mean their calf is sore or their hamstring was torn and it’s balled up down near their knee.

Sometimes a runner needs a swiftkick in the butt, other times a runner faces an even harder reality and they need to cut themselves a break. Get doing this running business long enough and the word ‘day off’ reads as a death sentence.

Times for the Kick in the Pants VS. the Death Sentence (aka when a runner needs to ease up):

* Tough Love: It’s just a day where you’re feeling ‘meh’. You’re tired, you’d rather sit down, go out with your friends, the run just isn’t the most enticing thing. Motivation lulls happen, TIPS HERE, you just have to lace up and get going. The first mile will be the hardest, then you get into it.
* Corny Tender Lovin’ Care: It’s been a string of days where you feel ‘meh’. Your legs are more than tired, they’re heavy…every.single.time.out. Time to assess your training, your workouts, health, etc. What’s up? Are you digging yourself a hole?
* Tough Love: The workout for the day plain scares you. The first mistake is dwelling on that fear; it’s even risky admitting to yourself you’re scared of it. NEVER out-think yourself from a workout before you even start. Be confident in yourself, but sometimes you need to just fake that confidence, every runner does that too…but they don’t tell you. The pain, times, workouts can be scary if you really think about them…so you don’t. We play the ignorance is bliss card and just START. Then take everything as it comes.
* Corny TLC: You’re running the workout and the times are horrible, like deplorable. The conditions are just as heinous, you feel like you’re running on the sun, or into a headwind, or through a snowstorm. Don’t take the times at face value here, go off of effort. Numbers can’t tell the whole story, and if you start berating yourself for the slow times then you’ll wind up sandbagging the workout and not getting the benefit. It comes down to EFFORT…conditions are not an excuse, they really do affect the times. Still put in the effort, and the workout will give you the benefits intended.

tough runner

Runners are tough…sometimes TOO tough.


* Suck it Up: You just got passed in a race. Rather than let your mind tell you, “Welp, we’re tired anyways, so who cares…let them go.” You need to FIGHT. Leach onto that runner, get right on their butt, and use them to tow you along…tuck in. A race isn’t over until you cross the line; you can gather energy behind them and surge later.
* MAJOR Corny TLC: Bam…you’re running and you step wrong, your quad lights up. You know that pain…a mile later and the pain hasn’t diminished. You’re tempted, “It’s okay, I know I can just finish this workout, I can get through it.” But that knot in your stomach knows the truth; if you push it until the end of the run you’ll probably be limping all day, if walking at all. Rather than running until you’re broken, be SMART and STOP. Hit up the injury rehab and cross-training for a little while now, rather than being chained to the da** cross-trainer for months.

Good pain, bad pain? Too hard, too easy? So many lines, so many ambiguities, so many decisions to be made on the fly. The longer you run though, the better you get at recognizing the differences and when you need a kick in the pants versus cutting yourself a *gasp* break.

1) What’s a time when a runner needs the kick in the pants?
2) Give an example of when some corny TLC is in order?
3) Lessons are often learned the hard way, share a story of a lesson you learned as such.

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5 Comments

Filed under injuries, motivation, running, tips, training

5 Responses to Good Pain, Bad Pain? Too Hard, Too Easy? Running Along the Fine Lines

  1. Sometimes it can be so hard to tell the difference between a pain you push through and a pain that signals you should stop. What is it with running? You need to carbo-load before a marathon, but don’t eat too many carbs! You need to hydrate properly for a long run, but don’t overhydrate! Sheesh.

    Unfortunately I have run into the kind of pain that stopped me dead in my tracks. A sharp pain in my shin that shot up my leg with each step. My shin also hurt when I pressed on it. It really stinks. The crazy thing is that I was reveling in the other kind of pain, the kind you push through. Up until that point I was doing long runs further than any distance I had done before and I was embracing that tired pain you get in your muscles when you’ve been running for 2+ hours. I was loving it! I guess that makes me another one of those ‘crazy runners’ but you better believe I’m going to get to push through that kind of pain again :)

    • i’m sorry about this WRONG kind of pain, but you’ve got the right attitude. You WILL get this damng injury figured out and get back to pushing thru that ‘good’ kinda pain. Wow, good pain, what a funny concept. ;) hang in there!

  2. Amy

    Cait, this came through at exactly the right time for me! I read the email of this post while lying in bed the night before my second long run. The rain was coming down gently and I knew that I had to get up at 4:45am to get my run done before Mum and I were off to our Saturday morning market date. I was just feeling…what’s the technical term…”meh” about my run and then this came through, and I thought I am stronger than my “meh” it’s time to just suck it up because when I get out there I am going to enjoy it. The distance has been a little harder to get used to again this time, but with patience and perseverance I know that I can make it through the miles – that and my Cait Chock t-shirt- and so I did.
    Thanks for getting me through the miles Cait :)

    • YAY!!! I love that the timing of this one synced up when u needed it the most. and like a champ u went out there and kicked butt! :) i never expect anything different from my sweet chickpea….u did me proud. and i’m pumped to hear u wore ur shirt!!!

  3. Pingback: 3 Things Every Runner Needs to Be Told, and Then Re-Told (Repeatedly) |

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