Let’s talk pain.

I get a lot of comments on the blog to the effect of “Oh my gosh, how can you walk/run/live on those things?” re: Blistersquatch and his various spawn.  So I figured I should talk about my pain philosophy as it relates to exercise.


On a very basic level, I believe there are three kinds of pain: good pain, neutral pain, and bad pain. Good pain (see also, soreness) is the way you feel after a tough workout, when your muscles are singing and letting you know they exist every time they twitch.  It hurts, yes, but it’s self-inflicted pain mixed with pride.  I work out through good pain, usually, because getting blood flowing helps make it better.  Bad pain is the totally unintentional pain that comes with injury and illness.  Bad pain cannot be worked through; working out through bad pain makes it worse.  When there is bad pain, I skip the gym.

I classify my blisters as the third type of pain: neutral.  They hurt, yes.  They are self-inflicted to the extent that I know my running will cause them, but I am too stubborn (stupid?) to stop.  When I run, after about a mile, the pain sensors in my feet just shut off and I don’t feel the sharp, stinging sensation I cringe at all day long.  But once I stop, they turn back on.  I can live with them, so long as they don’t get too horrible and the problem contains itself to blisters and doesn’t extend into other issues.  If I can contain the pain to blisters alone, I will be okay.  It’s my form of pain management.

I run through the pain of my blisters because I know that if I stop, I may not start again.  Me having crappy feet is not something that’s going to change miraculously any time soon.  At this point, I’m fairly convinced my feet will never be normal and this is something I’ll have to deal with forever.  I do my best–I watch closely for signs of infection and try to keep the area as clean as possible.   It’s a handicap, but I will work through it, and around it.  It will not get the best of me.

That said, even though this is neutral pain, it will occasionally (like it did yesterday) shift into bad pain, where I can tell that running on the blisters would cause an injury or be generally detrimental to my health.  I can tell if I’m rolling my foot funny or guarding a certain area.  Then I stay home.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m going to keep looking for a solution to this.  But it’s not an excuse to give up.  It’s an obstacle that sucks and for now I just have to deal with it.

There’s also sickness pain.  Personally, I follow the above-the-neck/below-the-neck theory with a period-related exception.  If my stomach is upset, or my lungs are stuffy with asthma, I won’t run.  If it’s a sniffly nose and a headache, I will.  The period exception, obviously, is that any PMS-related pain, unless completely debilitating, is not grounds for an unexcused rest day.  99% of the time, exercise makes me feel better: sweating gets my muscles loose and nasal passages clear.  I also feel better mentally, because if I stay home and mope about being sick, I feel even worse.

What’s your pain philosophy?


10 Responses

  1. My philosophy about pain- I like self inflicted pain, but sickness pain is pretty terrible! If you have a thick skin it’s all good, I think:))

  2. I don’t think I have a very good pain policy. I clearly hurt my knee in boot camp class last Saturday…it’s no better today but I’m going to boot camp again tomorrow. I’ve also walked 8 miles, weight trained, and kickboxed through the pain this week.

  3. I think you are super tough for running with those blisters but I feel like there’s got to be a solution. I know the running store gave you inserts but have you considered seeing a podiatrist? Professionally fitted custom orthotics may help you a lot!

    • I’m going to echo Shelby’s comment. I’d see a doctor about them. I wouldn’t be able to tolerate it knowing that it could be prevented.

  4. I ran with two stress fractures in my shins so I know what you mean when you say the pain sensors turn off. I don’t recommend doing what I did!!! Now, I stop if I know i’m going to cause an injury, but I push through everything else.

  5. I definitely agree with you about exercise making you feel better a lot of the time, especially a day or two into a cold or during your period etc.

  6. I’m very much with you on the “if I stop I won’t start again” in regards to that neutral pain. I’ve done 2 half marathons and very much felt this way around mile 7 or 8. It’s VERY MUCH a mental thing and you need lots of positive self-talk at that point!

  7. I’m planning on a doctor’s visit/podiatrist referral hopefully after the wedding/before marathon training starts. I’m fairly sure I can get through the half without doing irreparable damage, and I just don’t have the time for it in the next 6 weeks. As soon as the wedding is done, I’m going!

  8. “What’s your prediction?”


  9. Haha, I have no idea what “Clubber Lang” means, but it’s catchy 😉

    I’m with you on the types of pain, although I think I may be a bit more of a wuss!! Funny, I was talking to a runner this weekend with plantar fasciitis, and how stopping running for several months would probably make it go away. But tell a runner to stop running and they’ll tell you to go to hell 😛 She now only runs 10k at a time and doing strengthening exercises to hopefully get back up to the longer distances. It’s tough when it’s something you LOVE!

    I have a nagging hip injury and I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying the “bad” pain and stopping whatever it is that I’m doing. There’s been a few times I haven’t and had to take several days off, which is not fun. Much easier to just stop in the moment. Also, I don’t even workout through colds a lot of the time, as I only get them when I’m run down and my body needs rest!

    You should go to the foot doctor though – mostly just to satisfy my curiosity over what’s causing the blisters! 😛

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