In ultra running there is a basic understanding that you are going to suffer.
One of the keys to doing these endurance events, and enjoying them, is learning how to suffer. Our miles and hours of training aren’t just about physically preparing for these adventures, terrains and distances; it’s also about getting our mind ready to go along for the trip and be ON OUR side. So, we do things like run back-to-back long runs on really tired legs to learn what suffering feels like. By running through it we learn we can push through so many perceived physical limitations that our mind throws down in front of us.
And then, well, then there’s unnecessary suffering. Suffering that simply becomes those classic and indelible lessons in ‘Yo! pay attention! Let’s try to not freaking do that again…’ Sometimes it’s the weather, or a trip-and-crash-on-your-face, poor navigation, equipment malfunction, Mother Nature’s obstacles and then there’s…
Chafing is one of those lessons that I (we) learn, then re-learn and eventually laugh at the ridiculousness of re-learning yet again. Some chafing you know is going to happen – and you use your Squirrel’s Nut Butter (SNB) slathered on to prevent it. Some you can feel as it’s happening and maybe even do something to cut it short. Some chafing you only discover in the shower. I’ve shrieked and squalled a time or two (200?) when water hits chafe I didn’t know was there. I’ve hesitated getting in the shower KNOWING when water hits the sore spot it’s gonna be a stinging, searing pain in the butt. (Not really a pun… More like an admission…)
So this past weekend I was wearing some 3-year old trusty running tights that have been faithful companions on many runs/hikes and are still in visibly good shape. I put them on in the morning and thought they were feeling a little crooked in the crotch. But hey, it was early in the morning, I hadn’t had much coffee and I figured I would adjust things at the trailhead when we started. In the very back of my coffee-deprived brain I thought it wasn’t the best plan. I had a vague recollection of maybe having been in this situation before and wishing I had just shucked them and picked another pair of running tights… But these had never betrayed me before. I was pretty sure it would be OK.
I knew within the first two miles that they were going to maybe/sorta cause problems. Manageable stuff, but still – they were gonna be trouble.
About 4 miles in on a 16 mile day they started to chafe me. It was raining lightly and I could feel water running down my back so I knew chafing was likely going to happen no matter what. But I could also feel the sweat and water running down my butt crack – and my capris were getting soaked…And the chafing that started prior to the rain falling, was building …. um…. navel to ass crack.
I carry a small container of body lube with me for such instances. Almost all runners do. And trust me we can also get WILDLY creative with ANYTHING in our pack if we can’t find our lube… (Pro tip: Don’t use any kind of lube/chapstick/tube-of-anything from any other runners pack… You’ve been warned.) But this time – I had a small tub of SNB and I used the whole thing. I kept adjusting things trying to find the spot where the seam wouldn’t cut me in half. About 10 miles in I knew the chafing was going to be scream-producing at shower time. It was bad and getting worse. And we had miles to go… It was funny. I mean, if you can’t laugh at yourself — others will. Hell… My trail partners will laugh at me whether I laugh at myself or not. But I was trying to find a way to limit the carnage from those stupid tights as we moved along…. At one point I was calculating ripping my pants off and walking out of the wilderness pants-less except I was pretty sure that was a misdemeanor with like a $5,000 fine and maybe a lifetime ban from national forests….
I kept thinking there is a lesson in preventing some levels of suffering and yet there is learning in all suffering…. Which means I was technically winning (*cough*, *cough*) either way.
So back to my initial comment; we learn to suffer. Some of us seem to have a better ability to manage it, some of us have to really learn how to keep going even with our brain screaming at us to STOP. Running oh-so often provides lessons that apply well beyond the trail if we pay attention. One of the many, many reasons I love running.
Beyond chafing this was also one of those life-reminders that we need from time to time that sometimes we simply have to trust our gut. I knew something was just NOT RIGHT, right at the start. I knew the second I put those tights on that our years together were at an end. They felt scratchy and off and crooked. I wanted to trust, and I was wrong to ignore my gut that was saying the trust was lazy or misplaced or optimistic. Twenty-four hours post-run I was still walking around with a very wide-legged stance and sitting gingerly and laughing and grimacing.
The irony in all of this — is that all the training I’ve done to learn to suffer is part of what got me through this entirely avoidable situation. I mean let’s be honest, there are so many other chances to learn to suffer in our world, that fighting your tights shouldn’t be one of those lessons.