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The Pain Cave

It’s November 14, 2020. It’s just after 03:15 am and I’m sitting in the back of a car. My running partner, James, is sitting in front and our “domestique” for the weekend, Jason, is driving. AC/DC’s song Thunderstruck is blaring through the car (my choice of “get your head in the game” music) as we make our way to Lady Grey. We’ve spent the night on a farm. I haven’t slept much but it doesn’t matter. The start line of the the iconic Skyrun is where we are headed

I’m standing in the chute waiting for the start. I’m nervous but excited (because to be honest I have no idea what’s waiting for me). I have never run a marathon or even an official half marathon ( I believe it’s better to under train than to overtrain 😁) but for the next 19 hours we are going to run,walk,jog,slip,slide,fall,climb and stumble our way across 65 kms of the roughest and awe inspiring terrain I’ve ever been in. To make things even better, we are going to self navigate the route and do it completely unsupported, carrying our own food and equipment and drink whatever water we can find on the Witteberg mountain range. The Skyrun is the toughest trail run in South Africa. I’m going to finish the 65kms route (100 000 steps and 11000 calories later) with a body that is held together by spit and energy goos and a mind that will battle to integrate back into normal life afterwards. (James said the race would take something from me, I was expecting to sacrifice some toenails) It was a seven month journey, off a zero base, to get me across that finish line and like all journeys, they have to start somewhere.

Last year, during the hard lockdown, while tumbling deep down the rabbit hole of YouTube, I had a gestalt moment of sorts. I watched a documentary on a 100 mile ultra marathon called the Leadville 100. Then I found something called the Western States and then I watched people run a 200 mile race through a desert. I was hooked. What drove these super humans? How could people endure this type of pain as they looked to expand their boundaries?

I then watched a Rich Roll interview on how he transformed his life from alcoholism to completing 2 Ultra Mans (double the iron man distance) and various other endurance events. Listening to his story and life paradigm had a profound impact on me. Deep down something stirred. It started as an uneasiness in my body and then a question in my head. Why not me? I felt emotion gather behind my eyes as I realised, I had chosen the pill to keep me in the system.

I had acquiesced to the grey comfort of modern living. In my attempt to achieve and accumulate what society said I should, I had succumbed to the Siren’s song of comfort. To be fair there’s nothing wrong with comfort, we need it, but nothing grows there and by refusing to explore the darker parts of my pain cave I had stopped trying to explore the gateway to dissolving my mental boundaries.

So in an effort to reduce my midlife angst I spent the next seven months running, training and learning, all in an effort to illuminate those parts of my subconscious cave that where pulling unseen strings in my life.

People I talk to about the race all ask one question. Did I enjoy it? I can unequivocally say no. Three months later the answer is still no. To take myself to a level of hurt and then hold myself there for an extended period of time wasn’t fun at all. A pain cave holding pattern or hurt locker exploration requires grit. A grit that costs pain, and can only be found on the other side of existing mental boundaries. The results of paying that price are totally worth it though and that is why I’ve entered the 100 kms race later on in the year 😁. This blog isn’t about the race I ran (I assure you I think I could write a book on those 19 hours) but rather getting clear on the why that allowed me to finish.

It’s simple. We are a microcosm of the macrocosm that is the universe. The law of the universe is constant growth and expansion at the speed of light. To not strive for growth is to defy the laws that exist this side of that expansion. On the other side of the light, in the void, the laws that governs physics don’t exist. I believe if you can push the boundaries between the known and unknown we can change ourselves instantly. Change and growth happens at the edges of what we can currently endure and by exploring these boundaries we force them to expand. Change can sometimes be instantaneous in these situations. What we believe we can endure is only defined by the belief in its boundary and boundaries are only dissolved when we are brave enough to explore them.

Two weeks after the race I sat with a coach who summed it up so brilliantly. Stress is either future driven or past driven. Future driven stress is the stress we experience when we choose to expand and set goals for ourselves. It’s the stress that arises from exploring those boundaries. Past driven stress is the stress we are given from our past when we choose to do nothing. When we choose not to explore our boundaries, life will give us stress from our karmic conditioning. So we must choose. We either consciously choose to expand our boundaries or we choose to do nothing and have them cave in or implode on us.

To explore our boundaries, we don’t have to run insane ultra distance races or suffer in some physical activity even lthough our physicality is something tangible and accessible to all of us. Sometimes it requires 2 seconds of extreme bravery. Sometimes it’s the conscious pursuit of finding our purpose. Because without purpose, we default to pleasure (our boundaries close in on us) and it’s a pleasure that requires numbing in the form of our modern trappings.

We don’t need to live or exist in our pain cave but from time to time we need to explore it’s dark depths. We need to know that pain and discomfort, paradoxically is where we find our ultimate comfort in meeting our true selves. When we explore the boundaries of our current definition of ourselves, we can expand into the void of ultimate possibility. This is a place where we come to know who we are, possibly for the first time.

Getting from the start to the finish line of the SkyRun was always going to be my responsibility. No one could run the race for me but there was a large amount of people who helped in various forms to get me to the start line. People contributed in various ways from advice, equipment,shoes,gear,financially, support. All the big and small gestures of support were truly appreciated and even during the race for the few kms I actually felt good I had profound gratitude for all the support. So to Garth, Rene, Gaynor, Tiffany, Darren,Shelly, Phillip, Pedro, Cathie, JG, Caelan, Jason, Gerrie, James (for all the advice,chats, encouragement, support and actual running) Lake, Kai, Mila and especially Candice for understanding and supporting the notion that we are all warriors and sometimes we need to do crazy and difficult things so we don’t forget that.

Chat soon ,

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Structural Medicine
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©2020 by Sean Johnson