Behind the scenes here at Salty Running, we get into many fun, informative, and supportive conversations. Recently Pumpkin was sharing her inner Bertha moment and questioning if she should do a workout even though she didn’t want to. I suggested she try the workout, but that she should not use her sluggish feelings before the workout as a reason to assume she will feel feel sluggish during the workout.
Dill then chimed in that our conversation reminded her about anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief happens when we feel grief over a loss before that loss occurs. It’s very common when caring for a loved one suffering from a chronic illness or a dying elderly loved one, but anticipatory grief can also occur within the ill or dying person herself. Why does this happen? Partly, it’s because we think the loss will hurt less when it actually happens. Sadly, we can’t predict the future of how loss will affect us.
While anticipatory grief is a sad and serious concept, it has a very practical application to something that generally brings joy to our lives: running.
Applied to our running, long before we start it, we often predict how we will feel on a run or during a race. Have you ever found yourself dreading a run after a long day only to to be pleasantly surprised that the run reinvigorated you? If so, you may have fallen victim to some anticipatory pain, and, more importantly, overcame it. Congrats!
What Is Anticipatory Running Pain?
So anticipatory running pain is a little more than Pumpkin’s pre-run sluggishness. Here are some samples of what you might say when experiencing it:
- This easy run sucks. I’m not in as good of shape as I thought. Next month’s goal race is going to be a disaster.
- I ate a lot today at lunch. I bet I’m going to be bloated and feel horrible on my run.
- Gosh I feel so shaky and weird on this warm-up! This race is going to suck!
How you feel in any given moment is not necessarily how you will feel at any point in the future. You do not have ESP! It’s not your fault though. You’re not doing it wrong. Our bodies are trained to seek pleasure instead of pain. That’s a survival instinct, after all.
By telling ourselves something will be painful, our brains are just trying to be helpful. Although, the thing is, when we do this we often end up feeling worse according to researchers. Not only that, by trying to predict the pain, we may actual cause the run to be painful, through self-fulfilling prophecy.
Symptoms of Anticipatory Running Pain
- Procrastinating: lying around, cleaning, one more bathroom trip, going down the social media hole on your phone, or crossing off that item that’s been on your to-do list for months before you go out the door.
- Constantly rescheduling workouts, races, or run dates with others.
- Frequently talking yourself out of a run, workout, or race.
- Experiencing lingering thoughts at the onset of your run that, “this is going to suck”, or “I feel horrible.”
The good news? There are a couple things you can do to combat the thoughts and behaviors of anticipatory running pain.
The bad news? It’s going to take more mindfulness stuff! Yeah, I know. But I will get you to join me on this mindfulness bandwagon!
Seriously though, one of the reasons mindfulness often gets a bad rap is because it’s pictured as something that means calm when in reality life is far from that. One of my mindfulness buddies and colleague, Daron Larson, has a great article and Ted Talk on why so many of us resist mindfulness. You know why that is? Larson says it’s because, well, the present does often suck. But see, the point of mindfulness is not to do it to make the feelings go away, it’s to experience whatever discomfort we feel in the moment … not at a future moment.
How to Cope with Anticipatory Running Pain?
- Remember, that you can be anxious, bloated, or lethargic and still do this. Repeat this mantra to yourself as you prepare for your run. Nike was on to something when they created their famous slogan. No matter your feeling, just do it.
- Approach a run you are dreading by labeling how you feel when you begin. Tell yourself you’ll test things out for a few minutes then reassess again. And again. And again. Voila! You’re now done and feel a lot better!
- During a run that starts off rough, check in with the discomfort for a few seconds and then try to find another area in your body that is calm or pain-free. For instance, if your legs feel heavy, maybe your lungs feel good. This back and forth checking in actually helps promote equanimity. Ommm!
- If you’ve had a bad run or workout, label it as such, experience the anger or uncertainty, and sleep on it. Another helpful mantra: nothing lasts forever. Tomorrow is another day. Or even, the next moment is another moment.
By using mindfulness, we are able to change our relationship to pain and discomfort. As you improve in labeling the anticipation rather than reacting to it, you may actually find that you look forward to the mystery that lies ahead in the future.
Do you struggle with anticipatory running pain?
We’re thinking of our dear friend Dill today as she grieves the loss of her beloved mother ?