My Experiences With the Pain Cave – Seeking Advice

As I found myself dying during Fran recently this week, I kept wondering what the heck happened. My brain was screaming at me to stop as my body was struggling to breathe during thrusters and pull-ups, so I’d pause. Maybe a few seconds. Maybe longer. Waiting for the pain to die down. Then I’d do a few more reps, die again, and repeat the process until the time ran out.

franSome folks refer to this experience as the “Pain Cave,” but I see it as more of a barrier than a hole in the ground. A force shield between where I am and where I want to be. I’m a geek, so I would liken it to the scene in the novel Dune (Frank Herbert) where Gurney Halleck, weapons master, is training Paul Atreides, the hero. They’re working on close combat. Everyone has their own personal energy shield and the only way to get through it is with slow, deliberate attacks. “The slow blade penetrates the shield” says Halleck.

That’s how I’ve been dealing with my own Pain Barrier. The little breaks to catch my breath a little are my way of slowing the blade (my body) so I can push through (the workout) and get to the next round of the fight. My problem is it takes too long. In the case this week, we had a 7 minute time cap on Fran. My fastest Rx Fran is more than 16 minutes. Even reducing the weight, I was only about halfway through the round of 15 when we hit 7 minutes.

Having finished this workout in the past, I know I can accomplish it. But how? 7 minutes seems an impossibly short amount of time for me. 10 or 11? Ok, now you’re taking a reasonable number again. 7? Crazy talk.

I’ve never been the fastest guy, nor have I ever really considered myself an athlete. But with CrossFit over the last three and a half years I’ve discovered that I *am* an athlete and I’m getting stronger every year – which is a crazy thought as I hurtle headlong towards 50.

And I know I can’t be alone in dealing with this as your average athlete at the box. My rational mind just tells me that when my body is under a large stressful load, de-stress for a moment, breathe, and give it a chance to recover before pushing forward. I just bristle inwardly when coaches tell me to “go faster” and I’m fighting my body to do that very thing. I’m always just telling myself to BREATHE. Sometimes it even works.

So my question is this… How do I get past this? What techniques or training do you do or suggest to toughen your mind and push through the pain in a workout? Coaches? Athletes? Anybody?

Coach Stacy at CrossFit Continuum suggested looking for a mantra or something to use as a focus when I hit that spot to speed me through it a bit faster. That idea came up in some of the links I found as well. It’s a bit like meditating in the middle of a workout, but I think I understand what she meant.

Even so, I think it’s rational to dislike pain. Typically it indicates that something is wrong, so we avoid it. My experience with Fran in this case was not from an injury keeping me from moving forward, it was the inability to control my breathing and push past discomfort. Rationally, I understand it’s mental. But in practice it’s been harder to solve.

There are some good resources on the web:

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