Get out of the pain cave, all aboard the struggle bus

I love Courtney Dewaulter. I mean, of course I do, what’s not to love, who doesn’t love Courtney?

I love that she has been so open about her struggles and her path to improvement. I love that she wears whatever the hell she wants and no doubt had fights with sponsors over it. I love that she has made ultrarunning and women’s performance more visible to both runners and non runners alike. She’s the GOAT, absolutely no question.

But I just can’t get on board with the “pain cave”.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the idea. Running a long way bloody hurts and it has this weird rollercoaster vibe where you feel good, then terrible, then good again for no particular reason. I appreciate that she has used this mental image of a cave to help her push past the pain in these tough spots rather than embracing the suck and sitting on a rock having a pity party for you as I like to do.

But I am just not interested in going into a cave. The idea of it gives me the ick. It’s cold and dark and who knows what bloody lives in it (This is Australia folks, caves house things that could kill you!) I just don’t want to go in there and no about of “it will make you a better athlete” is going to make me want to. I actually think the idea of it actually makes me perform less because I want to avoid the pain cave. This only leads to not trying hard enough and ultimately not reaching your potential.

There is no avoiding the lows of a race or really long training run (if you are that way inclined), but like Courtney, you can reframe it and make it work to your advantage.

Enter, the struggle bus.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t invent this term, I’ve heard it used in a similar vain to the pain cave. But this is an idea around discomfort that I can actually get around.

I’ve been unknowingly designing and crafting my struggle bus for years. It started with music playlists that I created for my road half and full marathons. Songs that I knew would help me keep going when I really couldn’t think of anything worse.

I used to listen to music the entire way, I still think for road marathons you have to! The fact that elite athletes run a marathon at that pace without any music blows my mind more than the world records they set!

Now, if the race allows, I tuck my headphones away in my pack, only to be bought out when its time to get on board the struggle bus and ride the bad patch until I feel good again. Sometimes its just a few songs to get me up a hill or along a long stretch of soft sand, other times its an entire leg between checkpoints. But the music only comes out when I’m on the bus, hurting, focusing on just putting one foot in front of the other.

In my mind, the Struggle Bus is a glamorous beast. She is a beautiful, magical bus that only plays bangers, you don’t get sweaty sitting on the seats and it doesn’t make you feel sick going around the corners. Like all good albums, it has an A side and a B side, both equally full of quality tunes, but in stark contrast to each other, 2000’s emo bops on one side, annoyingly cute pop on the other.

There is no pressure on the Struggle Bus, just take it one song at a time. Run one song, walk one song. Maybe then try run two songs, walk one song. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling better and able to jump off the bus. The Struggle Bus is the trail and ultra equivalent of those annoying hop on/hop off big red tourist buses. Get on, get where you need to go and then get off. Don’t stay longer than you need to, it’s just a bridge between bad patches, not a place to hang out for the entire race.

Got other mental hacks or songs to add to the playlists? Comment below! ⬇️

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