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One doesn’t have to win the DNA lottery to learn to deal with pain
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

I must have looked like hell.

I was walking across the grounds of Kennedy Meadows Resort Sunday just having come off the trail on my 15-mile day hike to Kennedy Lake and back. It is a hike most opt to do in two days so they can enjoy the lake in a setting surrounded by 9,000- to 11,000-foot peaks.

Two guys in their 20's that had been fishing nearby who had passed me up and were loading their gear in their pickup truck when I caught up asked if I wanted a lift to the trailhead parking lot still about a half mile away.

I thought about it for about a second and told them I appreciated the offer but no thanks. My right foot and right leg on the next step let me know what they thought of my turning the ride down.

A few minutes later a couple in a golf cart made the same offer. I again politely turned them down

When I got back to the car taking off my hiking boots was an adventure in pain. Due to two bunions that would make Paul Bunyan wince and a hammertoe that would spook Babe the Blue Ox, I have to cut up and apply a small fortune in moleskin to my toes as well as a nice pair of matching ankle spurs before I take off on Sierra hikes. They normally due to the trick but stretches of extremely muddy trails around the lake had managed to get both feet soaking wet.

That in its self would have made for an interesting return trip.

But even before I stepped out of the car that morning I knew I was going to be in for fun. I’ve been walking from time-to-time with a slight limp during the past 10 months. That’s because a nice 15-foot semi-tumble downhill while scrambling at the end of last summer had aggravated a hereditary issue with my right leg. The need to cancel my annual trip to Death Valley last November due to work meant the only hikes with any degree of elevation gain and distance were ones I did tackling Mt. Diablo and nearby peaks which were nowhere tough enough to test my limits.

I was starting to hurt perhaps three miles shy of the turnaround point. My body was telling me to stop and go back. But I wasn’t willing to do so.

I am clearly not athletic, coordinated or anywhere close to being someone who moves fast whether I’m hiking or doing what passes for running. That said I can keep going.

As for pain, it’s all relative. And given in my case it is more like a first cousin than something that is a stranger I tend to just deal with it.

As such I like to tell myself I have a high threshold of pain. But on Sunday I was beginning to think I was lying to myself.

It got to the point I had to slow my pace due to my leg hurting.

This is where most people will probably start thinking I am nuts. But unless something was broken or I was incapacitated in some manner I can’t accept pain winning.

It is not mind over matter as much as understanding one’s self.

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to explore pushing my limits 32 years ago in a research project a medical professional at Roseville Community Hospital was doing for his doctorate at the University of California, Davis.

Originally he had hoped to get athletic males from the hospital staff to severe as the six participants for a study to see the impacts on the body for someone who goes from rest to pushing it as hard as they can and sustaining it at the most strenuous predetermined level for five minutes.

Why he wasn’t able to secure the number of participants he needed from the hospital staff for the nine-week project that required a once a week testing was the fact it required having eight spots on your chest shaved to connect you to all sorts of monitoring devices.

Although I’m a candidate for the missing link, the shaving part did not bother me as I do not take by shirt off for fear of blinding pilots and causing planes to crash.

The hospital PR folks mentioned that I might by a good candidate given they knew I was bicycling 10,000 miles a year back then.

I agreed because quite frankly it sounded like a good story plus I was able to get a free platinum level physical complete with a cardiologist, water immersion body fat test, spot body fat measuring and assorted other prods and tests.

The treadmill test was interesting. The goal was to get my heart rate up to a sustained level at 85 percent of my maximum and stay there for two minutes. The goal was to do this within a 15-minute period.

I warned the cardiologist I sweat like there’s no tomorrow. He said I probably wouldn’t as I should hit the 85 percent threshold in six or so minutes. Seven minutes later I was dripping all over the place including on his work surface next to the treadmill when he handed me a tissue. Meanwhile he kept increasing the incline. It ended up taking the full 15 minutes before he got my heart rate where he wanted it.

The weekly tests involved using a Stairmaster.  The length of the test was only five minutes max. Initially the weekly tests started with a minute warm-up before they started increasing the resistance. By the ninth week, you got no warm-up and the entire 5 minutes was spent on the highest setting for difficulty.

Afterwards, I was told they assumed I’d be the “weakest” given how my body fat testing and general build stacked up against the others.

The other five were all active as runners or played basketball three or four times a week. All had played sports in high school.

It was then that I understood physical fitness and the ability to deal with — or push through — pain has nothing to do with being athletic or having been blessed with DNA that puts you in Greek god status.

It really is a matter of constantly pushing your limits.

In was tempted to accept a lift on Sunday but didn’t. That wasn’t because of pride but because I had to finish what I started. If I’m by myself in the Sierra wilderness or in remote Death Valley canyon my mindset has to be I will get back to where I started under my own power.

That means listening to your body and making sure what it is telling you doesn’t blind you from what you are capable of doing.

The real test, of course, is how you recover. My feet wanted to mutiny, my quads felt like I had just finished a double century cycling, and my right calf made a Charlie horse feel like a good thing later that night.

But 14 hours after completing the hike, I was able to take a 2½ mile run and do so with no pain. That said sitting and simply walking for a few says after was anything but pain free.

The point of all this is simple. Pain shouldn’t control your life.


This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.