Individually and nationally, we encounter rough waters. At the national level, we are in some now, leadership inconsistent, culture in pain, fiscal policies unrestrained, debt high, interest, and inflation, while morale, border security, and defense seem to rank low. That said, on all fronts, pain can be recycled – should be now. Call it the “lactic acid principle.”
While this writer’s distance runs grow shorter each year, they once spanned a dozen marathons, offering ideas on how to manage – even use to advantage – pain. Oddly, while we all naturally resist pain, listening to our brain – it can be useful.
Generally, we know. Adversity – prolonged struggle, hard work, less money, lean times, challenging circumstances, and the need for physical and emotional stamina can wear us down – or build us up. Often what seems a cave is a tunnel, letting us bathe in light later.
Still, the exhausted caregiver, sleepless parent of a newborn, person vexed by worry over another, or battling unexpected challenges, disease, injury, or accumulated stress – must make a choice. They can either give way or rally, seek strength or decide the thing is too hard.
Specific tactics for confronting and overcoming pain do not all translate from physical to the emotional, psychological, or – Heaven forbid political – worlds, but they may have application.
When running a marathon, having done flat, hilly, windy, rainy, frozen, and hot ones, enthusiasm bubbles at the start. You throttle back, hold your horses, let the thing unfold. But then, at some point in the final miles, lactic acid builds up, making your legs lead bricks, challenging you to forget everything you thought you taught yourself when not in pain. You waver.
The great tendency is to think of accumulated pain as a drag on performance, distraction from the confidence and focus we had before pain came, but that is not always true. Sometimes, the pain is a source of power, restores confidence, recharges batteries, as only a face-to-face encounter with adversity can do, going to battle stations within yourself, to get control and win.
On the physical side, believe it or not, if one turns into that pain – empirically – you can get power from the lactic acid. If you practice ahead, get used to new parameters, teach your body to burn the lactic acid in your muscles, it becomes fuel. In other words, lactic acid generated by intense stress on muscles – palpable pain – can be recycled, used to boost performance.
As one study put it, confirming a relatively recent discovery, “lactic acid can be your friend… a fundamental change in how people think about metabolism.” The pain literally produces gain.
On one hand, “in the lore of marathoners and extreme athletes, lactic acid is poison, a waste product that builds up in the muscles and leads to muscle fatigue, reduced performance and pain,” but on the other – if you can master the pain – repeat exposure to it “actually teaches muscle cells how to use lactic acid as a fuel to get more bang for the buck.”
So, now apply that principle to the personal pain we often go through, and the national pain we seem to be traversing together, as a society.
On the personal level, being tested with high stress, pushed to endure, learn, and then reapply what we have learned…often lifts us to a successively higher levels of competence, confidence, performance, endurance, and focus. Most know this, we just do not like going through it.
On the national level, the same thing can happen. By seeing what we do not like, a takedown of the culture, erosion of accountability and solvency, high debt, interest, inflation, crime, drug overdoses, and a growing disrespect for proven history, principle, traditions, rules, rights, and the primacy of honor and the Constitution’s established meaning, never mind sanctity of the family, border, “traditional” faiths, and childhood innocence, we know what we need – and do not need.
In short, we are going through a period of social pain, marathon test of sorts, not necessarily transformation but testing. Do we believe in who we are? Can we get this right? Can we keep form, pace, and finish the race?
We are being called to step up our game, defend truth, tradition, law, and what is right. We are being asked to dig deep, keep running hard, unbroken focus and confidence, eyes on the horizon – buffeted by unruly politics.
In the end, pain – physical, emotional, psychological, and even political – can be recycled, put to good use, becoming a foundation for higher performance, or you can cuss, fuss, and give up. This is a marathon. The answer is obvious. Time to pick up our pace and apply the “lactic acid principle,” recycling pain for gain as never before, turning into the wind of 2024.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.