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Chronic Pain: My Journey to Finding Relief – Brandon Clark

Chronic Pain by Brandon Clarke
Brandon Clark
Year started: 2021
Next race: June 17, 2023
Favorite gear:

Shoes – Altra, Nutrition- Tailwind/Skratch, Socks- Feetures

I deal with pretty bad chronic pain daily.

How My Chronic Pain Started

It all started at the end of September 2014. I was a healthy 29 year old male who worked out about 6 times a week and was running multiple businesses.

Towards the end of one of my workouts, I had a shooting pain in my back.

I used to have issues like that all the time and would usually just rest for a few days and then I would be back to normal.

Despite resting, with every day that passed, the pain continued to get worse.I went to the doctor after a few days and they couldn’t figure out what was causing it, but the pain continued to progress.

Another few weeks went by and I still wasn’t better. I went back to the doctor, was given pills, an injection, and more rest, but the pain continued to get worse.

Doctor Visit After Doctor Visit – No Relief

After more visits to the doctor, MRIs, and other testing, I was referred to a specialist  to determine what was causing the pain since he saw little spinal issues but nothing that should be causing the pain as bad as I felt. 

From here I was in and out of eight doctors’ offices over the next year and a half.If their testing or treatment option didn’t work they would refer me to someone else. 

I was pretty much bedridden with pain at this point which took a massive toll on my mental and physical health.

I went through an entire pharmacy of pills, patches, and anything else that has been made to try and relieve the pain. It got so bad that at one point I was taking over 150 different pills in a one week period. Enough to get a call from my doctor one day telling me that my liver and kidneys were starting to shut down.

I Had Enough

Enough was enough.

At that point in time, I was no longer interested in pills or anything that would mask the pain. I wanted to know the cause and I wanted to find a solution.

I started to get heavy into everything that Western and Eastern medicine offered just trying to find some glimpse of hope that the pain would subside.

But nothing helped.

I finally found myself back in another doctor’s office that at the time was overseeing the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators franchises.

We went through more testing and treatment options before coming to the conclusion that all options were exhausted outside of surgery.

Surgery Was My Last Option

After everything was discussed in great detail, surgery to repair where the two bones were rubbing against each other was the only option left. He gave me about a 60% shot of it working, which I really appreciated and at the time felt like 100%.

Six weeks later, I was in the hospital having two spinal fusions (posterior and anterior L4/L5) in under 24 hours.

After a week in the hospital, I was finally able to head home and begin the 6 month recovery process.

Two weeks later I was at my follow-up appointment and started my first physical therapy appointment, which lasted 3 times a week for the next 12 weeks and daily at home.

The Pain Didn’t Subside

After my physical therapy was over, I went back to see my surgeon. Everything from the surgery was looking good, but the pain was worse. It started to spread over my entire body at this point. 

At this point I was transferred to a long term pain management clinic, but since I have been through all of the different treatment options that they offer and did not want to continue stuffing my face with countless pills that I was getting addicted to, the options I had were gone.

I was on my own.

I started reading research papers, countless books, numerous research cases and anything else I could get my hands on to understand chronic pain.

Trying to find some sort of relief. Even for a minute.

But Nothing Worked

Then in 2017, I started focusing on just getting 1% better every day.

Whether that was physically, mentally, or even emotionally…just anything to see some sort of progress in my life.

All while still mostly bedridden with pain.

In 2018, I started to try and be more active again by just walking around the neighborhood and starting to  push through the pain.

In 2019, I walked a little more, started riding a bike around the flat neighborhood, and started some bodyweight exercises.

But the pain was still there, present as ever.

2020……I Went Further

In 2020, I took it a step further and started to run occasionally (I ran all of 20-something miles for the year) and continued to walk and ride the bike. I kept pushing and pushing the limits of my pain tolerance and what my body could handle. Then in June I came across a last man standing race on Instagram that changed my life.

I watched on Instagram live as two men battled it out at Mid State Mile to the point where I saw Greg Armstrong physically fall down across the finish line from exhaustion before getting up and powering through the next lap.

How could  someone give so much of their body up despite the pain on purpose like that?I had to find out more about this.

Time To Register

 January of 2021, when the registration for the race opened up, I submitted my name thinking there was no chance in hell I would be accepted.

Three days later I got the acceptance email and I had to really start figuring out how I was going to train for this.

The next day is when I became a runner and officially set off.

I trained on my own without any knowledge and just a random training plan I found online.

In a park where I trained by myself, I ran my first 10K, Half, Full Marathon, and eventually my first Ultra…all as training runs.

That June I competed in the race for a solid 3 hours.

Hooked? Absolutely.

The goal was to train and focus on getting 1% better every day.

I Became An Ultra-Runner

Then in September 2021, I ran my first official 50K and then in December I knocked out 70 miles and 22,000 ft of gain and descent in a 40 hour event on the Mid State Mile course, before another 100K in January.

I was hooked to running over and over again.

I didn’t race much in 2022 outside of competing in the Mid State Mile last man standing race. Going further than 3 hours was my goal. Unfortunately, my day ended at that same amount of time. That gave me the motivation to keep focusing on training and understanding the sport of ultra running.

I Went Further But Not The Furthest…..Yet!

In October 2022, there was a 100 mile race that I heard a lot about. I was to be very relaxed and more of a hangout than a race. I needed to get some miles under my legs so I signed up, finishing around 39 hours. My feet were blistered and broken.

But while I was out there, I knew that my limit was still nowhere close to being found.

I wasn’t sure how the 200 was going to go or even if my body would hold up but I knew that I was going to give it everything I had.

We Are Doing It…..200 Miles

Then a few weeks later, I toed the line and set off trying to hit 200 miles. This course had over 55,000 feet of elevation gain.

I was moving quickly and was mentally locked in.

I was the first and the fastest all week in both divisions to reach the 100 mile mark. The distance took me 54 hours. The 27,000+ feet of gain and loss was measurable.

Then it came crashing down. My back seized up and the wave of pain hit me with full force. At that moment, I curled up in the camping chair in tears.

I laid there trying to get my back pain under control. That was when I reminded myself that this was my race. I didn’t come here to run 100 miles.

I got up and hit one more loop. This forced to stay in the 200 division and either finish the race or tap out.

The pain never went away and I could have focused on that,but instead I turned towards the power of the spoken word and for the next 98 miles kept repeating…

This is my race. I move with purpose and I make forward progress.

And over those next 90 miles I pushed my body and my mind to the limit.

I have been running for 113 hours at this point and my legs and body were screaming for a break.

I Couldn’t Give Up

In the 200 mile division, I was the only one left that could actually complete the race. The next closest competitor at 118 miles and the others had dropped out.

The last finisher in the 100 division just finished earlier that night so now the entire course was mine.

There was no crew. No other racers up.

Just me and the race director Becca Jones and this brutal weather.

I started to see things that weren’t there, and the darkness seemed to be closing in on me.

I couldn’t keep my eyes open at all, but somehow I was still drudging along.

My core temperature kept dropping with the temperature outside and I felt my body slowly shutting down.

I Could Not Quit

But I had to keep going…just trying to make it to the morning knowing the sunrise would bring me life.

I knew that the darkness, the cold, the exhaustion, and the hallucinations were all a part of it.

But I also know that I had what it takes to push through.

200 miles was mine and I didn’t allow anything to stop me.