You know that dull burn. It starts almost a full day right after you pushed it. Sometimes it stretches to the following. That's DOMs. It stands for delayed onset muscle soreness.
You know it, I promise you. Despite your age, your background, and your life experiences, you've probably tested your limits. We know it as the muscles that feel tender to the touch. Maybe we feel stiff when moving around, or our range of motion is lacking. My soft tissue usually feels so fatigued; I'm practically a jello mold. I'm writing about this soreness tonight to offer a perspective on what it taught me—first, a quick story.
I was living in Austin circa 2000. It was turning to summer weather in March, as it sometimes does. I went to an 'underground' casino set-up in a friend of a friend's apartment. It was familiar territory indeed. My gambling exploits reached far and wide. Unfortunately for me, the administrators of this particular operation had the system down. Free top-shelf drinks served with the right amount of Texas cheerleader charm. My friend who invited me made the prudent choice to go home after several hours. I stayed, drank too much, lost a chunk of change, and found myself without a ride at 3 am.
My fuzzy logic pushed the idea to run back to campus to crash on my friend's bed. He lived closer. 15 miles from West Campus versus 20 miles to my place off Riverside. I maybe ran 4 miles at once at this point in my life. Double-digit mileage full of whiskey in a t-shirt and jeans was certainly the desperation of the addict inside me.
I used to tell the story as a badge of honor. I'd stretch it to be marathon distance. The truth is, I ran it sporadically. It took me 4-5 hours—no smartphone, water, or money. I followed 183 and then 35 until I hit North Campus, making my way over to Red River eventually to rinse off and rest at Gregory Gym. I sank deep into my friend's bed just before lunch. I woke well-rested and intensely sore.
That adventure is still teaching me lessons. The lesson of DOMs is the one I'm hoping you may connect on.
Here's how. Pain is a critical indicator that we need to back off and recover. It's also a signal to pay attention. We usually avoid pain. It exposes us. I'm sure it's been a while since most of us have experienced deep soreness because we prefer not to feel the pain. We tend to be mindful of our limits as we age. My perspective is that the lessons of pain are usually worthwhile. I'm not saying to invite pain and increase the frequency or the intensity. Instead, I propose that there is more to gain by actively not avoiding it, whether it's using our bodies to develop strength or our hearts and minds to develop resilience and grit. DOMs is merely our natural physiological way to protect us, and it will also be a signal of growth. We can embrace it, learn from it, heal, and move on to the next level of our journey.
If you happen to push your limits into delayed onset muscle soreness (or its cousin acute muscle soreness), here is a short tutorial on recovery and prevention. 📺