Breathing Through Your Ears

Suffering is part of Cycling the way alcohol is part of liver failure: they are obviously connected but it’s too much fun to stop and think about why you do it. Grace finds us through La Volupté, but her touch is rare and we generally are far better acquainted with her husband, The Man with the Hammer. That guy is a bit of an asshole.

We typically don’t want to let anyone we’re riding with know how much we’re suffering, but I do admit to indulging in a Virenque or Voekler-style Five-Face to further bewilder the passing traffic while I’m killing it up the local leg breaker or crushing the 53×11 while overtaking the cars along the various boulevards in town.

But any time I’m riding with someone, I go to great lengths to ensure I hide my suffering in totality. I’ll start chatting to the rider next to me whenever I hurt. Or when I don’t hurt but I know they’re hurting. You know the drill. Bernard Hinault used to attack whenever he felt really like shit because if he was off the front, no one could see how much he was suffering. That’s a really good way to go about it, so long as your name starts with “Bernard” and ends with “Hinault”.

There is an expression in Cycling, “Breathing through your ears”. It’s meaning is twofold; on one hand it means you’re feeling desperate to open up any orifice in your body to allow more oxygen into the organism, on account of the wholesale suffering that you’re experiencing. On the other hand, it means you’re also not breathing through your mouth, for fear of betraying your Suffer Monkey Score to those you’re riding with.

Both interpretations are equally valid; take your pick. Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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65 Replies to “Breathing Through Your Ears”

  1. @RobSandy

    @Major VVald

    @the Engine

    Rule #TBD:

    1. if at any time during a race you find it easy to breathe you are doing it absolutely wrong.

    Disagree. Remember, in a race the goal is not to make yourself suffer -it is to inflict suffering on everyone else. That quite about licking your opponents plate clean before starting on your own? Yes.

    Or put another way: Make everyone else suffer more than you so that you have something more left at the end than they do. Better yet, so they’re not there at the end at all. But you have to pick your moments for doing this.

  2. @wilburrox

    @Teocalli

    @the Engine

    How about:

    Stage 1 – Pain

    Stage 2 – Throwing Up

    Stage 3 – Unconsciousness

    Stage 4 – Best avoided

    I’ll add a stage between 1 & 2 I guess: Eyes focused w/lasers like the heat of a thousand white hot suns…

    The story: My young daughter is racing a Jr’s field crit. So is 10-16 yr old boys and girls and these races get strung out pretty quick. A couple of laps in and this young man has been glued to her wheel. She’s going by and she’s complaining to me as she passes something along the lines of, “what do I do”? Next time around I shout back, “if you can talk you’re not going hard enough”! So, next time around as she’s coming up the small hill to where I’m watching the race and she has laser beam eyes focused on me as if the white hot heat of a thousand suns were to burn holes thru me. She was mad. Very. I’ll never forget that look from my little sweetheart princess. And the young man that was on her wheel? Maybe 5 seconds back.

     

    Yes, this is something to be proud about:

    “So, next time around as she’s coming up the small hill to where I’m watching the race and she has laser beam eyes focused on me as if the white hot heat of a thousand suns were to burn holes thru me. She was mad. Very. I’ll never forget that look from my little sweetheart princess.”

  3. @Sparty

    Excellent!  Yes.  And this is something that cannot be taught, no matter how hard you try.

    My oldest son is a very good runner, doing super XC times and made varsity this freshman year but he does NOT have the killer instinct.  I was talking to him before a race one time and we had scouted the course.  I gave him the advice to drill it and kill it on this one hill section and to really put the hurt on everyone around him, really put them into the pain cave.   He just looked at me and respectfully said, “Nah, I will go hard there but just to see how fast I can go, not to hurt anyone else.”  He still placed top ten out of allcomers but he just doesn’t HAVE that killer instinct.

    His sister, on the other hand, will kill you in your sleep if it will help her win a match.  She is VICIOUS.  Fair, honourable but vicious!!!

  4. After a Rugby match some years ago….

    Me (to my Mum):  What do you think?

    Mum:  You’re vicious, I’m not watching again.

    Me:  Eh?

    Mum:  There’s no need to tackle people that hard.

    Me: But Mum they’re all bigger than me.

    Mum:  I don’t care, your just vicious.  There’s just no need to hit them that hard.

    I’ve always been a quantum higher in competition than I was in training.  Competition always brings out the best/worst in me (depending on your point of view).

  5. @Buck Rogers

    Fucking GREAT article, Frahnk! Totally brings me back to 1988 when my 16 year old self (ahh to be there again) was in my first race and on the first climb I noticed a few of the racers trying to chat it up and smiling while I was dying. At that time I could not figure out how the hell they were doing it. Slowly, over that year, I learned what they were up to and it is something that I have taken forward with me to all aspect of my life, not just cycling. I actually won an award in a pretty awful and tough Army school b/c I just kept on smiling and trying to be cheerful with the guys while we were getting the shit kicked out of us. THAT was a lesson I learned on the gradients of New England in my youth on my Cannondale.

    One could say that cycling teaches us how to best live the unfortunate moments of our life when we are not able to be cycling.

    Love this – a code to live by for sure! If it’s going to suck, you might as well enjoy it!

  6. @Buck Rogers

    But did you have to post another Mapei kit, FFS???

    (and since my Mum always said don’t complain unless you have a solution, I offer you LeMan instead; a man who always seemed to be able to smile through the pain)

    I love how much his mud mask looks like a gladiator’s mask! So classic! And those baby blues! Such a studmuffin.

  7. @Buck Rogers

    @Sparty

    Excellent! Yes. And this is something that cannot be taught, no matter how hard you try.

    My oldest son is a very good runner, doing super XC times and made varsity this freshman year but he does NOT have the killer instinct. I was talking to him before a race one time and we had scouted the course. I gave him the advice to drill it and kill it on this one hill section and to really put the hurt on everyone around him, really put them into the pain cave. He just looked at me and respectfully said, “Nah, I will go hard there but just to see how fast I can go, not to hurt anyone else.” He still placed top ten out of allcomers but he just doesn’t HAVE that killer instinct.

    His sister, on the other hand, will kill you in your sleep if it will help her win a match. She is VICIOUS. Fair, honourable but vicious!!!

    @ Buck Rogers

    Perplexing isn’t it?  I am sure you and others can relate.  I am the eldest of three siblings.  I am not sure if it is a factor of being the first born, but neither of my siblings were as dedicated or had that “killer instinct” in their sports (brother played ice hockey and sister was a swimmer).  I believe have to be born with it.  There are people who can temporarly fake it, but eventually their true nature shows.  It isn’t a factor of your sex, age, size, strength, sport, etc.  It is 110% psychological.  And maybe a little chemical imbalance in our brains.  Ha.

  8. @wiscot

    I never said the Mapei kit was pretty, but it’s mega awesome in its ugliness and iconic garishness and it’s still one of my favourites of all time.

  9. @Oli

    @wiscot

    I never said the Mapei kit was pretty, but it’s mega awesome in its ugliness and iconic garishness and it’s still one of my favourites of all time.

    This. Sometimes ugliness can be beautiful. I’m with you on the Mapei kit.

  10. @Frank: Nice writing, but as a doctor I have to note that you have mixed up actions and consequences.

    Your “Suffering is part of Cycling the way alcohol is part of liver failure” should be “Suffering is part of Cycling the way liver failure is a part of alcohol”; You cycle, you suffer, you drink, you get liver failure, see…

     

  11. @Teocalli

     

    I’ve always been a quantum higher in competition than I was in training. Competition always brings out the best/worst in me (depending on your point of view).

    I’m completely the same. My top speed in a sprint is a good 10% higher if there’s someone on my shoulder trying to come round me. I’d like to think I’m a really unpleasant guy to race against as I’ll gladly hurt myself if I think it’ll hurt the other guy a little bit more.

  12. @Buck Rogers

    @RobSandy

    I only picked up on two words from that article, and they were ‘Bernard’ and ‘Hinault’. Read Fotheringham’s book on him over Christmas, and more than ever I just want to be him.

    I’m going to have to start attacking off the front whenever I’m in the red. That’s a great plan.

    Damn! I need this book! Adding to the list!

    Just ordered this book.  Should be here later this week.  So excited!!!

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