Sean Kelly in his home Tour

Guest Article: On Suffering

Guest Article: On Suffering

by / / 38 posts

What, another guest post? Seemingly yes, but in fact we are keeping to our every-other Friday guest post schedule. We must Keep The Schedule! @Harminator’s post about pigs was the little seen “pop-up” article; a confluence of Paris-Roubaix, Orchies pigs and Jupiler beer. These things go very bad, very fast if not served quickly.

@Ccos is serving up some thoughts on suffering; coming from Rhode Island, he knows something about it. Right now his roads have a winter’s worth of sand and salt still on them. Every corner is dangerous. Every ride means a gritty bike. Every driver is already fed up with cyclists.

VLVV, Gianni

We cyclists are a unique lot. There are myriad reasons why, but the most striking is our habit of seeking out something that most people in their day-to-day, and even sporting lives try very hard to avoid. We seek out suffering.

We seek out suffering like no one else, not every time we ride, but certainly when we are trying to become better. Pain and suffering are not unique to the sport of cycling by any stretch of the imagination, and occur with great regularity in any number of causal and professional sports. Elsewhere though, pain or suffering is usually brief, unexpected, unplanned and many times leads to a time out or other some such break. Suffering for the cyclist, however, is a very different animal.

As cyclists, it is our approach to, embracement of, and dependence upon, suffering which makes us unique. It is the only way to become faster, stronger, thinner. Without suffering, we cannot improve and of course, without it we cannot ever win.

Talk of suffering suffuses our vernacular. Read any article of an important race or listen to any television commentator and something will be said of the suffering of the riders, of their pain, of their agony. You probably use the same words when you describe your epic rides especially if climbing is involved. Suffering is our unit of measure, our currency, and yes, our virtue. It is also the single most difficult thing to explain to the non-cyclist.

Our greatest champions have mastered suffering and only by doing so can inflict it on others. It is not unusual too to learn of the struggles of these people outside of cycling which have allowed them to endure the necessary suffering to become champions. Many toiled as farmers, laborers or miners when younger and there learned the toughness from which to endure their self-inflicted suffering later on the bike.

Well brothers and sisters that road can be paved both ways, because sometimes life can be 200 kilometers of potholes, headwinds and angry rednecks. Spending time in the pain cave, if you pay attention, can teach you many things about yourself well beyond how many watts you can generate. Suffering makes us tough beyond words. Sometimes we have to rely on this toughness to get us through events in life, which would otherwise cripple us. Rule #5 has applications off the bike too.

Of course, suffering has many benefits; it is why we seek it out. It leads to greater joy on the bike. Joy, which can come from the increased speed to win, from the gained ability to drop some jackass on a group ride or from the sheer pleasure of that moment when the suffering stops.

We are cyclists. We find the good in suffering and we are much better for it. VLVV.

 

// Guest Article

  1. Enduring climb after climb last Saturday, and then more climbing (Gorges State Park) on Sunday, made me feel like a new and different animal.

  2. I confess I don’t like suffering – my motto is “train to avoid pain”.

    But I have to endure it in training in order to minimise it in racing or group riding.

    I guess that’s one of them there paradoxammajiggers.

    Tomorrow I will finish probably the hardest training week I’ve ever done, at the end of a block of hard weeks.

    The golden beacon I’ve been walking towards is on Sunday where my program says “Begin Taper“. The idea was to crank up the intensity and then empty the tank before a two-week tapering block leading up to a three-day stage race.

    Apparently this will make me peak. I’d always thought ‘peaking’ was a metaphorical concept devised for humourous purposes but I’m assured it is a real thing.

    I suspect suffering will still be involved in the racing though.

  3. @ChrisO How about “If it feels good, better do it.”

  4. I have been upping the suffer-quotient lately.  I find the best way to do this is to seek out the steepest local climbs where the incentive is to go as hard as possible to get the suffering over as soon as possible.

    A side benefit of these efforts is that they temporarily suppress the part of my brain that has conscious thoughts.

  5. @ChrisO I’m guessing that at least your race suffering will be reduced as a result of your training  suffering.  That’s certainly my personal hope; I’ve never worked harder on the bike or at any other sport than I have in the last few months. I’m happy to suffer like a dog in my main events this year as long as my aims are achieved.  Good luck with that stage race.

  6. Nice Friday reading! I’ll be suffering this weekend…instead of riding on Sunday I have to visit the in-laws. A special type of suffering!

  7. @Ron

    Suffering, eh? See if you can suffer through this…

    http://www.outsideonline.com/featured-videos/gear-videos/bikes/How-to-Fix-a-Flat-with-Lance-Armstrong.html

    Anyone who dignifies that link with a pageview owes hill repeats to the point of vomiting as penance.

  8. @Nate

    I have been upping the suffer-quotient lately. I find the best way to do this is to seek out the steepest local climbs where the incentive is to go as hard as possible to get the suffering over as soon as possible.

    A side benefit of these efforts is that they temporarily suppress the part of my brain that has conscious thoughts.

    Though a Bastard, the Man with a Hammer can eventually bring good things.

  9. @Ron

    Nice Friday reading! I’ll be suffering this weekend…instead of riding on Sunday I have to visit the in-laws. A special type of suffering!

    In its belly, you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a…thousand years.

  10. Ha, it’s not actually that bad, Nate. Would just be more fun to be at home to ride in the morning and watch the race.

    I’d bring a bike but it’s so flat where we’ll be that the most exciting part of the ride is wind, and I hate wind. And the group rides are always a nightmare. Really squirreling riding, odd accelerations at things like…the roll-out of town, and I’ve never met so many people on bikes who don’t really seem to dig bikes. And wow, it’s an orgy of Rules violations, almost like a duel to see who can rack up more on one bike/in one person.

    Sorry, for that link. Too hard to resist.

  11. We seek out suffering.

    Suffering is our unit of measure, our currency, and yes, our virtue. It is also the single most difficult thing to explain to the non-cyclist.

    These two lines, for me, are what set apart the bike riders from the cyclists. Most people I know (my wife included) will never get it, but that just makes me love it even more.

    Great article.

  12. @elmeltone

    I agree that those statements sum up the essence of cycling.  A favorite quote of mine credited to Bob Roll: “Pain is the coin of the realm in cycling” expresses the same sentiment more concisely.

  13. @Ccos, good stuff. As many of us know, many of them don’t get why we seek to suffer. In addition to dishing it out on the bike, off the bike, we don’t sweat the small stuff. Nice to hear you’re in the neighborhood. I grew up in RI, lived in SE Conn. for years, now in Branford, CT for about three yrs. Miss those roads. Maybe see you on the road sometime…

  14. @Jay

    @elmeltone

    I agree that those statements sum up the essence of cycling. A favorite quote of mine credited to Bob Roll: “Pain is the coin of the realm in cycling” expresses the same sentiment more concisely.

    I’m going to use that line.

  15. @Steve-o  Small freakin’ world: I went in the other direction. I lived in the New Haven area, Branford included (great restaurants by the way) in my dark non-cycling years before venturing to the land of clear broth chowder, Del’s lemonade and Tattooed people (lots and lots of tattooed people).  And yes, non-cyclists just don’t get it, nor ever will. Definitely see you on the road.

  16. Great picture of Kelly, that man could suffer with the best. I remember reading about some of his training methods and there was something along the lines of riding as far as he could with the wind behind him and then turning around and trying to ride back quicker through the head wind. I ‘suffer’ in my own way, but I can’t begin to imagine what the pros’ go through – love watching them go through hell though!

  17. The photo is Kelly going up Patrick’s hill in Cork. Just in front of him was Sean Yeats suffering even more!!  It’s a classic photo of 2 real hard men putting it up to each other….

  18. @Jay

    @elmeltone

    I agree that those statements sum up the essence of cycling. A favorite quote of mine credited to Bob Roll: “Pain is the coin of the realm in cycling” expresses the same sentiment more concisely.

    Bob Roll is our Yogi Berra, ‘cept thinner, faster and more gap toothed. Most things he says are gold, but what the hell is a “nine toothed assassin” anyway?

  19. I ove eating cheeseburgers. And fries. And drinking bottles of red wine. And local fresh IPAs. I even like pop tarts and Lucky Charms. So, I know that suffering is good. Because after a good week of it I can still shed a pound or two despite 4000 cal dinners at steak houses on business. I’m not sure if I eat big after suffering on a bike as reward or if I suffer on a bike because I ate too much and have to pay. I guess a little of both. Obviously if I was getting paid to ride a bike I might take special care of diet. Meaning go hungry more often. But I’m perfectly fueled up for my CAT 5 career and local mtn bike races. Suffering on a bike brings dividends that I really enjoy. So I like it. At least my little level of it. Cheers all.

  20. @ChrisO Can you suffer more in training than in a race setting? Especially when training by ones self. I’ve amazed myself checking out heart rate, speed and cadence data over time from a race that I’ve never matched in training. There’s certainly for me something about the race setting that steps it all up a notch. Though I’ll admit I probably don’t know how to train properly.

    I think the athletes that suffer most for their sport are the MMA fighters. Give it all ya got and be rewarded with a broken nose and pinned on the mat in some jujitsu submission hold. No thanks. I recall summer 7’s tourney’s on the mall in DC as a young man that involved some suffering. And I’ve always guessed that water polo would be an especially difficult fitness challenge. And I know some cross fit folks doing some particularly goofy stuff that involves suffering.

  21. After reading this, before posting, I Googled: “hardest sports in the world”. The lists that I read made me laugh: Tennis, Gymnastics, Football etc. Now I’m not saying that those are “easy” sports. Far from it. But until Roger Federerereerer plays 4-7hrs a day, for 20+ days, it’s a ridiculous statement.

    Suffering is our glory. Great article Ccos.

  22. I just finished watching an excellent documentary on the 4 deserts race: 4 ultramarathons across 4 deserts. The documentary was on a few individuals who did a 4 deserts grand slam: all 4 in one year.

    http://www.4deserts.com/

  23. I’ve always thought solo, non stop, around the world sailing the most extreme sport.  No stopping for 40+ days, 45 mins is a luxuriant night sleep!

  24. I would like to think cycling as more refined, getting beat into submission thats seams  like suffering . Maybe suffering is the wrong word really. Cycling is way to awesome even at it’s worst to be a suffer. For me it’s allways bitter sweet, but suffering is to be without a bicycle, and good beer!

  25. Pain brings clarity.  I ride looking for the moment when everything gels and the world makes sense again.  This usually happens only after I’ve pushed body and mind to the ragged edge of what they’ll tolerate before breaking.

    I’ve been told that I ride my bike because I’m fleeing from my demons.  I say, “Fuck that.  I’m going out to meet my demons and beat them down.”

  26. @Captainsideburns

    I’ve always thought solo, non stop, around the world sailing the most extreme sport. No stopping for 40+ days, 45 mins is a luxuriant night sleep!

    Yes, I suppose not sleeping and having to poop in a bucket on your multi-million dollar corporate sponsored boat is very extreme, but the article is about suffering. Look at Kelly’s face that’s what a cyclist looks like. You know exactly what that feels like (an order or two magnitude lower I suppose). If you have ever had to sleep with road rash, you know what sleep deprivation is all about.

    @wilburrox The cyclist is wired differently from other athletes. Geraint Thomas finished the Tour de France with a f’ing fractured pelvis. ‘Nuff said.  The MMA dudes would have quit. No debate.

    Next

  27. @wilburrox

    @ChrisO Can you suffer more in training than in a race setting? Especially when training by ones self. I’ve amazed myself checking out heart rate, speed and cadence data over time from a race that I’ve never matched in training. There’s certainly for me something about the race setting that steps it all up a notch. Though I’ll admit I probably don’t know how to Train Properly.

    There are certain hormonal responses triggered by racing that you can’t really match in training. Alberto Salazar, famed running coach, routinely lets his top athletes do a short race (5k, preferably something shorter on the track or XC) and then sends them over for a brutal interval session. Apparently if you’re strong enough not to injure yourself doing it, the body responds beautifully to such input, and several of them ran PBs in those coupled sessions. Here‘s an article about Galen Rupp’s workout immediately after setting an American record.

    That’s also the reason cycling pros need to “get racing in their legs” before the races they’re actually targeting – there’s no stimulus quite like the micro-surges of the pack, and nothing will drive you harder than a breakaway attempt. The best preparation for racing is racing.

  28. @Ccos

    Yes, I suppose not sleeping and having to poop in a bucket on your multi-million dollar corporate sponsored boat is very extreme, but the article is about suffering. Look at Kelly’s face that’s what a cyclist looks like. You know exactly what that feels like (an order or two magnitude lower I suppose). If you have ever had to sleep with road rash, you know what sleep deprivation is all about.

    Having sailed yachts on sunny, calm days, I can only imagine what high seas sailing is like. Catamarans used for transatlantic racing are about as comfortable to sail in as Tony Martin’s TT rig would be at Paris-Roubaix, and it’s bloody hard work. Never mind the fact that if you fail to pull that cable hard enough, either you or the entire boat will end up capsized in the middle of nowhere. The skin rash, the chopped fingers, the broken bones – they’re all there, but you’re sometimes days away from medical help.

    If anyone thinks suffering is the cyclist’s privilege, they’re invited to try and hang with proper runners, swimmers, rowers,  or any other physical endurance sport. I suppose the difference between cyclists and other endurance athletes is that cyclists are write more prosaic about their suffering. Speaking of which:

    I’ve often finished a TT with a numb pecker, but nothing like that. Ouch.

  29. @anthony

    I would like to think cycling as more refined, getting beat into submission thats seams like suffering . Maybe suffering is the wrong word really. Cycling is way to awesome even at it’s worst to be a suffer. For me it’s allways bitter sweet, but suffering is to be without a bicycle, and good beer!

    There is nothing “refined” about it, even on nice days you get sweaty, salty, and dirty.

    @tessar

    I want to know, but don’t want to know regarding that Martin picture.

  30. @DerHoggz If I were managing ISM’s marketing department, I’d be all over this picture. I mean, that’s the outline of an Adamo saddle! In blood!

  31. @tessar

    @Ccos

    Yes, I suppose not sleeping and having to poop in a bucket on your multi-million dollar corporate sponsored boat is very extreme, but the article is about suffering. Look at Kelly’s face that’s what a cyclist looks like. You know exactly what that feels like (an order or two magnitude lower I suppose). If you have ever had to sleep with road rash, you know what sleep deprivation is all about.

    Having sailed yachts on sunny, calm days, I can only imagine what high seas sailing is like. Catamarans used for transatlantic racing are about as comfortable to sail in as Tony Martin’s TT rig would be at Paris-Roubaix, and it’s bloody hard work. Never mind the fact that if you fail to pull that cable hard enough, either you or the entire boat will end up capsized in the middle of nowhere. The skin rash, the chopped fingers, the broken bones – they’re all there, but you’re sometimes days away from medical help.

    If anyone thinks suffering is the cyclist’s privilege, they’re invited to try and hang with proper runners, swimmers, rowers, or any other physical endurance sport. I suppose the difference between cyclists and other endurance athletes is that cyclists are write more prosaic about their suffering. Speaking of which:

    I’ve often finished a TT with a numb pecker, but nothing like that. Ouch.

    Precisely why Rule #14 must be obeyed

  32. Black shorts would have made that photo banal.

  33. @DerHoggz Point taken.

  34. @Ccos  And that obviously is an excellent point. I’m with ya. I also had supreme respect for Ted King in the team TT last year dropped at the start yet busting an incredible ride with the separated shoulder in attempt to go on.  I’d have to guess that on the scale of difficulties and suffering completing a TDF probably is beyond compare. With a fractured pelvis ?? Recall Johnny Hoogerland getting rode in to the barbed wire and going on ?? Wired differently ? Good point, yes. Cheers

  35. @starclimber

    Black shorts would have made that photo banal.

    And Rule #15 compliant. It shows the folly of rule violations (though Tony Martin is far from being a douche). That is the picture version of seeing some poor dude kicked in the goods.

  36. @Ccos

    @starclimber

    Black shorts would have made that photo banal.

    And Rule #15 compliant. It shows the folly of rule violations (though Tony Martin is far from being a douche). That is the picture version of seeing some poor dude kicked in the goods.

    I think the skinsuits are required to be all one color per the UCI?  I remember reading something about that.

  37. @DerHoggz Shouldn’t be white then. Also highlights another problem with the UCI, not reviewing the Rules before passing their own.

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar