Time for a different kind of suffering.

The Janus of Suffering

The Janus of Suffering

by / / 68 posts

I came strongly into the Fall, stronger than in other years thanks to a late-season objective to do well at my first Heck of the North gravel classic in Minnesota. I was light and I had built good power and endurance by riding the steep gravel roads that pepper the North Cascades and suffering through brutal interval sessions on the windswept stretch of road along Shilshole Bay. I was good at hurting myself.

With the race behind me and the first of the next season’s objectives many months away, I entered into what in many ways is my favorite time of year to ride: Winter. The months between objectives at that time of year provides a kind of serenity on the bike that is hard to find when goals are looming. Focus shifts away from building a sharpness in the muscles and towards putting in long base kilometers at steady speeds. There is no need to push hard on the climbs, just slip into a nice tempo and explore the beautiful quiet of a steady rhythm.

With that serenity comes a different kind of suffering; not so acute but where the cold winds and rains harden the mind against the long hours of discomfort and somatic pain. Simply staying on the bike all day, riding from sun up to sun down, is suffering in itself. The willpower and discipline needed to hold the course and do the Work is itself an entirely different but very real kind of suffering – even if the suffering is not intense at any given moment.

But as Winter slowly loosens it grip and the days grow longer, so too do the objectives for the coming season loom nearer. It is time to pull myself out of steady rhythms and once again build towards the sharp sensations of a hard effort. I find I’ve nearly forgotten how to do it; my body resists the signals coming from the mind; its first impulse is to employ the Scotty Principle, I’m givin’ ‘er all she’s got captain! It seems my mind has forgotten that whenever it gets that message, there is always another 10 or 20 percent left to to be taken from the body.

Janus is the Roman god of beginnings and transitions; he has two faces – one looking to the past and one to the future. I’m transitioning from one kind of suffering into another; the work I did yesterday will make tomorrow’s ride a little bit better. My mind navigates through the mixed signals it receives, and the body responds and adapts. To transition is to explore the boundary between two seemingly separate entities. Science explores the boundary between ignorance and knowledge; art explores the boundary between reality and imagination; Cycling explores the boundary between the mind and body.

We are Cyclists. The rest of the world merely rides a bike.

// Etiquette // Nostalgia // Tradition

  1. @VeloSix

    @Ron

    By the end of the winter I also get tired of looking for places to hang wet cycling gear, especially in spots that won’t upset the VMH.

    Wet oversocks dripping on the hardwood floors can really put a damper on evenin’ romance…

    Ditto!

    The VMH usually just points to the laundry room when I come home.

  2. @cyclebrarian

    @VeloSix

    @Ron

    By the end of the winter I also get tired of looking for places to hang wet cycling gear, especially in spots that won’t upset the VMH.

    Wet oversocks dripping on the hardwood floors can really put a damper on evenin’ romance…

    Ditto!

    The VMH usually just points to the laundry room when I come home.

    I know it’s been a good V and 9 when I get home and the VMW says “Get in the shower and don’t bother getting undressed first”

  3. @Xyverz

    I’m slowly, but surely getting my legs back. Eventually, I’m sure my strength, endurance, and stamina shall return too. I have faith in Merckx on this.

    Dude, you are the unluckiest ever. Shitty. But yeah, your fitness will come back – more quickly than you think. Your body remembers how to do this stuff, all you have to do is put in the work and the rest will do itself.

    @brett

    Normally at this time of year I’m in top shape… Keepers Tour looming, a summer of frequent long, hard rides behind me, tan lines crisp as a packet of Doritos.

    You and me both, except the tan. Not too tan this end of the world yet. I’m glad the guns at least stay covered mostly for the time being; don’t want to cause traffic accidents.

    @Fozzy Osbourne

    I made an account just to comment. This is a great, great article.

    I work in Minneapolis as a messenger, and we feel it year round (because we ride all year, and if you’re not feeling it, why ride?), but the utterly different nature of winter’s physical and mental demands from those of summer isn’t always easy for me to describe. Minneapolis and St. Paul had exactly 50 days below 0F this winter, and I rode most of them. Often, it was a lot of fun, but every day I was exhausted, having only ridden at 2/3 speed about 1/2 as far as I usually ride in the summer.

    I’ve biked through winters before, but this one was rough, and at first, I was mentally unprepared to put those sorts of temperatures plus wind out of my mind and address the increasingly dubious road conditions (there were weeks on end where even the main roads seemed to have been zambonied). I’d never been robbed of my speed, then punished for not raising my heart-rate before. I also never really noticed how much my handling suffered when I was out of my comfort zone. Now, I have some sprint-practice and mild muscle rebuilding to do this spring on account of my pace reduction, but I see the last few months as an extended pain cave designed to make absolute focus an instinct rather than an effort.

    All nice days are the same, but each shitty day is shitty in its own way. Rule #9 isn’t an injunction for needless self-flagellation. Rule #9 is a reminder that the more extreme the conditions, the more rare, or even unique opportunities you’ll have that day to learn new and better ways to ride hard. Rules pertaining to etiquette and aesthetic are important and awesome, but to me, Rule #9 and others like it are the ones that truly make us cyclists.

    Go with Gaul

    Quite an entry – welcome!

    Minneapolis has a very cool Bike Messenger community; going back to Gene O and beyond.

    I completely agree with your last sentiment; you really hit the nail on the head and expressed it better than I’ve possibly ever seen it expressed. Top marks!

  4. @revchuck

    @frank, the feeling of going from base to race is a whole ‘nuther ball game. In the South, we’re already into race season. It’s the first time I’ve done a real base effort – two months of 16-18 hour weeks – and that part of the motor is working well. Taking it off cruise control and flooring it at my first crit of the season showed there’s a lot of work to be done on the top end. I’m currently enjoying the top end work – “If I live through these intervals, I’ll be faster” – and it’s all good.

    Scratch that. It’s all awesome.

    I think you really have to love the process, otherwise you’ll risk frustration. I love seeing the small changes. I’m working harder now and I love the way my lungs feel after a hard interval ride. Then even walking the stairs and feeling that my legs are harder and somehow feeling more sharp.

    You have to delight in the process and find the motivation that way.

    @Mike_P

    @frank

    Top marks, mate. Top marks.

    An addendum though….why is it that now we are entering Spring, I’m finding my motivation to train on the slide? Having put in all the effort over the winter I just want to ride, not stick to the plan, which will lead to a backslide. Time to reflect on Rule #10 maybe.

    Its not uncommon – I think we call this burnout but also you’re in a rhythm; just riding is fun and easy while sticking to a plan take discipline. I think the best advise I have is what @revchuck and I are saying.

    Stick to it mate.

  5. @Teocalli

    @cyclebrarian

    @VeloSix

    @Ron

    By the end of the winter I also get tired of looking for places to hang wet cycling gear, especially in spots that won’t upset the VMH.

    Wet oversocks dripping on the hardwood floors can really put a damper on evenin’ romance…

    Ditto!

    The VMH usually just points to the laundry room when I come home.

    I know it’s been a good V and 9 when I get home and the VMW says “Get in the shower and don’t bother getting undressed first”

    I needed that laugh today, Teocalli! I rode the other day and decided to wear my 2mm kayaking gloves. When I got home, I could (literally) wring the sweat out of them. The VMH said ‘I can smell those nasty things from over here…washer, now!’ I think I subconsciously do those sorts of things just to get that kind of reaction.

  6. @Steve-o

    @Doug We cyclists seek to suffer in order to overcome the suffering. Non-cyclists don’t get it. It’s what puts us above the rest.

    This.

    @VeloSix

    @Ron

    By the end of the winter I also get tired of looking for places to hang wet cycling gear, especially in spots that won’t upset the VMH.

    Wet oversocks dripping on the hardwood floors can really put a damper on evenin’ romance…

    Ditto!

    I keep forgetting to pull it all out of the washing machine. Then she heads down there to wash some stuff and she’s like, “EVERY FUCKING TIME, YOU LEAVE THAT SHIT IN THERE!”

    …of course, half of the kit is hers, but still.

    @Teocalli

    @cyclebrarian

    @VeloSix

    @Ron

    By the end of the winter I also get tired of looking for places to hang wet cycling gear, especially in spots that won’t upset the VMH.

    Wet oversocks dripping on the hardwood floors can really put a damper on evenin’ romance…

    Ditto!

    The VMH usually just points to the laundry room when I come home.

    I know it’s been a good V and 9 when I get home and the VMW says “Get in the shower and don’t bother getting undressed first”

    …or opening the garage door with the implication that there shall be no walking through the house in that state!

  7. @Fozzy Osbourne

    I made an account just to comment. This is a great, great article.

    I work in Minneapolis as a messenger, and we feel it year round (because we ride all year, and if you’re not feeling it, why ride?), but the utterly different nature of winter’s physical and mental demands from those of summer isn’t always easy for me to describe. Minneapolis and St. Paul had exactly 50 days below 0F this winter, and I rode most of them. Often, it was a lot of fun, but every day I was exhausted, having only ridden at 2/3 speed about 1/2 as far as I usually ride in the summer.

    I’ve biked through winters before, but this one was rough, and at first, I was mentally unprepared to put those sorts of temperatures plus wind out of my mind and address the increasingly dubious road conditions (there were weeks on end where even the main roads seemed to have been zambonied). I’d never been robbed of my speed, then punished for not raising my heart-rate before. I also never really noticed how much my handling suffered when I was out of my comfort zone. Now, I have some sprint-practice and mild muscle rebuilding to do this spring on account of my pace reduction, but I see the last few months as an extended pain cave designed to make absolute focus an instinct rather than an effort.

    All nice days are the same, but each shitty day is shitty in its own way. Rule #9 isn’t an injunction for needless self-flagellation. Rule #9 is a reminder that the more extreme the conditions, the more rare, or even unique opportunities you’ll have that day to learn new and better ways to ride hard. Rules pertaining to etiquette and aesthetic are important and awesome, but to me, Rule #9 and others like it are the ones that truly make us cyclists.

    Go with Gaul

    Chapeau to you sir! In in WI and it’s been brutal down here – I know you’ve had it worse. At least I get to choose when I ride – you do it for a living. I can’t imagine the shitty days you’ve had to ride in. Merckx knows I’ve done a few rides this year where drivers have easily questioned my sanity (as have I), but you’re right, it’s the extreme rides we do that we remember. Incidents aside, who remembers those nice rides on 70 degree days? It’s the 25 degrees with extra wind chill or 105 degrees with humidity that stick in the memory.

  8. @Doug ISLAGIATI is worthy of the name ‘sufferfest’. Holy crap, what a ride. BTW you can use the video with trainerroad.com and get power metrics added.

  9. @frank Man, Gene O is excellent. One on One is as highly regarded as anywhere in town, and Gene O treats the messengers that go there really, really well.

    I think Rule V and its logical extensions are the ones people who merely ride bikes get to ignore. For most of my friends, bikes are nice, relaxing tools for not-too-strenuous fun, commuting, or beer runs, and I think that’s awesome… for them. On really beautiful September Sundays, though, I see a lot of people on S-Works with Zipps, Dura Ace, and full Rapha (or worse, one time I saw a fucking USPS kit WITH the matching Maillot Jaune. Oof.) nervously coasting down hills on their hoods at 40kmph. There’s neither a kit nor a bike that could possibly mask such peoples’ lack of V. I like that.

    I also like the way you write. I care about reading, writing, and English as a language a great deal. Your thoughts on cycling (and Gianni’s, and Brett’s, etc…) have brought me back here daily for about a year, but you write like you love words as much as cycling, and it makes reading your work a lot of fun.

  10. @wiscot Ugly though it was (3 days with sub-Martian wind-chill indexes), there were always a lot of us working, and we were all in it together. Honestly, the solidarity friendships I made with coworkers and colleagues this winter was worth it, and I worry I’m just crazy enough to let hindsight turn these past three months into a fondly remembered obstacle (rather than a costly, painful bloodbath.)

    Good on you for choosing to ride! I ride because I love to, but it’s impossible to feel like I love it all the time, especially when it’s -0F. Seeing other people tearing it up on the iced-over roads of Hoth and elsewhere always reenforces in my mind that riding is all kinds of wonderful, and people will ALWAYS put up with worse just to bike, because biking is the shit.

  11. @Fozzy Osbourne “was” rough? I’m guessing winter might end this year around about August up in your parts ? Maybe ? Damn I sure give ya credit for riding / working right thru this season’s arctic polar plunge freeze in the great white north. And a Big Time Cheers from the Deep South, RC

  12. @Joe

    Yes, Griffith Park.  Love that circuit.  Give Encino Hills Drive a spin.  Catch it off Havenhurst…south of Ventura Blvd.  Take it up to Mulholland for one great view.

  13. @wilburrox Hahahaha yeah, it’s snowing here right now, but wearing one pair of socks tomorrow and knowing the snow will be gone in a few days makes it all better. The windiest days up here were when it was both coldest and really really icy, so you’d choose a line on any given road (for a few weeks, there were almost no dry roads), and literally be slid diagonally by gusts shooting through buildings or across the Mississippi. Snow can suck, sure, but the terror phase seems to be over, which makes everything feel a little like spring.

  14. @Optimiste If I admit it, does that mean I’m not crazy? In any case it’d be a shame not to be at least a little nuts, and I know most here agree. You guys are a slightly different breed of crazy than I (I’m just now saving for my first-ever road bike having ridden nothing but fixed for almost five years, I use mountain-bike pedals/shoes, have a beard, and wear jeans/jorts more often than not), but in principal, I can see that you sarcastic bastards and I (a fellow sarcastic bastard) get a lot of the same things from cycling. If I ever stop breaking components, maybe I’ll save up enough for a Cogal-ready bike and join you guys. Trying to keep up on a track bike would wreck my legs for a month.

  15. @Fozzy Osbourne

    @Optimiste If I admit it, does that mean I’m not crazy? In any case it’d be a shame not to be at least a little nuts, and I know most here agree. You guys are a slightly different breed of crazy than I (I’m just now saving for my first-ever road bike having ridden nothing but fixed for almost five years, I use mountain-bike pedals/shoes, have a beard, and wear jeans/jorts more often than not), but in principal, I can see that you sarcastic bastards and I (a fellow sarcastic bastard) get a lot of the same things from cycling. If I ever stop breaking components, maybe I’ll save up enough for a Cogal-ready bike and join you guys. Trying to keep up on a track bike would wreck my legs for a month.

    No.  Still crazy.  Yet somehow I think you can do more with 1 gear than many of us can do with the inordinate range of gears at our disposal.  (But keep the eardbay on the ownlowday.  There are somethings we don’t speak of, but if we must, only in hushed tones of contrition)

  16. @cyclebrarian

    @VeloSix

    @Ron

    By the end of the winter I also get tired of looking for places to hang wet cycling gear, especially in spots that won’t upset the VMH.

    Wet oversocks dripping on the hardwood floors can really put a damper on evenin’ romance…

    Ditto!

    The VMH usually just points to the laundry room when I come home.

    I am truly fortunate, in that I leave my stuff on top of the washer, the VMH runs the wash, and then directs me to hang the items I wish to not melt in the dryer.

  17. @frank

    @Steve-o

    @Doug We cyclists seek to suffer in order to overcome the suffering. Non-cyclists don’t get it. It’s what puts us above the rest.

    This.

    Yes, this is the epitome of what I hate to love about cycling!

    Speaking of this suffering….  there was some talk a while back, maybe perhaps on several occasions, about asthma.   What I thought my being a pussy, and needing further meditation on Rule V, was actually asthma (brought on by the thing I was doing, exercising).  My doctor has assisted me in figuring out this heinous death-is-imminent symptom, and now my suffering has shifted to a new category.  So, at least I can breathe while I suffer, without the need to bring my steed to a stand still.

  18. @VeloSix  My sympathy to those who suffer from Asthma, there are many things in life that are optional.  Breathing is not one of them.

  19. @VeloSix

    @frank

    @Steve-o

    @Doug We cyclists seek to suffer in order to overcome the suffering. Non-cyclists don’t get it. It’s what puts us above the rest.

    This.

    Yes, this is the epitome of what I hate to love about cycling!

    Speaking of this suffering…. there was some talk a while back, maybe perhaps on several occasions, about asthma. What I thought my being a pussy, and needing further meditation on Rule V, was actually asthma (brought on by the thing I was doing, exercising). My doctor has assisted me in figuring out this heinous death-is-imminent symptom, and now my suffering has shifted to a new category. So, at least I can breathe while I suffer, without the need to bring my steed to a stand still.

    Its not a joke, asthma is a serious shit. I almost died as an infant from this, and it continues to hit me as an adult, although I’ve learned how to control it (for me its a reaction not to exercise but to environment.) Training in the cold months, even with an inhaler, is like strength training for the warm months when I don’t need to dilate my trachea anymore!

  20. @frank

    @VeloSix

    @frank

    @Steve-o

    @Doug We cyclists seek to suffer in order to overcome the suffering. Non-cyclists don’t get it. It’s what puts us above the rest.

    This.

    Yes, this is the epitome of what I hate to love about cycling!

    Speaking of this suffering…. there was some talk a while back, maybe perhaps on several occasions, about asthma. What I thought my being a pussy, and needing further meditation on Rule V, was actually asthma (brought on by the thing I was doing, exercising). My doctor has assisted me in figuring out this heinous death-is-imminent symptom, and now my suffering has shifted to a new category. So, at least I can breathe while I suffer, without the need to bring my steed to a stand still.

    Its not a joke, asthma is a serious shit. I almost died as an infant from this, and it continues to hit me as an adult, although I’ve learned how to control it (for me its a reaction not to exercise but to environment.) Training in the cold months, even with an inhaler, is like strength training for the warm months when I don’t need to dilate my trachea anymore!

    Slightly tangential but did you know cats can have asthma… mine’s seems to have shown up when I sent him to London. Guess the dry air of Dubai had hidden it.

    He is a very biddable cat and I would do anything for him but I don’t fancy trying to get an inhaler on.

  21. @frank

    @VeloSix

    @frank

    @Steve-o

    @Doug We cyclists seek to suffer in order to overcome the suffering. Non-cyclists don’t get it. It’s what puts us above the rest.

    This.

    Yes, this is the epitome of what I hate to love about cycling!

    Speaking of this suffering…. there was some talk a while back, maybe perhaps on several occasions, about asthma. What I thought my being a pussy, and needing further meditation on Rule V, was actually asthma (brought on by the thing I was doing, exercising). My doctor has assisted me in figuring out this heinous death-is-imminent symptom, and now my suffering has shifted to a new category. So, at least I can breathe while I suffer, without the need to bring my steed to a stand still.

    Its not a joke, asthma is a serious shit. I almost died as an infant from this, and it continues to hit me as an adult, although I’ve learned how to control it (for me its a reaction not to exercise but to environment.) Training in the cold months, even with an inhaler, is like strength training for the warm months when I don’t need to dilate my trachea anymore!

    I have never had the attacks like my Grandmother a father both would have.  On a few occasions as a kid I had mild attacks brought on by mowing the grass, and a few times as an adult during fall allergy season which amounted to a bit of wheezing.

    The experiences on the bike were much different.  They certainly made it a struggle to breathe, but more so from the perspective I just couldn’t take in the deep breathes I could while at rest.  So it was lots of short rapid breathes.  It also made it near impossible to recover once hitting a certain threshold.  If I experienced this on a climb, there was never a way to ease up and recover, I had to just stop.  Humiliating when riding with my race buddies on a race recon ride.

    I’ve now had two rides where I’ve used my inhaler pre ride; as instructed by my doctor.  Once on a climbing day, and the other a weekly club training ride.  Both very hard days in the saddle, each for their own respects.  I really thought I was being a pussy, and felt I just don’t have the motor for this.  It makes me such a different rider (and I don’t mean this sarcastic in any way) but I’ve prepared myself to be asked “What are you taking?” by the guys I ride with regular, who after the two rides, must notice the sudden difference.

  22. I “grew out” of my asthma as a kid, but then like an idiot I hit the cancer sticks for a few years during college, and now I’m stuck with occassional symptoms during cold weather of when I get sick.  Advair works for keeping it under control for me.  For my family it’s a way of life–I have it, my wife has it, and 3/4 kids have it.  I kinda forget how terrifying it can be if you don’t really know what’s going on!

  23. @The Oracle I became rather fixated on my HR monitor once I figured out what my red zone was.  It was definitely a rev limiter for me.  It was nice to realize that paying little attention to it Tuesday (on what is likely the hardest I ever rode), and later review the ride to realize how hard I pushed it, but still recovered without being spit out the back.  There is a new joy brewing in regards to my riding.

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  25. Heck of the North is going to hurt me this year. But I guess that happens no matter how much training one has done.

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