On Rule #5: Not Minding That It Hurts

Lawrence of V-rabia

In my favorite scene from Lawrence of Arabia, T.E. Lawrence, after lighting a colleague’s cigarette, allows the match to burn down to his fingertips before snuffing it out. Having witnessed the stunt, the dim-witted associate attempts it himself, only to blow out the match before it gets anywhere close to burning down. “That damn well hurts!”, he states, barely concealing his amazement. “Certainly it hurts,” replies Lawrence with the cool calm of a man who is at ease with The V. “Well, what’s the trick then?”

“The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”

The trick to becoming a better Cyclist depends, they say, on one’s capacity to suffer. Riding faster is easy, after all; all you have to do is push harder on those flat things attached to your feet. But that, as many of us have discovered, is the complicated bit.

Our ability to suffer is driven by our willingness to push ourselves, to resist the signals our bodies are sending – whether those signals tell us to stop an effort, to stay inside when the mercury drops, when the rain falls, or dipping into the cellar for a session on the trainer rather than for a bottle of wine. To walk the difficult path of becoming a better cyclist requires, in a word, willpower.

Many of the obstacles along that path require us to eschew the wisdom taught to us by our elders and society. Listen to your body, they tell us, when in fact our bodies are chatty things that have only a few sensible contributions to make. Stay inside when it’s wet, or you’ll catch cold, the folk knowledge claims, while in reality those who stay indoors are more likely to catch cold and if we were to heed that advice, we would rarely throw a leg over a top tube during non-summer months. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger… well, I suppose they had to get one right.

In practice, weakness breeds weakness and strength breeds strength. We may not allow ourselves to take the easy path, for nothing worth travelling to lies at the end of it. If we relent to the pain during an effort, it only makes it easier to do so again next time. Allowing ourselves to stay off the bike for today’s bad weather makes it easier to do so again tomorrow. On the other hand, enduring today’s cold steels us for tomorrow’s chill.

To claim we enjoy suffering, that we enjoy the pain of an effort, or that we enjoy riding in the wet and cold is a bit misleading. While I believe there might be those who possess a perversion that does indeed allow them to enjoy pain, for most of us, we have merely discovered that the burning of our muscles today strengthens them for tomorrow. We have learned that submitting to the deluge or climbing aboard the trainer in winter helps build towards a result that won’t  be realized until our planet reaches the next equinox. Rather than enjoying suffering, we enjoy what suffering does for us and have learned through practice to associate current pains with future gains.

Personally, I enjoy riding in the rain more than most, certainly when it comes as a refreshing change from riding on dry roads. I enjoy the rain splashing up from the road, or the cold air in my face. But to say I cherish riding throughout the cold and wet Winter months is certainly an overstatement. During this time of year, I have to push myself to go for a ride every single time. When I am warm inside, there is no part of me that wants to pull on cold-weather gear knowing I will be cold and uncomfortable for the duration of the ride. Instead of thinking about whether I want to ride, I simply do it; focusing on desire or comfort does little to improve the condition. Quite the opposite, in fact – a frozen toe is better left not contemplated when one lacks the means to warm it up.

The trick to becoming a better cyclist doesn’t have so much to do with our capacity to suffer. Certainly we suffer; the trick is not minding that we suffer.

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184 Replies to “On Rule #5: Not Minding That It Hurts”

  1. @cblackride

    Suffering and riding in the rain are two different things. Yes, riding in the rain makes you tough; but why do it if you don’t have to? It makes a mess of your equipment and caused premature failure of components. I don’t ride in the rain unless I have to. Got caught in the rain on a training ride. Get to the race and it is raining. You get the idea. I don’t mind suffering. I have suffered with the best of them. Dry and wet. Suffering is best when you get to dictate the suffering; it is much more rewarding when your suffering causes others to suffer as well. Even better when they give up.

    Train in the conditions you’ll race in. If you don’t race because of rain, well, you’ve wasted a lot of time and money.

  2. Have to say, and I’ve been thinking this for a while, I use a generic sports rub and vaseoline for embro: if you’re needing to put on stuff that burns when you take it off, you need leg warmers or long bibs. Cycling’s painful enough, the last thing you want to do is be taxing your body when you’re off the bike and trying to recover. I can see the use for embrocation in spring and autumn racing, but winter training rides? The easier you can make those the better.

    PS plus one for fluffy wooly hats.

  3. @minion
    Disagree, but it’s probably more the circumstances of my riding. As a velominatus paterfamilias alot of my riding happens early in the morning and I need everything I can to get the guns moving. Copious amounts of caffeine alone are not enough; a nice coat of embro really helps.

  4. Yeah I can see that. I’m not against embro myself, but I guess I use far less agressive stuff (beeswax based sports rub or generic sports rub rather than an embrocation product) than stuff that you have to remove before you shower. I also own 3 or 4 pairs of knee or leg warmers, (keep on losing one and buying more, then finding them) and it’s easier to pop those on and get warm before I leave the house than embro up. Just my routine and the mental tricks I play on myself to get going.

  5. Frank I am pretty late to this discussion, but well done! As a coach in sports other than cycling (I need coaching here!) I tell my athletes to go to their “happy place.” When I type that it sounds pretty creepy, but you can train your body to ignore the sensations, be it cold, wet, tired, or just plain painful. Just mentally tune it out and go somewhere else for a while. Learned that trick on those all night strolls in the Army. Personally I have found my best race results aren’t when I am perfectly fed or rested, but when I show up at a race or ride with a “Fuck it, I don’t care if it hurts cause I am not paying attention to it anyway” attitude. God, I love those days!

  6. @Dr C

    Like I keep saying, get a fleecy hat, that’ll keep your feet warm

    I had never heard this, despite having been a Nordic skier for ages in the coldest state in the Union. On that logic, I naturally assumed you were full of shit and that this was some weird Irish thing.

    On a lark, I put on my thick winter cycling cap instead of my usual cotton cap and my hands and feet were toasty warm the whole ride despite the weather being colder than on any previous ride this year. WTF?

  7. @frank
    You loose the most body heat through the head. If you put on a warm hat there is more body heat left over for the extremities.

  8. Yep, I won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for that one (was a quiet year)

    The first thing your body does when it’s core drops below it’s required temp, is to stop sending it’s warm blood to your hands, feet, nose, and most worrisome, your lycra clad penis

    As Nate correctly points out, most of your heat is lost through your tete, so overheat that, your body overheats and it sends that overheated blood to your hands and feet to get rid of the heat, whilst also packing you out a bit for the coffee stop

    It’s a recycling thing

    No points to the first person to tell me to stop teaching yall to suck eggs

  9. @Dr C

    Yep, I won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for that one (was a quiet year)
    The first thing your body does when it’s core drops below it’s required temp, is to stop sending it’s warm blood to your hands, feet, nose, and most worrisome, your lycra clad penis
    As Nate correctly points out, most of your heat is lost through your tete, so overheat that, your body overheats and it sends that overheated blood to your hands and feet to get rid of the heat, whilst also packing you out a bit for the coffee stop
    It’s a recycling thing
    No points to the first person to tell me to stop teaching yall to suck eggs

    I’m just intrigued by the “lycra clad penis.” Mine is covered, masked, hidden, shielded by lycra, but clad? Where would one get such an item of apparel? Do such items come in s, m, l, and xl or do they rely on the inherent elasticity of lycra to accommodate appendages of differing sizes?

  10. I’d like to be able to say I transcend the pain when riding hard but I usually have to dig deep just to tolerate it and keep pushing on. I do however take quiet enjoyment and satisfaction in the glow of throbbing guns and aching limbs the following day. Particularly if I’m sat at my desk at work thinking about the next ride.

  11. No, no, no!


    @Dr C
    Actually that thing about your body losing 90% of its heat through the head is a myth. According to “a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, published in 2005… the head loses about the same amount of heat, for its size, as the rest of the body-which is around 10%, and a far cry from being the “majority.” But that doesn’t mean your face and head don’t get colder than the rest of your body-they’re more sensitive to temperature changes than, say, the extremities, so exposure of those areas may make people feel like they’re losing more heat.” From http://blisstree.com/move/fact-or-fiction-most-body-heat-lost-through-the-head/

    And here is an article suggesting where the myth started.

    I’m trying to come up with a substitute for my skull condom, which not only keeps my head warm, it does a good job on the ears too. I guess I’ll just have to not look AS good once in a while, although until the V-kit arrives, it could be said that I don’t look that good anyway!

  12. Ah, that made me laugh thinking about it – I’ll have to watch the entire movie again tonight

  13. @Dr C
    Ha, thanks fir trehin tae tak tae uz in thi mithir tongue.

    (Thank you I appreciate the attempt to communicate with me using Scots dialect or local vernacular.)

  14. @DerHoggz
    Um, I think I like it! I’m doubtful it would look great under a helmet but it must at least receive recognition for being a step in the right direction. I’ve posted the photo and we’ll see what the reaction is.

    I might add, as I sit here waiting for the room to heat up I have a wooly hat on as lots of my hair now grows below my neck. Rule #33 compliance will require some kind of intricate fade around the hip area and the VMH has already said “NO!” It is however definitely gonna happen!

  15. @RedRanger
    The basic cap doesn’t keep my ears warm like my skull condom thing. So far it’s been a few degrees below freezing but last year down around -20C. That was pretty unusual though and I hadn’t gotten hooked by La Vie Velominatus at that point.

  16. @snoov
    I know the Mantra, I just didnt know what your version meant. I was just giving my opinion to @DerHoggz. At this moment it is colder here in Tucson, AZ than it is in@DerHoggz area and I never were a cap. Infact the only time I wear a cap is when I commute and I dont want my hair blowing all ever the place.
    Again just my opinion. I was just offering a bang for the buck option.

  17. @RedRanger
    Sorry, I was just covering my bases trying to remove the confusion. I was in no doubt you knew the mantra, thanks for the heads up on the warmers and cap.

  18. @RedRanger

    What say ye on the cap in pink. I have this weird thing for pink, maybe because of the Maglia Rosa, but I really like that pastel shade.

  19. @DerHoggz
    If you can rock pink, more power to you, I sure cant. I have no objection to a pink cap. But Im no keeper, I just offer my opinion.

  20. I bought this Decathlon abomination recently, for £14.99 – instantly thought to take it back, but then wore it, and I reckon it is so warm, I could cycle at 0C to work in the buff, wearing just this


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