Better Living Through Suffering

better livingYou can train with high intensity and low miles for strength. You can train with low intensity and high miles for endurance. Or, you can train at a high intensity and high miles – which is called suffering.

It’s that time of the year again. We’ve been out on the road for 3 weeks vying with cold temps and high winds interspersed with an occasional sunny day. Easter Sunday was such a day: 68 degrees and sunny. I even rode in summer kit – though it was short lived. I could only manage  37 miles while digesting spiral sliced ham and cheesy potatoes.

The next day we were treated to 35 mph winds and 44 degrees, so I stayed in and watched Beach Blanket Bingo followed by Muscle Beach Party while drifting in and out of naps. Such is the springtime roller coaster in the northern latitudes: one day you ride, the next its endless puberty with Frankie and Annette.

bumbeck2Yesterday, however, it was brilliantly sunny – and though it was 39 when I hit the road, it warmed up to a respectable 56 by the time I was done. My secret to suffering is that I don’t tell myself what I’m about to do. I just start riding, and then let it gradually dawn on me that all along I was planning on hitting it hard. If I was honest with myself, the bike would still be in the garage, and I eating ice cream while watching beach movies.

Some people I know relish the thought, and roll out anticipating a great day of…SUFFERING. As a rider I’m much more evasive and prone to denial. Why count the cost, and then worry about it all day? There’s books and seminars on mental toughness, but I can put up with a lot by ignoring my bike computer for the first three hours. On a century ride I tell myself most likely I’ll quit after 40 miles. Then I tell myself I’m definitely done at 65. By the time I get to 80, I say: I’ve come this far, be a shame to quit now.

I’ve read some coaches who tell you to keep the end in sight – to think about how you’ll feel when you accomplish your goal. Some tell you to remind yourself what a jerk you’ll be if you quit. I don’t know. Neither approach appeals to me. On the one hand, I don’t like to think about the end of a long, intense ride. On the other hand, I’m already flogging myself physically – why call myself names?

Toward the end of the day, as the end comes into sight, hope begins to rise. As I roll to a stop for the last time, hope becomes a rising wave of accomplishment. All the suffering fades to the background and ceases to matter. What does this euphoria net for an endurance athlete? We go out next time, go further and go harder.

Better living through suffering.




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