Suffering is the Coin of the Realm

By January 22, 2020January 24th, 2020Cycling Club News

Two more bits of trivia. Who coined the phrase in the title above?  ..and who is the rather unhappy looking person in the photo?

Suffering is part of cycling lore. It’s synonymous with cycling’s past and heritage, and is romanticized to an almost cloying level of cliched trendiness by some who spout “enlightenment through suffering” platitudes while sipping espresso in Earth tone colored kit with matching neck buff. Whatever. I suspect suffering to some of that crowd means the rest stop ran out of their favorite hydration flavor at the last club ride.

Since we’re on a roll, let’s get a few more impressive sounding quotes about suffering by some famous cycling people. Fausto Coppi, who some article I just skimmed claimed was perhaps the greatest of all (Uh….Merckx?…Hello?), once uttered, “Cycling is suffering.”  Ok. It’s simple. Quotable…not particularly profound or inspiring. Let’s’ find some more.

Here’s one by the aforementioned Cannibal. “Cyclists live with pain. If you can’t handle it, you will win nothing. The race is won by the rider who can suffer the most.”

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. This tells us a little bit more, and gets to the heart of one of the limiters to human performance.

When we think of performance in cycling, we can be enamored of the recent Big Data phenomenon. What is our FTP?  “Oh my gosh, am I in zone 3 or zone 4?”  How did that HrTSS cross training workout impact the ramp rate of your CTL?  And of course there’s the familiar refrain since the dawn of cycling for every rider who just doesn’t feel like pushing themselves that day, “I need to get base miles. I’ll just stay in zone 2.”  Yeah, right.

The over-reliance on The Data, or whatever training snippet you happened to have glossed over in some online training article forever ago can be a way to forget ourselves; to forget what it feels like to ride, and sometimes to be really uncomfortable. We are wired to avoid pain. That’s why it’s there. The lizard parts of our brain tell us, in the presence of pain, “Hey! Stop it!  That’s bad!”

Being not lizards, but more higher order primates, we have volitional control. We can push through pain with what we have traditionally called will. We have this wonderful thing called choice. You can choose to become fitter, a better climber, a faster fondo rider, etc. However, if you do the same ride at the same intensity with the same people – on the same day – will you get better? Ask yourself that question.

Everyone. Get’s. Dropped.  It’s like death and taxes. I don’t care how strong you are, Froome is eventually going to get old and fat and get royally punked. We all get dropped, but that’s how we realize our limits, and we don’t grow – in anything – unless we’re pushed, sometimes to our limits.

We shouldn’t do this all the time, and can’t apply this to group rides lest it devolve into what one member euphemistically referred to as a “shit show.”  However, if you don’t like to struggle to stay on a fast wheel every now and then, or grind out a tough climb, realize you won’t improve, either.