Suffering

Last look at the Co-Motion Speedster

I recently read a thoughtful post by Double the Speed of Wheels that explored the concept of suffering and how some riders consider it a kind of badge of honor.

In my years of riding and randonneuring, I have also observed this infatuation with suffering.

Generally, I prefer to minimize viewing my rides through the lens of suffering or characterizing them as such. Challenging? Yes. Uncomfortable? Yes. Frustrating? Sometimes.

Perhaps I define suffering in a narrower way than some. Injuries or illness may prompt suffering, or it may come as a result of losing a person we love. By opening our hearts to people and experiences, we make ourselves vulnerable to the eventuality that we will suffer in some way.

There are only two times I recall coming close to suffering during a ride. The first was during the Cascade 1200K, when my saddle turned on me on the third night and every time I stopped to use the bathroom I cried because of the pain. The second was during the Endless Mountains 1000K, when my knees hurt so much that I could not ride my bike for more than a month after completing it.

I know that those who race exert themselves in a way I do not. They push themselves at a level where there is an ongoing feeling of discomfort. But is it suffering? I like to think not.

I’m not trying to avoid suffering, exactly, and I don’t wish to live in a pain-free bubble. But I don’t think I have to go in search of suffering. I think it knows where I live and will pay me a visit one day. As long as I can help it, though, it won’t be during a bike ride.

13 thoughts on “Suffering”

  1. I race, but its not about suffering, its pushing the boundaries, finding the limits, and improving. Setting goals and surpassing them. A little friendly competition helps too; always nice to come in ahead of someone occasionally. Otherwise it is hard to train into a vacuum, with nothing more to accomplish. Once you know where the max threshold is, you can sustain max – 1 ongoing. But you have to exert yourself, sweat, and get out of breathe, recover and go again. Then again “Pain is weakness leaving the body”. Yes – I’ve trained myself to ignore pain. However that can be dangerous. Children born without sense of pain mutilate themselves. Pain is about learning where the limits are, so we train and compete to discover those – so we don’t have to – and can enjoy ourselves. Suffering on those long grueling cruel hot steep climbs, just so you can whiz briefly down the other side, and repeat. Makes sense!?

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    1. Pushing the boundaries and then establishing new limits as you do so, yes! Good point about not ignoring pain as well. I joke with friends that there is “good pain” and “bad pain,” with bad pain being that of a looming injury.

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  2. “The second was during the Endless Mountains 1000K, when my knees hurt so much that I could not ride my bike for more than a month after completing it.” – darn girl – that’s impressive – but – that’s telling you somethings! Firstly – you have to train up to those kinds of distances – otherwise gnarly things happen. Second – biometrics – its taken me 3 years to get the perfect fit on the bike – and good techniques – equipment – so I’m not doing funky things I don’t realize as I’m pedalling. The more miles you push those subtle little minor adjustments become major issues. Videotaping yourself on a trainer or rollers reveals a whole ton (most of it ugly – but you need to know these things!).

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    1. So true. We trained diligently for Endless Mountains, but I definitely have made adjustments to both my training and position since that ride. Not sure I could bear videotaping myself, though :).

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  3. I like your definition of suffering, and the positive outlook it conveys. Last weekend, I rode with friends over a challenging hilly 100-miler. When I came home, I was almost too tired to take a shower. Yet I felt better than I had in a long time. Some might say I suffered on the hills, but it didn’t feel that way even during the ride. It was hard, for sure, but feeling my body work at its fullest potential was exhilarating. And afterward, I had a strong sense of satisfaction. Plus, I knew that this ride was training for even more wonderful rides later in the season…

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  4. I read an interesting comment about suffering…don’t remember the book right now, but essentially the author was talking about reframing it and our expectations…not so much as suffering, but as “this is how my body feels after riding xx miles”. So many people never leave their comfort zone that they equate an effort as pain.

    Of course, she wasn’t talking about straight on injury or so much about people who are training for big things, but it was a useful idea for me.

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  5. Thanks for the shout out and the thoughtful follow up. I’ve been thinking about it a little bit more and had a chance to get in one hard ride since then, but my thoughts remain mostly intact.
    What I think bothers me most about the Cult of Suffering (these are all mistakes I’ve made, I’d like that to be clear) is that we fail to learn anything about ourselves while in the process of fetishization. Suffering, not learning about our (mostly) self imposed limits, becomes the goal. The beauty is always in the doing, and of course the process of extrapolation, which is MY chief concern. Making the jump from “I complete to such and such hard ride” to “I “conquered” this fear so I can also, apply for that job I really want, but might feel I’m not good enough for, or let it all go and do this thing I really want to do…” etc. Is the hard (but most important part). That’s the only way suffering makes us better.

    It has to be a process of pushing, learning, and applying lessons learned while in Bocca al lupo as it were, for it to be of any benefit at all. To be crude, suffering for the sake suffering is a purely masturbatory and does little for the actual process of living. A distraction from the real things in life to be a bit (just a bit) more eloquent.

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  6. Well said: “But I don’t think I have to go in search of suffering. I think it knows where I live and will pay me a visit one day. As long as I can help it, though, it won’t be during a bike ride.”

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  7. It seems to me that any discussion of “suffering” has to look separately at racing vs. non-racing cycling. For those of us who don’t race, we bike for many reasons, such as fitness, pure enjoyment (those moments when you have a rhythm, are not fatigued, the weather and scenery are beautiful, you are gliding down a hill, enjoying the company or the solitude, etc.), a sense of accomplishment, to name a few. In the name of fitness and personal accomplishment, for example, we might build into our rides a certain amount of discomfort (more or less, depending on the individual or even one’s mood), but I don’t think about that as “suffering.” What I would call the “suffering,” however, generally comes when perhaps we have miscalculated the difficulty of a ride or, as MG says, we are injured, or we otherwise “bite off more than we can chew” and are thus truly miserable for more of a ride than we had bargained for.
    For racers, however, a certain amount of “suffering” is inherent in the fact that there is one goal that the rest of us do not have, which is “winning.” Since one can assume that the opponents are willing to “suffer” in order to win, all other things being equal, the winner will be the one who is willing and/or able to endure the most suffering. I am glad to be free of that burden.

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  8. I do not like to “suffer;” I definitely prefer “a walk in the park” type rides. I have not been randonneuring as long as MG, nor have I done anything longer than a 600, but sometimes, 200′s, 300′s, 400′s and even 600′s have been “walks in the park.”
    Other times, things don’t go so well. In those cases, I think it is about “perseverence.” Persevering and getting through. Here are two examples of when I had to persevere (there are others, but …):
    (1) “Perseverance 300” — a pre-ride from late April-2014.
    (2) I never came up with a clever title for this report. I did write an epilogue (of sorts) to that report — the epilogue refers to what I might refer to as actual suffering struggles.

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