Pain and suffering are a part of any fitness regimen or sport. Cycling is full of suffering. It is celebrated. The biggest races are full of it. Pain is written on the faces of the participants in the Grand Tours. Three weeks of stages that seem to be created just to see how far you can push a human body. Even the one day Classic Races seem to be built upon maximum suffering. Cyclists ride more than a hundred miles over rough roads and cobblestones all to sprint to the end. The most celebrated and popular riders are the ones that can throw their bodies against the miles, hills, bad weather, and still push a little harder than anyone else. Jens Voigt is a prime example. He is a hard man, one who suffers more than anyone else just for the chance at victory. He isn’t the fastest, he isn’t the strongest, he isn’t the best climber, he just suffers more than anyone. He once said “I’m not a world-class sprinter. I’m not a world-class time trialist. I’m not a world-class climber. All I have is my fighting spirit and my big engine- and that’s why I’m still in the business”. He is 42 and he beats kids half his age through experience and the willingness to suffer more. To ride off the front of the peloton, in the wind, with no support just for a chance to win. He is a huge hero to me as I struggle to get fitter and ride faster.
I’m no professional cyclist. I’m barely an amateur rider. I have never raced, I don’t even have a license. I am not sponsored by a factory team. Jens and I do have one thing in common though, we suffer. I can’t suffer on his level, but I can look to him as I struggle through my rides. I can use his efforts to push me to do a little more. If Jens can ride off the front for hours up a mountain, I can get through my 40 mile training ride in chilly weather.
Suffering does become relative after you train for long enough. You keep riding or training and you think you are suffering because you normally do. I ride 15 to 20 miles on my trainer when I ride inside. I normally ride about an hour and ten minutes, sometimes varying five or ten minutes either way. I do intervals that break down into five minute cycles. When I first started my training I would barely make it to an hour. Now, I start to suffer at an hour even if I go another 30 minutes after than mark. My muscles know I should suffer then, and I do. My muscle memory takes over and I hurt when I think I should hurt even though I know I am used to the workout by now. If I am outside I start to suffer around 30 miles even though I know I can go much further. Once I work through the pain I can easily go longer, but it’s always there, right where I think it should be.
The reason I have been thinking about this is I have started running. I didn’t really want to, but I keep committing to running obstacle races and I do want to do well. For a long time I had hoped that I could ride my way into running shape, but that never works. You use different muscles and it never works no matter how much I really want it too. I hated running every time I have tried it, but I did really enjoy the rest of the obstacle race and I do have a small competitive streak so I joined the gym and started following the Couch to 5K program on my iPhone despite my misgivings. It was about 30 minutes into the second day of training when I remembered what suffering really felt like. It was no longer muscle memory telling me I should be struggling, I was just struggling. By the third day I was trying to find other things to do to put off my time on the treadmill. I even went willingly to my second session with my personal trainer.
I don’t know if it was the strength training or the fact that I wasn’t trying to run, but I did really enjoy the second session. My training must have read my last blog because he totally dropped the sales pitch and really taught me what I wanted to learn. He gave me a simple routine to work out my core that I can scale up as I become stronger. It was exactly what I needed to get me motivated and into a routine. He paired exercises with one on a machine and one off at each station. It helped me find a level of comfort on the equipment and I really enjoyed the sets.
The real story of the week has been the running and the pain though. It has been a very long time since I have been this sore after training and I had forgotten how hard you can push yourself. It has taken me back to when I first started riding. I rode eight miles and felt like I rode ten times that far. I was 365 pounds and I was sure I was going to pass out half way through the ride. I ran 1.7 miles three times this week and three miles on Sunday. I felt like I rode 60 miles. I was suffering like I had ridden twice that distance. There was no muscle memory, it was real suffering. It was pain. It was time to think about Jens riding and if he could do, then I could run a measly three miles. Heck, I walked a bunch so I really told myself I had no excuses. It was just time to suck it up and suffer.
I got through it and I am going back for week two tomorrow, but I know there will be more pain. At the same time, I am okay with the pain. I know that soon I will be able to run my 5K races and I will still suffer, but just like when I started to ride it will become relative. The pain will recede until I try something new, and then it will start all over again.