Coping With Suffering

by Jeremy Hunt

Coping With Suffering
Our love for cycling can be a reflection on how much we love pain and suffering.
If we want to race then a certain amount of discomfort is to be expected.
The good news is that there are methods of coping with pain, since most of it is in the head.

Going full gas can be good pain, but it can be nothing but bad pain too. The difference could be somewhere between inflicting the pain on others, versus having the pain inflicted on you, and then the realisation that you are about to be dropped in no time can compound that. Just remember, and always say to yourself, "if I’m hurting, then they are hurting". That way the upcoming let-up in pace could be coming sooner than you think.

There are many ways to help deal with the pain and suffering. Count pedal strokes. Shift to a slightly bigger gear so you don’t have to take as many pedal strokes. Break the race/hill/distance down into blocks, for example on a climb it might be hairpins or road markers, in a race it might be laps or straights/corners. Back yourself in and have faith and the self-belief that you can do it.

5 things to keep in mind to help you deal with the pain of hard training sessions:
  • Goal setting. Why am I doing this? Think of winning or finishing, don’t give thought to being dropped
  • Feed off others. Whether that be against the people you’re training or racing against, or against your personal best times, powers or heart rates. Try to incorporate hard group rides or hit outs at the end of training, or on the last day of a training block. These things help your mind override the pain in your legs and reach new levels
  • Break it down. Divide the time or distance into blocks. If you have a 10min effort, break it down into 4 x 2.5min blocks, or 10 x 1min blocks, and tick off each checkpoint as you achieve it. Your mind will reset at each new block and it can help you override the seemingly never-ending pain
  • Embrace the pain. One of the best quotes I have heard is, "pain is just weakness leaving your body". Make suffering the goal and the key to your achievements and success.
  • Never give up. One of the more famous quotes in cycling, "pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever". Make these your actions, not just words!

A few thoughts for Gran Fondo riders:
  • Think about sitting at the finish with mates, having a laugh, ripping on each other, and sharing war stories over a beer.
  • Racers and winners think about winning. Successful people think of all the good that comes from their achievement.
  • Watch Rocky movies in the days prior to your event, maybe throw in Chariots of Fire as well if you can track down the VHS!
  • A bad day on the bike is better than a good day at work.
  • How good is being fit and healthy.
  • I can do it. I can do it. I CAN DO IT!

A classic example of going through a great deal of suffering to achieve a goal was seen at the 2020 Tour de France. Sam Bennett built up a handy lead in the Green Jersey points classification. As the race headed to the more difficult mountainous stages, his closest rivals in the classification, Peter Sagan and Matteo Trentin who are known as much better climbers, made sure the race was as hard as possible in a bid to drop Bennett. Bennett had to dig deep every hilly stage, often seen as the last rider in the peloton. His courage through those stages ensured he made it to Paris in the Green Jersey, and the icing on the cake was winning the final stage on the Champs-Elysées.

Now for the bad news.
In my experience as a pro, if you are suffering during a race then you are unlikely to win that day.
That doesn't mean you should give up, as holding on will make you a better rider for another day. Suffer through, recover and then try again.

I remember one year in Belgium there was deep snow on the roads. Since this was before the days of Zwift, the idea of 4 or 5 hours on a home trainer was not appealing.
I decided to drive 2 hours to where the roads were rideable. I did 3 days of long rides in freezing conditions. It is fair to say that I suffered, but I was doing it for a goal.
The following week I won a race, so it was all worth it.

A little bit of discomfort on the way will make your success taste so much sweeter.

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