Face contorted to a wry smile and teeth clenched, as if riding another mile and he would grind them into stumps. The sensation centers in his brain make a weak connection with his legs, if at all. It is an out-of-body experience as he rides, the enormity of his efforts more intrepid as the ride goes on, the harder, the better.
You know this cyclist. Not in the true sense. It is impossible to know something that you can’t relate to truly. Yet, you hear it all the time. “He knows how to suffer” is what they say when describing the other-worldly strength in the face of circumstances that cause mortal agonizers to retreat.
This cyclist can take his body to places I couldn’t dream possible, nor would I want to. That’s not entirely true. I’d like to if it didn’t come with all the other things that leave me in a conversational-paced comfort zone, but why?
Trapped in a Grupetto of Comfort
It has trapped me in a social group ride of safety and security. A perverse attempt to shield me from the quad-searing discomfort has spit me off the back. What has become a chronic avoidance of dysphoric emotions borne of visceral torment is standing between the front group and me.
When you line up for your first bike race, the information overload, sensory hyperstimulus, and out-of-my-league realizations make it all-to-easy to feel overwhelmed. Your inner-cycling child has yet to develop the skills to confront your literal and figurative foes successfully.
You lack the maturity of experience and depth of training hours to assess logically the difference between a minor setback of learning and “I can’t take this every time I ride.” Falling into a self-imposed illusion of defeatism worsens the problem, and the solution is going up the road.
Subconscious Defense of Emotional Scars
The emotional scars of the physical challenge have created a defense mechanism, and my innate cycling being is subconsciously safeguarding me from that which I’m not mentally tough enough to bear. The immediate elimination of the adverse has taken hold, and I reinforced my acceptance of being placid pack-fodder.
I’ve grown addicted to rolling across the line without putting myself out there. Finishing is all the same in my deluded and complacent tempo cacoon.
However, as my training and race experience broadens, the expertise of maturity and strength of persistence has healed my inner cycling child. The fire in my legs doused to a smolder as I pushed, freeing me to break away from the defensive aversion to risk.
The conscious decision to embrace discomfort and the awareness of my subconscious avoidance invited risk and opened me up to possibilities. Physical and emotional discomfort is a sign of progress. I began to seek it out actively, and my motivation grew.
Discomfort is a Sign of Bike Racing Evolution
Discomfort is a sign that I am evolving as a bike racer. To achieve my goals, I must deny the intuitive protective response. It limits my self-growth, and the more I teeter on the edge of the suffer-line, the further out it goes.
Leaning into the high reward of making decisions under distress develops my skills. Seeking and overcoming discomfort has made me anxious to do it again. I’ve suffered and lived to ride on, and I can use that to my advantage.
What’s more, when I reach my cracking point or a wrong race-fueled decision opens the door to vulnerability, I don’t recoil to my injured immature defense mechanisms. The unwelcome information met with engagement and the opportunity to learn about myself without judgment.
With time the suffering that once caused me to withdraw has become a positive cue—a sign of progress. My path to cycling success requires short-term adversity to pursue long-term gains. I’ve reassigned the negative feelings with positive achievements.
Conclusion—I Don’t REALLY Know How to Suffer
I don’t REALLY know how to suffer, nor do I want to, but I know how to accept and embrace discomfort better. In the sport we love, doing well requires varied and excessive degrees of uneasiness, and it’s as much a fact of life. By harnessing the power of my persistent cycling mentality, my pain has toed the fine line of pleasure, from pack-fodder to podiums.
So I ask myself as I unclip and walk away from my bike toward the waiting day ahead, “Would I prefer to lead a life of conservative caution or one of excitement, evolution, adventure, and discovery?” I think I answered that question already.
Do you embrace discomfort to make yourself a better cyclist and person? Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.
If you are fascinated by the mental side of cycling, check out the “Virtually Trapped in My Own Mind” series by clicking here.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!