Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional

If this looks like fun to you, you have a screw loose… or you’re better adjusted than most people.  You are either clinically insane, or you understand how to bring harmony and/or balance into your life.

I’ve been riding bikes since I was about 6 or 7.  I was the last kid on my block to learn to ride so I guess I made up for it by continuing to ride into my adult life.  As a kid and even as a young adult I rode a lot, but always within boundaries.  I had never learned to suffer, and I had never learned to embrace suffering.

The older I get, the more I realize that the prize is the journey.  Why else would I get up at 5:00am today to go out in the 40 degree darkness and wind and ride my bike up a hill over and over and over?  I’m no martyr, but I can take a lot more than I used to and it has made me a stronger rider and a better person.  In fact, I would argue that the majority of riders in my class who are faster than me just have a higher tolerance for suffering.  And probably better genes.  And they probably eat fewer cheeseburgers too…

Greg LeMond certainly knows about suffering: One thing that cycling has taught me is that if you can achieve something without a struggle it’s not going to be satisfying.”

So does Mat Hoffman: Some people pay a thousand dollars for a tattoo. This scar cost me twenty grand.”

Suffering brings rewards.  Those who can conquer a huge hill-climb or a fast century or the Bone Ride or long road race only to have to sprint it out at the end know about suffering.  They know that where you finish depends on how much you can take.  They also know that those who embrace the pain and the discomfort and use it to fuel themselves will be out in front.  And those who don’t will just hitch a ride in the sag wagon.

How many fat people sit on their couch watching the “Biggest Loser” wishing they could be fit?  But one guy (Jerry Lisenby) not only lost weight on the show, he then pedaled across the US.  He was a big fat turd and then he learned to embrace the pain and suffering required to get stronger.  His ride was probably the adventure of a lifetime – something many of us would love to do but “can’t”.  Once he learned to accept and own that temporary agony, he was literally a whole different person.

The point is that since I have chosen to surround myself with cyclists and “like-minded” people who embrace this way of thinking, I have become a much better version of the previous me.  As a novice mountain bike racer in my late teens, I would ride when I could in warm weather and show up at a few races and try my luck.  I never even got close to a podium, and I would even say “…as long as there’s at least one person behind me when I finish…”  What a load of crap.  Losing sucks.  What’s the point of racing if you’re not there to win?  That doesn’t mean I will win, but it’s all about my mindset and my internal willingness to suffer.

Eddie Merckx:

“This is one of the hardest sports, along with boxing. But in boxing, you take punches only two or three times a year. I race 150 to 180 days. I’m not a masochist. I don’t enjoy suffering. But I’ll drink champagne and smoke cigars after I quit, not before. When I abdicate my throne, it will be in full glory. I’m not made to be second best.”

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