What does it mean to suffer? And how?

When I hear stories of suffering (people going out of their mind, half-blind tunnel vision), I always wonder how come I never feel that - do I just quit too easily? I’ve heard people play mental games with themselves to keep going, but in general I would like to ask what it means to suffer (to you), how did you know you were suffering and how did you improve your ability to suffer?

Most importantly, are you going above your current physical limits by suffering?

Is it easier in a race environment where you’re distracted by competition?

My use case for suffering, as I don’t race, is getting personal bests on longer climbs (20-60 mins). I am generally in the area of what my FPT suggests I can do, so I wonder if I am “suffering”, does that mean I could do 5% more than expected? Otherwise, I feel like I just go until I don’t know how to deliver more power or my heart runs away and I need to just lie down.

3 Likes

There is a bit of a cult following around the idea of suffering, and your question is one I’ve thought about a decent amount for similar reasons as you. The difference is I do race competitively and yet I still wonder on occasion if there are times I don’t perform better because I’m not willing to suffer “enough”.

My current thought is that it comes down to accepting the fact that you are going to feel very uncomfortable, or getting comfortable being uncomfortable.

As for improving your ability to suffer I think it is doing hard workouts/efforts and learning what it feels like to go really hard/deep and learning that you aren’t actually going to die and so you can keep going. There is certainly an aspect of reacquainting myself with suffering at the start of every race season after I’ve done nothing but relax and ride easy for a few weeks also being in a race gives you that extra motivation/distraction to go harder than you probably would if no one was watching.

2 Likes

For me, this is one of those myth/bulls**t things that float around in cycling.

Like most if not all TR users, I’m working through the plans because I want to improve. I’m not going into a session half hearted or saying ‘I’ll give 95% today’, it’s all or nothing. The thing is, if my legs say no, or my heart rate is erratic, that’s a sign that maybe today isn’t a good day and my body needs me to listen. Yeah, I could HTFU or ‘suffer’ through but, to what end?

When I race I’m not suffering, I’m working hard, as hard as I can on that given day, but I’m not suffering. Just my £00.02 and I don’t wish to seem aggressive or argumentative.

2 Likes

I’d say yes, at least for me.
My last race was an A race, 4.5 hours and I spent 22% of my time at VO2 max or above.
7% at VO2 max
8% Anaerobic
7% neuromuscular

That was suffering

1 Like

I guess its all about setting goals and working to something and if your not willing to suffer to complete some workouts which most likely you should have to do your probably not improving as much as you could be or slowing down progress. On another note, breathing heavily and having sore legs from riding a bike is not suffering, it’s a choice, there are people who are homeless, have no food and water and are being abused, that’s suffering. I guess it could be about gaining a different perspective of “suffering” while on the bike which could make the difference for you

4 Likes

That’s it right there. Too many people chasing xxxextreme status these days for my liking.
Your body will only go so far before it starts to do permanent damage. You want to find a sustainable level or you’ll be useless in no time.

I’ve never been one to glorify sports people. I do however respect their achievements and happen to notice that the greats are in it for the long haul. It’s the repeatability that makes them truly amazing.
Suffer my arse. Maybe when they crash.

1 Like

I agree. Suffering to me is when the mental games come into play. It’s when it’s still physically possible to relax and breath correctly but you’re crying inside.
Suffering physically is not great, your body will give you signs like your legs completely conking or actually throwing up. I don’t think that’s suffering at all, it’s just overreaching

We had a sick fellow rider with us for a hilly century spin, unforgettable his face was, that was suffering, he didn’t give up :nauseated_face:

I think of suffering as how far you’re able to push your brain out of the way of your body - so if you can really distract yourself from the pain you can ‘suffer’ more.

For me, the general hierarchy from least to most suffering based on situation is: Indoor trainer, outdoor group rides, races.

Basically I’m capable of digging much deeper when I have someone to compete against and then even deeper still based on how invested I am in the result

2 Likes

Breaking this into two replies because this next part is a bit theoretical but I’m interested in other’s opinions.

Let me start by saying that I’m not someone who can ride until they puke but I am someone who can ride until they can’t see. A fine line, but I can push myself reasonably far, but not nearly as far as others.

As one of the stronger riders in my social riding group I often get asked questions about training and how to proceed (basically extremely informal coaching) and one of my observations is that people that struggle with fitness gains (but not training consistency or volume) is that they often give up when things get hard.

This is frustrating to see - they are otherwise highly motivated and regimented on training, eating, etc. They do everything right and then as soon as a race gets hard or an interval session approaches 0.9 IF they end up bailing out of the intervals (no matter the type).

Now…is this because of an inability to face the pain, to suffer? Stated differently, is it something they can train? Certainly books and some studies suggest this is so - performance can improve based on mindset. In which case the message to them is gentle reminding of these tips and tricks and pointing them to the experts and the readings about this

However, I don’t know what things feel like for them. Perhaps one aspect of being able to train to a certain FTP or even do a certain % FTP interval is the body’s response to these things. Maybe I’m just a bit genetically lucky in that my DNA has a reduced ‘pain’ response during an effort so what I’m pushing through is not nearly as mentally hard as others

I think this gap in understanding is why lots of cyclists go with the HTFU message and brag about that time they rode so hard they couldn’t unclip and fell over and laid there for two minutes before they could even get out of their pedals.

If this is something truly trainable then we should all be able to mentally train and focus such that under the right circumstances we can bury ourselves this way - so it becomes a point of pride to have done so. “Look how good I am that I was able to throw up at the top of this hill”

I think this is a mistake - I have never been able to push myself as deep as many riders I know, even those with less overall fitness and believe me, I’ve tried.

But…it’s all a bit nebulous - it is very hard to study pain and thus RPE. Just look up some pain scales online and read how they work. So maybe something we’ll never have an answer for, but I definitely suspect the answer lies somewhere in the middle - we need to harden up, but also that everyone has a different ceiling of what they are capable of pushing out of the way mentally based on a variety of factors, many of which are outside of their control

3 Likes

You don’t need to be obliterating yourself most of the time but imo you need to know what it feels like, so when you need to eek out that extra 1% or 2% you know you can go deep into your reserves of physical and mental pain.

Scroll down to the “Aftermath” section of these photos. https://www.craigzad.co.uk/national-hill-climb-2016

Also a nice video here of another event

6 Likes

I find that I have to be in a race to push my body to the limit. I find that chasing someone else is always the best motivation to drive when the body and mind want to stop.

From a physiological stand point and more importantly a body / mind mentality, your body was always capable of that effort, your mind just limited you for self preservation, or a similar reason.

I enjoy the adrenaline and pure rush that racing and pushing my self to the limit brings. I love finishing a really hard workout / race and feeling like I gave everything. I also love thinking " WOW that HURT, but WOW was that FUN and I can’t wait to do it again."

I don’t think one should desire tunnel vision or other similar responses as that means the brain isn’t getting enough blood to keep up. Suffering is different for everyone.

3 Likes

Suffering is how I make sure that I have no regrets when I am done!

4 Likes

Suffering is when you mind tells you no, but your body can still do yes.

6 Likes

With a past of having suffered a few injuries over “going too hard” and in perspective i guess my body as a whole wasn’t fully setup for it, i’m a lot more cautious around pushing it now. I want to live to fight another day so i might have an internal limiter that keeps me from going as hard as i should.

And also, along with that, i commute by bike a few times a week during summer, i’m training for other disciplines too, so i know whats gonna keep me from getting back on the bike or going swimming and what not, so i avoid it or try not to overdo it.

With that said, once i get on the trainer, i feel more confident in pushing it because there are a lot less things that could go wrong and usually the workout is at the right level

I was in a 3-hour long workshop on Change Management yesterday, I know how to suffer.

18 Likes

This is an interesting topic because it is so subjective and so relative to individual experience. As the TR crew mentioned in a recent podcast where they touched on ramp test failure, the ability to suffer and the way each human deals with it can vary dramatically.

The single biggest value I’ve found from using a power meter and training indoors with TR is being told exactly how hard I SHOULD be training. If I didn’t have these resources, I’d still be noodling around outside thinking I was training as hard as I possibly could when in fact I was being a little baby and needed to HTFU.

For me, suffering does not come naturally. My mind tells me to quit early and I have to fight it at ever step of the way to keep going. I know that my biggest improvements moving forward will not come from physical or FTP development but rather from teaching my mind how to cope with and handle the suffering required to perform better in local races.

To each their own, I guess!

3 Likes

Your first 3 min VO2 max intervals of the season.

The third minute. That’s what suffering is.

8 Likes

Yeah, i’d done 30 seconds. I’d done 1 minute. I’d even done 2 minutes. But after about 2.5 minutes, my body asks “WTF ARE YOU DOING TO ME?”

Going past that definitely is a fight of mind over matter. As my heart is going real hard, and my muscles are starting to feel it, and nothing is right in the world lol. But then once i go through it, i feel accomplished. And then another one starts…

2 Likes

I think the concept of suffering is almost entirely psychological, and it’s something that can be trained and learned. What might seem like suffering to you today might feel easier tomorrow as you train your brain and learn just where “the line” physically exists. You know you can endure a certain amount of pain for a certain amount of time, so next time, can you endure a little more? And a little more later?

I think that’s a skill that is quickly perishable, as well. You can take a week or two off from hard riding, come back and do a ramp test and mentally bail on it way earlier than last time, and I think that kind of thing happens because you’ve forgotten what it feels like to “suffer”. Like you, I can’t ride until I puke, but I can and often do ride to true tunnel vision, but I can’t take a month off and go right back to that ability.

My most recent example of the psychology of suffering was Wednesday’s crits. I went into the first race fully prepared for pain, and mentally ready to dole out more pain to everyone else, and I did. 1.11 IF over 20 minutes. My second race, about 15 minutes after the first one, my mindset was totally different. By the end of that race, I was putting out similar sustained power numbers as I had in the first race, when I was notionally more fatigued. But at the beginning of the race, I just mentally couldn’t push myself to do what I needed to do to stay attached. It wasn’t that the power was physically out of reach, I just mentally didn’t want to hurt like I’d just got done hurting at that point in time. As the second race went on, I became more comfortable with the pain again, and pushed it higher and higher until we were done. But because I was unwilling to suffer at the start of that second race, I had no shot.

It definitely gave me something to work on, my ability to maintain my proper mindset in longer or multiple events in short duration.

3 Likes