The Siren Song of Suffering

I wouldn’t have said I’m this kind of guy, the try-hard, the Type A. I’m not. I’m not. I think instead I’ve fallen prey to the siren song of suffering, the idea that, unless it hurts, it doesn’t help.

I know, in fact I have known for a long time, that it doesn’t work this way, but I have been unable to resist. When I go, I go hard. If I don’t go hard, I don’t feel complete, like maybe it didn’t count.

It actually took reading The MidLife Cyclist to flip the switch in my mind. I needed to hear it from a friend. I needed to hear it in someone else’s words. I needed someone to walk me through it like this: Recovery is part of the hard work. When you never let yourself recover, you never reach the point of high-level, adapted fitness. Instead, you’re tired all the time, sore. You are tearing yourself down, not building yourself up.

Hi, my name’s Emlyn, and I’m a sufferholic.

Hammering in the rain, because of course…

Suffering is good. I’ve learned a lot there. It’s where the mind expands, learns to get comfortable with discomfort. That turns out to be useful in all aspects of life. Adversity training. So mentally, the managed suffering of a hard ride or run is pretty satisfying. Physically, you get the endorphins, the pleasant fatigue as the body recovers. Sometimes you even reach a flow state, which is nigh on spiritual.

So. I like to suffer.

But the endorphins fade, and the lactic acid floods in. Tendons enflame. My back hurts. I sleep restlessly. I hobble out of bed.

At my age (the worst fucking phrase in the English language perhaps), pegging it on 11 all the time doesn’t work. What works better is a mix of hard efforts and long, slow, easy efforts.

TCI is brought to you, in part, by Shimano North America

Low and slow moves you forward, but OH MY GOD it’s boring. Patience is not my strong suit, not my default setting. It requires its own sort of endurance. It also requires faith in a system that rewards less than the hardest work, faith in science. It’s something I’d like to say I have, but in reality, my intuition that more is better keeps overriding my rational aims.

When I talk about these things with people my age who chase after fitness in the same ways I do, they express a two-fold misgiving. The first is that, if they don’t work hard now, they won’t be mobile and capable later in life. The second is that, by going too hard now, they’ll be crippled later in life.

The answer, as always, is balance and moderation and intelligence and patience, which is like saying the answer is to become a spiritual mystic living high on a mountain, capable of levitating slightly above the ground with the power of your mind alone. Be a superhero. Eat. Pray Love.

It is hard to rage like a kid and think like an adult, to hang onto your youthful enthusiasm but retain the pragmatism of age. I guess I’m going to try though. I guess I’m going to try.


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Join the conversation
  1. DaveinME says

    I used to subscribe to the whole “Pain is your friend, it keeps you company when you are alone”, but it isn’t sustainable. I still enjoy pain cave sessions, but I enjoy many more puttering rides where I’m simply admiring the sites and taking pictures. The mix of the hard and easy keeps me going year round, injury free which is what I want and need.

  2. albanybenn says

    Enduring a week of Covid-19 positive with symptoms 3 weeks before my target event of the year. Suffering and not being able to suffer at the same time. Triple jabbed, work in health care so I wear a mask all day. This too shall pass.

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      I have been in this spot so many times, breaking down just before an event. So frustrating. I hope you come around quickly.

  3. cramissor says

    The long, slow(er) run is much worse than the long, slow(er) ride. One of my tricks is to invite someone even slower and just be happy at their pace.

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