Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Suffer More Than Anyone Else

I saw a friend and fellow triathlete, Kurt, at last weekend's Cranksgiving-Omaha event. Kurt is as fierce as any competitor in a race. But outside of that, his easy-does-it attitude spiced with humor is disarming. But while we were talking about this past year's races, he said something that has turned into a repeating scratched mental record in my head. Paraphrasing, he said, "in triathlon racing, there's a fine line between pain and pleasure - that's why I do it."

Saaay what?!

Now I've often wondered what motivates someone to do ultra distance events like an Ironman. It's one thing if you're trained and truly racing the entire thing, but it's an entirely other thing when you're out there just to suffer. But Pleasure-pain? With the thousands of Ironman entrants, maybe Kurt's onto something here. Perhaps many triathletes are in some sort of 18 hour pain n' pleasure erotica fest. (If you've ever been to a triathlon, you may agree that this accurately fits the bill.)

Regardless, in my world there's a huge gulf separating pain and pleasure. I'd guess that my Mom would be happy to know that I'd fail at being a masochist. Indeed, I think I'm quite able to differentiate between agony and joy. If you're in doubt about your ability to distinguish between the two, try this simple test. Load your iPod with Barry Manilow, set it to shuffle, then blindfold yourself and push play. If you like what you hear, then you should be competing in Ironman events.

Still, I've got to hand it to Kurt, for he caused me to stop and question my motives in racing and training.

Then today, I read Josh Horowitz' Levi Leipheimer interview. In it, Josh asked Levi how he motivates himself to race, to which Levi replied, "In order to win, you have to suffer more than anyone else and you have to believe you can win to push yourself to that point."

I carefully re-read the part about "suffer more than anyone else". He didn't say a word about pleasure. It was just simple good old pain and suffering.

Thank God! Now there's something I could relate to.

Like Levi related, pre-race knowledge of immanent suffering can be a mental barrier well before reaching the starting line. This is especially true when you've done the training and have set a very specific goal that you'd like to reach. Training, too, is prone to a loss of motivation due to the suffering factor - be it intervals, a time trial or a long workout. I mean, wouldn't it be nice to rip up the hills and destroy the competition without slaving hours on end on the trainer, the treadmill or in the pool? Even environmental factors such as rain, snow, wind and extreme temperatures can be a drag on the mental mo-jo.

So why do I do it?

I searched the depths of my soul for answer. Seconds later, I had these: 1)Being physically fit has its rewards in good health, 2) The soothing effects of beta endorphins during post-workout recovery, 3) Refueling (and a good BM after that) 4) Measuring progress, and 5) Meeting of a goal and/or achieving a victory.

In my search, I discovered something. Boiled down it comes to a word: SATISFACTION. Hmmm, I suppose there is a little pleasure in it after all. By golly, Kurt's been vindicated!

Oh crap. It's 60 minutes in Zone 4/5 on the trainer this evening...


  1. With enough training in "the pain cave" you get used to it and can push above that initial impulse to back off when it hurts. One thing that really got me used to pain was 20 minute LT intervals. After the first 5 minutes of endorphine rush, you're just left with pain. You like the speed, so you deal with the pain.

    For me, the pleasure part is speed. Getting faster is fun, but I reached a tipping point when I got to my peak fitness. Getting into huge packs going high 20's mph around tight corners made me realize one could get seriously hurt with speed. And I wasn't even in that big of fields and we weren't going anywhere near pro-fast. Hearing Randall talk about doing Nature Valley really opened my eyes to how fast things got. I don't want to say I'm a wuss, but that kind of speed did not sound so fun. That's why I focused on TTs since I could have speed, but not the craziness of packs.

    So that's all I got to say bout that.

  2. Once I've committed, I'm usually OK. It's the awareness of pain (or lack of comfort) that can undermine the training.

    For example, unless I commit in the previous evening, leaving a warm bed at dark thirty to swim, lift or ride a trainer is just not going to happen.

  3. Again, the solding starts, this time in the voice of Jan Brady.

    Brady, Brady, Brady.

    You've got this pain/pleasure thing all backwards. Take in another lesson from me playing the part of Johnny Drama, and you can be a young Vincent Chase. The idea is to derive pleasure from inflicting pain on others, with minimim discomfort to you. Here's how it's done:

    Find a weaker rider in your group and slowly put the screws to him (or her) by upping the pace, accelerating up hills....basically turning up the heat until you break them. A very passive-aggressive way of blowing someone up. Your goal is to put them in the pain cave, not you. Cowardly? Yes. Fulling? Yesser.

    Remember, I too did triathlons in the 80s. Notice my verb, "did". I didn't say raced. They were fun, pleasurable because they were like the asymptote that approached pain, but never really got there.

    The training part is necessary because it is MOST fun to break your stronger friends.

    Therefore, I too get in the pain cave, but I have a more nefarious purpose, to hurt the ones I like the most. (And no, I'm not in counselling...)

  4. Points well taken, bro. I think it's fair to say that if I want counseling, I best turn elsewhere, because you'd really screw me up.

    Back in the 80s after you raced the Lake St Louis triathlon (and before your body cavities were packed in ice) your 106 F body temperature must have fried your brain's memory of what took place there. Ask Mom and she'll tell you what pain and suffering looked like as they unloaded you from the ambulance.

    Anyhow, I'm looking forward to our next ride together. There are a few climbs, but nothing too strenuous. Yes, you ought to do just fine.

  5. hey, speaking of putting friends in the pain cave -- or completely decimating their very souls -- is it true Murphini is going to ride up here on Thanksgiving weekend?

  6. let me say this about that:

    1. I sort have blacked out my first ever triatholn where Brady is correct that I crossed the finish line in an ambulence, victim of overheating less than 1/2 mile from the finish line. I sort of took a nap on someone's lawn even though I could hear the finsh line announcer. Sort of like the poppy fields in Wizard of Oz. That's what taught me I could ignore the pain curve to my own detriment.

    2. On TDay Weekend--maybe--I will be in Des Moines Wed-Fri, but have to convince my wife/kids to drive separately as they want to be back in KC for the weekend& not sure I want to (UP SPEAK HERE) KC-DSM-KC-OM-KC. Rather do KC-DSM-OM-KC Still working on my routing. I wish I knew someone who could figure out the travel logistics with a computer for me....

  7. An option:
    1) Fam drops you in OMA on FRI or SAT AM.
    2) We ride early SAT PM
    3) You spend the night w/us
    4) We day-trip to KC for Dim Sum on SUN.

  8. & BTW: I'm not sure that I could ignore the pain curve to my own detriment. Don't know if that's a curse or a gift. Freak!

  9. I'm pretty much willing to ride at any -- and every point -- on Saturday and Sunday.

  10. How many hours you scheduled for that weekend, Bryan?

  11. ahem ... 8ish. The next week is the easy week.

  12. So are you planning on doing 4 hours each day? Am I reading that right? I'd be willing to join in if it's outside.

  13. yeah, that's the plan. And since I'll be left home alone, I can pretty much go whenever.

  14. SWEET!! That weekends gonna be a blast. We're gonna hafta ride a ton and play lotsa video games in between riding times - ya know, for true, proper recovery.

    Good? Good.