Pain vs. Suffering

November 11, 2006

To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you’re getting this down.  Love and Death (1975)

“That’s what you get when you suffer – you get results.” Paul Sherwen Tour de France 1999

I hear quite a lot that cyclists must embrace pain to achieve.  That pain is the center of the romance surrounding our sport.  I’d like to offer my two cents.  I think that while pain is a part of our sport, it is not the center.  While I have vivid images in my mind of riders receiving medical attention at 35mph or toeing the start line with broken bones received from the previous day’s stage, those do not conjure up the right emotions.  When I see mud-caked faces in Paris-Roubaix, twisted faces at the top of a hors categorie climb, or the focused face during a time trial, I smile.


I have taken advantage of the mild weather here in NJ to return to the road.  I have a favorite climb on one of my routes.  It is 2.2 miles long with a 6.9% grade.  I realized at the start that riding on the trainer may keep you aerobically fit but it does nothing for the climbing legs.  So during the climb, I thought a lot about pain and suffering.  Here is what I decided. 

Pain is to be endured, suffering is to be embraced. 


To make my case to the non cyclist, let me paint a picture. I am the second of five kids seven years apart (yes, I am Catholic). Our family vacations always started with a car ride.  Within the first half hour, one of the following would happen:

  • Someone crossed an invisible line into another’s territory
  • Someone revealed a secret of another
  • Someone looked at another the wrong way
  • Someone was hungry
  • Someone did something disgusting
  • Someone was bored

This would set off a back seat war.  What was once a well oiled family trek became a personal hell for my parents.  Threats came from the front, denials and accusations came from the back.  This continued until a rest stop or our final destination.  My parents were not in pain but they were suffering.  Imagine relishing this experience.  Imagine wanting more.  Imagine arriving to the shore house with a smile. 

Now, back to the hill.  My legs were screaming at my lungs and heart for not doing enough to remove the lactic acid, my heart responded by saying it was not its fault, it was not the one out of shape.  My lungs were saying that it was getting all the air it could.  My brain was telling everyone to shut up and if it had to pull the bike over, there would be hell to pay. I could easily see the link between the car and my body.  In this case, I didn’t want to stop the complaining, I pushed harder inciting the ‘kids’ even more.  When I crested the hill, I was spent.  But I smiled. I did the hill again.