Pain vs. Suffering

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. 


5 Responses to Pain vs. Suffering

  1. tbv says:

    My ride today was less inspirational:

    Got a late start and went part of the way up my neighborhood mountain, knowing I didn’t have time for the whole climb. Got to 1500′ and a spot with a natural resting place and I looked at my watch – good time to there for me. I’d pulled over twice to get those damn kids to stop arguing with each other.

    How long was it going to take to get home at the time I said? How far was I was going to go before I was obliged to turn back anyway? It was cold, and fog socked with drizzle. Only saw two other riders compared to the usual dozens. Maybe it’s better to be a Shackleton instead of a Scott. I put on the extra jacket and my ear-band for warmth and did the descent, way slower than usual because of the conditions, and still felt the chill. Minutes after getting home, the skies opened for a long, cold rain, and I was soooo glad I hadn’t gone up the mountain for another fifteen minutes to get caught in it.

    Getting as far as I did seemed suffering enough, and I was glad to have gotten any ride in at all.


  2. Daniel M says:


    Your post makes me jealous. We had rain/snow/sleet over here last night. The roads this morning, in a word, sucked. But even as they were, I would have loved to have been out there suffering on a fixed-gear ride (my usual mode of outdoor training this time of year). Coming in from a a long ride in the cold makes me feel totally alive.

    Suffering up a long grade like you’ve described does the same. But I’ve been sidelined for the last week with a strained muscle in my back. This, too, is suffering of a different sort. Not to get out and ride is the worst thing of all to an cycling junkie like me.

    Wish I could’ve joined you on that climb. Sounds very inspirational. I’ll think of that tomorrow when I’m swimming or taking a spin on the Cycle-Ops. Hope you have another inspirational ride on Sunday.

    – Rant

  3. pelotonjim says:

    TBV, I’m jealous 1500′ Wow. I’m a frustrated climber. The good Lord gave me a body of Magnus Backstedt with the heart of a climber. Also Rant, sorry but your weather became my weather so it was back to the trainer today. But the TiVo in the head still works and I’m able to replay the feelings with HD quality!

  4. Debby says:

    I know this is nothing compared to what you all did this weekend, but I did one of my hardest rides ever on Saturday — 26 miles, tons of climbs with steep grades (husband has the Garmin on his bike, so I don’t have the actual percentage at the moment), and also had my first fall when my shoelace wrapped around the pedal. (Remember this is on a hybrid bike, since my new road bike and *proper shoes* haven’t arrived yet). So Peloton Jim, you have my complete sympathies. Hope you feel better soon!

  5. pelotonjim says:

    Ouch. Sounds like you had both pain and suffering on one ride. Lucky you! 😉

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