73 Ways to Feel Pain

Oh, the pain.  The sweet, sweet lovin’ pain.

This week I got on my bike and rode it straight into the Center of Suffering.

Let’s be clear about something.

Although I shoot around on my bicycle like a mud-loving bat out of hell, I’m no bike racer.  And, when I say this, I mean that cycling is still new to me, relatively speaking. 

I have never ridden my bike for long miles consistently.  I don’t have the same kind of muscular base that all these kids who’ve been cruising around for years have.  My training for ‘cross this past year consisted of one hammer-fest up Leif Erickson a week, with a 30-miler thrown in at some point, and maybe something else, depending how I felt. 

I was in good relative shape from 8 months of boot camp, but I was not in any sort of bike shape.

The furthest I’ve ever ridden in a single go is 80 miles (that was a disaster, by the way).

Although the potential is there for me to bust out and build phenomenal strength, the groundwork has yet to be laid.  Unlike Sal, who literally has tens of thousands of miles on me, my muscles do not have a deep recollection and memory of cycling-induced suffering.

This is why every time I"m on a bike, I wish I was running.  Because years of running 30-35 miles a week has taught me what I can do.  And how it feels to do it.  And my muscles understand what’s going on.  They say, "We get this. We know what this is.  We know what’s coming." 

I don’t run nearly that far these days, but it doesn’t matter.  The base is there.  The muscle memory is there.  They have a history with running that can never be erased.  That’s a huge advantage for me.  That’s a huge psychological difference as well.

So I try to be kind to myself when I am on the bike, wishing like hell that I was not.  I promise myself that it will get better.  Easier.  More natural. 

That I’ll feel more powerful.  More in control.  Less in agony.  Less like I would murder kittens and puppy dogs, drink shitty beer, or give up my sleep number bed – anything… ANYTHING to take away the pain.

I ride through the pain.  And, more to the point, I ride through, over, around, on top of, and past my own failed expectations about what I should be, or how fast I should go. 

Patience, I tell myself.  Do the work, the results will come.  Do the work.  You can’t be everything right away.

So this weekend I got on my bike after a six week "off-season" (I’m putting that in parentheses because p90x has been thoroughly kicking my ass in the meantime, I just haven’t been on the bike.)  I got on my bike and suffered.

I got on my bike on Saturday and rode with the club.  I rode slow.  In the pouring rain.  I got chilled to the bone, put in 30 miles, had a cup of coffee, went home and prayed to The God of Hot Showers.

Then this morning, with fresh saddle sores, aching legs, and dumb determination, I went out again and followed Sal.

Not 15 feet away from the front door I released a stream of obscenities not to be matched any time soon.  I could hardly sit down on my saddle.  Every time I attempted to, my body tightened in reaction to the absolutely mind-boggling pain. 

"Do you want to go back?" Sal said.  He was cringing.  "I don’t want you to be in so much pain."

"There’s only one way to deal with this," I said, "I just have to ride through it."

It took ten miles for my ass to go numb enough for me to sit down without wincing.

We rode south down through Milwaukee and over to Oregon City.  We kept going and rode to Lake Oswego.  On a long, steady, slight incline on Johnson Road I swore at Sal.

What was he doing to me?  Where were we going?

I hurt.  I was in so much pain.  My legs were so fucking tired.  So tired!!

"I am starting to hate you!" I said.

He knew exactly what I meant.  He took the abuse in stride.  "This is good for you." he said.  I gritted my teeth and held my tongue because he was right.

A few miles later he said, "We can stop just up here for a second."

"I don’t need to stop.  I need off this goddam hill!" I responded.

"Got it."

We kept riding.  We stopped for coffee at Peet’s Coffee and ran into some folks from the club.  We slammed our coffee, ate some Gu, popped some Shot Blocks and set back off.  I was in a better mood.

When we were safely back on the east side of the Willamette, coasting easily through the crowds that had been drawn to the Springwater Trail by the unseasonable sun, I actually smiled.

At home I walked unsteadily straight into the kitchen.  I did not take off my cycling shoes.  I did not take off my helmet.

I made us one big-assed chocolate protein shake with vanilla soy and almond butter and then I drank my share in 3.9 seconds.  I couldn’t get the calories down fast enough.

We had ridden 43 miles, 13 more than I would have liked and 73 total for the weekend. 

Those are small numbers to big-boy type "real" cyclists, but for my breakout weekend, they’re larger than life.  They taught me where I stand, showed me where I’m headed, and handed my ass to me on a platter.

Let the games begin.

Project "Become a Real Cyclist" has begun.


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  1. Two words. Chamois cream. Make your own by squirting a tube of antibiotic cream into a tub of petroleum jelly. Stir. Apply liberally before riding. Every time you ride. Saddle sores can go from annoying to seriously infected in a short time. Make the butt happy and the heart will follow!

  2. you go girl it will pay off when riding gets less painful and more enjoyable.

  3. Hey Heidi – Just hang in there…I think you know that it will get better. After all, I seem to remember that running was pretty damn tough at first too. It’s also pretty well documented that it takes about seven years of training to reach your potential in endurance sports. (Trying to inspire, not depress you).
    You know that I was a runner too and that there are times when I miss it SO badly. Maybe I’m rationalizing because I really can’t run anymore, but I often think while I’m riding (training and even racing)…I wish that I had discovered cycling thirty years ago.
    Good job this weekend and I’m sorry I missed you guys on Saturday.

  4. ow ow ow

    I am trying to learn to knit and the advice was – make a 6 foot long scarf – by the time you’re done your fingers will learn to knit – you need the repetition and finger memory. That’s what I thought of when I read your description of muscle memory. I am more aware of it in dance than running.

  5. Damn! 73 miles for the weekend?! That’s great, and nothing to minimize. I only got in 49 miles this weekend, so your 73 seems pretty ambitious and wonderful to me.

  6. It’s the little steps that get us to where we’re going. A lot of time we don’t know where we’ll end up. Although I’ve dreamed of doing the Race Across America for 20 years, 10 years ago I would have said I’d never attempt it. In 2006 I did and made it 2,000 miles. Now I’m trying to figure out how to get the money to try again.

    I believe I could do a flat century any time I’m healthy. I rode very little last year and put it to the test. I hadn’t ridden over 30 miles in months and was averaging less than 5 hours a week of any exercise and went out and rode 109 miles. I hurt but not as bad as I expected.

  7. Awesome weekend! Great Job!

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