A cyclist training regime is one which is built on suffering. Sufferance is what makes us stronger faster and longer. Cyclists have the ability to get themselves to a place where they hurt, but carry on without a thought of giving up to adversity.
Everyone agrees that suffering is synonymous with cycling, and that the ability to tolerate pain is a vital part of performance. Fausto Coppi, who many consider the greatest of all, put it simplest: “Cycling is suffering.” Eddy Merckx added a little more explanation: “Cyclists live with pain. If you can’t handle it, you will achieve nothing."
The truth is, we have no adequate metric for measuring suffering. It remains an enigmatic and elusive feature of our sport. Each rider’s suffering is their own — we cannot compare it to our own, we can only imagine. I might like to believe I’m more pain-resilient than another rider, but I’ll never know for certain.
Anyone reading this who is about to embark on a Gran Fondo should consider enhancing their mental preparation. Set some goals, and prepare to do battle for them. Have somewhere your mind can take you, when you reach your threshold. Then drive through and go beyond that threshold. Your body and fitness failing will not be what brings you closest to failure, your head will. That being said, you have trained hard for this. You have been to the hurt locker and know how to deal with the torment.
Though our knowledge of how to manage suffering is improving, there is an aesthetic or transcendental element — the part that is beyond logical explanation.
The way we deal with hurt is best described as a relationship and rapport with pain that is outside of observable human experience and comprehension. Some even describe it in terms of beauty. British pro Mark McNally puts it thus: “[Suffering] can be so cruel and so beautiful at the same time. The contrast between the pain and the euphoria it brings is what makes it seem more beautiful.”
In other words, you have to learn to love suffering not just for the rewards it bestows but for its own sake too — perverse as that may seem.
So set your goals. Have your targets and use them to drive through when the hurt and the head try to take control. You have worked so hard to get here. Don't allow your head stop you being the best you can be.