Cycling Stories

Pain & Discomfort: Pushing Through, Not Past

October 27, 2019


Pain & Discomfort: Pushing Through, Not Past

Pain, frustration, and failure can help us actively explore our cycling limits, discern their curves, map their landscapes, and listen to their messages. But first, we must move through these experiences, instead of past them.

Altitude Adjustments

The trail ahead rises until disappearing into the forest, which camouflages the nuances of its personality, how it ebbs and flows, where its most prominent features lie, and its’ predisposition for perpendicular progress.’

In other words, from where I stand—my left foot planted in the dirt, my bike balanced above—I have no idea if I’m about to kick my own ass.

I push forward, dislodge my shoe from the trail, and clip into my pedal. My right thumb reaches below my grip, clicking the shifter forward until it stops. In back, my chain drops several gears, briefly causing my legs to spin out.

As soon as I reach the upward slope, though, I return to my regular cadence. My legs engage.

Carried by momentum and powered by fresh muscles, I breezily round the first few switchbacks, before pausing to admire the trail’s secret, which was hidden from my earlier vantage point: what-might-as-well-be-a-freaking-cliff-face. Honestly, instead of a bike, I should’ve packed a harness, plenty of rope, and a chalk bag.

“You have to work to know me,” the trail whispers into the wind.

Although butterflies flitter inside my stomach, I’m comfortable in this mental space. And at first, this familiarity leads to ambivalence about the lactic acid rapidly accumulating inside my legs.

Several minutes later, though, I can no longer ignore the red-hot magma that—with just one more pedal stroke—is sure to breach my skin’s surface. Nor, the fact that I’ve already sweat through my helmet’s padding, and that the altitude presents an opportunity to experience the distinctly unpleasant sensation of hyperventilating through a straw.

I grit my teeth and endure the torture for a bit longer. Eventually, though, I acquiesce, unclip from my pedals, and hop off the saddle.

I briefly look back to see how far I’ve come. Then, I gaze uphill, lean into the incline, and push my way to the top, determined to return and dominate this slice of dirt.

Refining Perspective Through Pain & Failure

There’s something special—almost spiritual—about climbing steep grades on a bicycle. Pointing my front tire toward the sky, narrowing my focus, and sometimes learning that I’m simply not up to the task.

In those moments, the white-hot anguish—physical and mental—burns my ego into a blackened stick of carbon. I’m always stripped bare; my excuses revealed as ether.

Here’s the beautiful part: During this pain-induced paring-down, I can choose to push past the pain, or through it. The difference? It’s all in my perspective.

Pushing past, I focus only on the result: reaching the top and ending my torment. While the climb might take 20 minutes, I spend the time reliving only the final few seconds.

On the other hand, pushing through the pain allows space for the gift of presence; I can use it as a vehicle, moving alongside the pain as it’s experienced. Not resisting, but not indulging, either. Just letting “it” be what “it” is, without giving it a name. Yin and yang. Balance.

A big part of this balance also involves understanding the varied landscapes of our limitations. Knowing when it’s time to hop off the saddle and continue pushing, and when we should head back to camp and regroup.

Having achieved balance, though, we understand these times aren’t defined as failures or defeats. Instead, they’re a new recognition of our limitations, a moved goalpost, and an updated test of our determination.

From here, we understand that if we want it badly enough and we’re willing to put in the time and effort, we can overcome the next time we spin the pedals—or set out to achieve anything else in life, for that matter.

It’s all in our perspective.

Keep rolling: Together, We Ride

Derek has more than two decades of experience as a cyclist, and is the founder of TreadBikely. He currently travels full-time with his family via RV, enjoying the country's best biking destinations. A secular Buddhist, Derek frequently explores the intersection of cycling, mindfulness, and compassion in his writing. #rolloutblissout
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