A good friend of mine asked me once or twice; “Mark, why is it that you always seem to have to suffer on a bike ride?”  I guess I don’t always seek out a ride of suffering, in fact most times I try to avoid it. . . really I do.  However,  I must admit that many of my rides involve some degree of physical suffering, mental anguish and certainly discomfort.  Many times the difficulty is planned for, while other times it comes on you unexpectedly.  Suffering and overcoming adversity allows us to change.  Most of us are resistant to change and that’s why we avoid discomfort, pain, suffering and the unknown.

In her book, “The Beauty of Discomfort” Amanda Lang explains that discomfort/pain is actually what we need to grow and ultimately succeed.  Some degree of discomfort is inherently good for you.  It can spur you on, pushing you to test your own limits.  Learning to tolerate and then embrace discomfort is the foundation for change, very often positive change.  Being comfortable with discomfort won’t just make us more resilient and more successful, it will also make us happier.  Embracing discomfort allows us to “Win” the long game.  If you’ve ever tried to achieve a worthy goal or learn something new, you’ll see that lasting change doesn’t happen overnight.  That’s because over time when you do things differently, you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

Many parallels can be drawn between a bike ride and life itself relating to discomfort, pain and struggle.  While riding your bike you have to push/pedal through the pain/discomfort barrier and the associated anguish many times.  Bike riding involves getting out of your comfort zones,  (gravel grinds/single track/fast group rides/hill climbs/100 milers) are all good examples.  There are many rides that have invariably tested my limits based on;  what time of year, how long of a ride, the terrain/elevation/pace, who I’m riding with or simply the frame of mind I’m in.  My most memorable rides have all had a common element; some suffering!!  To know that I’ve endured many difficult rides is quite satisfying  and has left an indelible impact on my psyche.  Some of these rides are etched permanently in my memory.

  • D2R2, Deerfield Dirt Randonnée Ride in western Massachusetts with Matt Michaud.  10-11 hours in the saddle, 120 miles with over 16,000 feet of climbing.   Patton Hill
  • L’Eroica in Tuscany, Italy with Brian, Noah, Silvio and David C.  9-11 hours,  130 miles 14,000 ‘ of climbing while battling darkness at the  beginning and end.  Monte Santa Maria
  • Spring Classics in Belgium with Dave and Lew Chamberlain.  16 of the famed “Cobble climbs  Koppenberg, Paterberg, Olde Kwaremart and Wolvenberg ”         
  • 6 Gap in the Green Mountains in Vermont with Brian, Matt, Dave and Craig .  8 hours 15 minutes, 135 miles, 14,000 ‘ of climbing.  Lincoln Gap
  • Alpe d’Huez.  Grenoble to Bourg D’Oisans with Matt Michaud.  6-7 hours, 92 miles.  Bonking on the way home!

During all of these rides there were many moments when you simply felt like quitting, there was no way to push on, but it was never an option… it never is!  It is precisely at these moments where the struggle occurs and it’s what we sometimes live for and why we ride.  Why?  Because we CAN!  and when we can’t,  we WON’T!   A war of sorts is waged between the physical and mental you. Who will win this internal conflict?  The struggle goes on.  Undoubtedly there will be many more rides where pain, discomfort, despair, anguish, fear and ultimately success and satisfaction present themselves.  I can only hope.