Lord knows I’ve suffered. I ran an Ironman marathon on a broken femur – very nearly ended up with a hip replacement over that – I carried on a conversation with my dead father at 26,700 feet on Manaslu, but I do believe that bicycle racing has taken me to a new level of sufferage (I don’t think that’s a word, but I like it so I’ll keep it).
High school wrestling might have demanded an equal amount of suffering had I been driven or disciplined enough to find that dark space, but alas I wasn’t, and consequently here I am paying the price of a misspent youth – but that’s another story.
|Confused at 26,000 feet|
Most forms of adult racing – road running (10K, marathon, etc.), trail running, triathlon, and the like are what I would classify as “run your own race,” style events. Now obviously if you are running the Olympic trials in marathon or pushing past someone in your age group in order to qualify for Kona all bets are off, but for the most part this style of racing is go as fast as you can and leave it at that. Bicycle racing has very little to do with how fast you can go and very much to do with how fast everyone else is going.
|Gimping across the line at IM Canada|
I can’t think of another racing event that requires every competitor to stick together. If you get dropped off the back of a bicycle road race, with the exception of a minor miracle, you’re done, you have no chance of winning, or even placing. Imagine running a 10K road race where everyone has to stick together: go off the back and you’re pulled from the race. Think of all the tactics that would now come into play. For example a fast sprinter but a weak distance runner might sprint for a mile attempting to shell as many strong distance runners off the back as possible: anyone who can’t hold a sub five minute mile pace, if only for a mile, is out. This is exactly the case in bike racing.
This is where the suffer part comes in. During a bicycle road race riders launch attacks. Most of these attacks are strategic, in other words a good strong rider will attack when many, if not all, of his fellow racers are totally gassed, at the top of a hill for instance. My past two road races have incorporated big hills and at the crest of the hill, just when I’m about to catch my breath the fast riders take off. At the point of maximum suffering I have to find that little bit more strength to enable me to go with the group. The kicker on all this is if you fall off the back of the group you are now chasing the pack, sometimes all by yourself. So now you’re working even harder than the guys sitting in the group who can simply roll along with the strength of the pack: suffer now in order to avoid suffering later.
During the course of a typical road race you are going to experience two maybe three occasions where you have to push yourself beyond what you ordinarily thought was possible, you have to suffer more than you previously thought you could. In my lifetime I’ve experienced nothing like it.