Friday Group Ride #205

Friday Group Ride #205

I remember reading, a long time ago now, the story of a pilot confronted with the failure of his plane’s engine and all the thoughts that raced through his mind in the brief time between the last sputtering of his propeller and the surprise instant when the engine restarted. The point of the piece, beyond the improbability of surviving such an incident, was that the human mind is capable of processing a lot of information very quickly so that seconds seem to stretch into minutes and quite complex ideas can form and pass in a flash.

We all have this experience sometimes when we crash, don’t we? There are those crashes that seem to happen before we know it, i.e. we find ourselves on the ground before we are aware that anything is even amiss, but then there are crashes where everything seems to happen is slow motion. I remember once going over the handlebars when a car stopped in front of me unexpectedly, and in the fractional seconds of flying through the air I became aware of my elbow hitting the ground first, the blooming pain of skin being ground off that elbow by the pavement, and the realization that when I came to rest, there would be blood.

Consider too Padraig’s description of his big crash from last season. He is more informed than I am on the neurochemical explanation for our experiences of these visceral moments.

But adrenaline isn’t the only way to make amber of your time. Hard effort can get you there, too. This quality of the elasticity of time was mostly the inspiration for In the Space of a Pedal Stroke from earlier this week, that and a root-level need to think about summer instead of this cruel, persistent winter.

How many times have I been to that painful place at the edge of effort, sawing my way up a steep hill or trying in vain to cling to a wheel I have no business following? How many times have I been out in shitty weather, sleet cutting sideways, my cheeks going numb or the summer heat like a smothering pillow held over my face? It’s interesting the thoughts that bubble up in these circumstances, when things get hard.

This week’s Group Ride asks what you think about in your difficult moments? Do you have a go-to thought? A mantra? Is this where your great epiphanies comes from? Or have you perfected the art of blankness? I sometimes try to think about the aching in my quads as something apart from myself, to observe it rather than feel it. I always fail at this.

Image: PhotoSport International


  1. Kimball

    When I’m browsing in the pain cave, I tend to pull up random recollections from the past; never current issues that are pressing. And I tend to count my downstrokes up to 8 (why eight I have no idea), over and over again until I come back into the light.

  2. Mike the Bike PT

    There is a psychological concept known as mindfullness. In layman’s terms, we would say “being in the moment”. You are not thinking of the past or thinking of the future. You are simply mindful of the now, this moment. You are aware in what I would call an observatory sense. Yes, my quads are burning. Yes, my breathing is ragged. Yes, my neck is getting sore. In mindfullness, most of the emotion of the moment is removed and you are simply aware. The experience occurs without a judgement of it being good or bad. It just is. I like is.

  3. Ransom

    For some inexplicable reason, I suddenly think I’m a comic. At moments in CX and mountain races, and even indoor classes, when I certainly don’t have any excess lung capacity, I find myself making presumably only-funny-to-me-because-of-oxygen-debt remarks to my fellow riders.

    Anything to distract myself from the pain, I think.

    Maybe I’m hilarious and they’re just too winded to laugh properly…

    Oh, and I can’t remember who to attribute the advice to, but when I remember to do so, I find that I can often keep my legs moving the same rhythm without the grimace or about half the muscles I have tightened up. A given pace suddenly feels much less difficult.

  4. Patrick O'Brien

    When I think I will run out of breath, I start concentrating on cadence and quit looking so far up the road or trail. I take that last 1/2 mile and turn it into 100 yard pieces.

  5. imakecircles

    I try under such circumstances to synchronize my breathing with every third pedalstroke so that neither leg is working harder than the other. If I’m near the top of a climb, I also focus on how many virtual me’s stacked on top of each other there are before I reach the top.

  6. Rod

    @Kimball – yes! same here!

    Normally not during races, but on long hard efforts like climbs or TTs. I have had recollections of childhood experiences, both good and bad. They were subsequently confirmed by my mother after talking about this. 30 years after the fact!

    Brain does weird things when exhausted or hypoxic, I guess!

  7. Jeremy

    When I’m reaching deep in to the reserves on a hard effort (running or biking) I always think of my family for some reason. I imagine that if they were in need would I be able to press on and get to them. I don’t know where this came from, or when I started doing it, but I’ve used it for motivation in the final moments of a sprint effort for a few years now. I have always been very impressed by what some people have endured in real life situations when they were working to aid someone in need.

  8. christopheru

    I can remember my father telling me in the early 1980s more than once that cycling was all about suffering. He said you have to learn how to suffer on a bike. Sastra said much the same thing a few years back when he said once you learn how to suffer, all else is easy.

    When I am out on a ride, as opposed to riding about, and I find myself running out of gas, feeling the climb, suffering in a relentless easterly spring wind pushing into my face at 60kmph (we get nasty spring winds here) or more, the mantra from my teen years comes back.

    You. Must. Suffer. On. A. Bike. You. Must. Suffer. On. A. Bike. You. Must. Suffer. On. A. Bike.

    Each word a pedal stroke, each word pushing me further towards my ultimate goal of what?

    No matter. I know that when I get off the bike, I can look at it and say that it and I have been to that place where most do not go. We suffered. And did it for fun.

  9. Shawn

    My mind automatically pulls up the notion of a long-waisted, woman with black hair and a triangular face who I once knew. Not realy a picture, just the awareness. It’s nice, but it’s like heroin, and I soon find I have forgotten to breathe.

  10. Derek

    Ransom, I once raced with a guy that was the master of the one-liner. Even though I knew it was coming I was never immune. In the era when people in toe clips showing up at the line needed to be taken seriously and everybody else was try to learn a new clipless system. He would start two to five seconds before the gun and once he said it you could not clip in because you were crying because you were laughing so hard. He had impeccable timing and I never heard him drop a dud. He trained like a sonofabitch too. He didn’t win too many races but the ladies all liked him and he never quit. He did it on course too. He passed me in a Biathlon (Duathlon for people still racing) once and said “looking good hangover boy”, referencing our previous nights excursions and as I was also about to pass the guy on the full Tri-Geek bike (think 1986) he says “nice bike” while slingshotting off of me and drinking from his water bottle sitting up. He might as well have stuck a pump in the guys front wheel or hit him in the heart with a sledge hammer. He stuck his water bottle back in it’s cage and was never seen by me until the second run. I am pretty sure Mr. Tri-Geek never saw him again. My apologies to all triathletes. Not just for my reference here but for how the cycling community treated you in the eighties. In the late 1980’s Tri folk did more to advance cycling than anyone else. The MTB thing was already blooming and there were these people that were dead serious about being faster on a bike because it was a major part of their event. They did not give a good god damn about stupid cycling rules. They were Triathletes and they just needed to be faster on the bike leg. Like right now goddamnit and that led to a tremendous amount of development. None of which helped the poor sap in my story who I could have taken on my BMX bike.

  11. Fearless

    “Love to climb, hope there’s more around the corner.”
    “The wind goes right thru me, propels me forward.”
    “You’re along for the ride brain. Do your job. Send blood/oxygen to ______________”.
    Ye Olde KISS Theory. “Keep It Simple Stupid.”
    Fearless Kevin

  12. Hhbikes

    In last weeks grasshopper, I never found my legs. Not good for 1000’/10 miles X 5. Tried to stay in the moment, enjoy the ride, like Mike the bikePT wAs describing. But that day it was the mental image of my marathoner wife who never quits, ( #30)and a friend who just ran 65 miles on a track, and the Churchill line, we will never give up.

  13. Souleur

    As a nurse practitioner, I too often find things in patients in terms of a newly diagnosed disease and their new path in life, and harder yet is their expectant treatment plan going forward. Unfortunately, sometimes this brings about suffering, pain and in worse cases their demise. 2 years ago, I started placing some of their names on the top of my stem, you know, the good people who suffer and don’t deserve it and really tough it out. I admire them, truthfully I have loved many and in those moments we have on the bike, i divert my attention by looking down in focus, noting the names and gain a real perspective of ‘real pain, real suffering’ when the man with the hammer mounts my back, when he grasps his hands around my neck demanding I submit to him. I hate that dirty crusty old bastard, I really hate his guts, because when he makes his prescence known, you know your about to hurt, bleed out your eyes and cough out chunks of your lung just to drop that bastard. However, I do find keeping it in mind what ‘true’ pain is, helps. I acknowledge it, accept it with open arms and this has helped me enjoy it. I can seriously get up and go, go deep, not quit, sometimes simply knowing there are so many others that would love to do the same but cannot.

  14. Dave

    I find it easiest to quiet my inner whiner by reminding myself of that burger and fries I had the other day (or the milkshake, extra beer, etc…). Once the whiner realizes he has no one to blame but himself, I feel better and get back to counting breaths and pedal strokes.

  15. andrew

    i just blank, aware of the rocks and roots (‘cos i find mtb climbs much tougher than road) and almost on auto pilot. spare mental capacity is reserved for breathing.

    on a road climb i just try to dig deeper and deeper, watching my heart rate and trying to max it as i try to sprint on noodly legs.

  16. Kurti_sc

    I start in with the counting (my we are anOCD bunch) and sometimes I move onto repeating Our Fathers and Hail Marys. But it seems like at some point I just find some awareness. Just breathing , not really hearing anything else. Those are my prize moments.

  17. royalewithcheese

    My thoughts tend to fill with the chorus of whichever terrible if catchy song I’ve heard recently (I don’t ride with headphones)and my breathing tends to synchronize with that…and then my legs and lungs are burning and I have a terrible song stuck in my head.

  18. oldschoolzeus

    When I’m feeling the pain I try to focus on “Smooth powerful strokes”. Saying it over & over to myself. Sometimes I use Jens Voight”s, “Shut up legs”.

  19. Peter Leach

    I find that I’m a bit of a mixture of several commenters, in that I use a mix of counting, focussing on ‘making circles’ and holding cadence, before resorting to Jens-ism: “Shut up, legs!”

  20. Mark Young

    Recently, panic and frustration.

    I have asthma and when I am climbing even short hills without having taken a hit from my inhaler before I leave the house the resulting shortness of breath brings a surge of panic and I inevitably slow down.

    This, along with aging legs, brings frustration to the forefront of my riding knowing that not too many years ago, with or without an inhaler, I could climb decently.

    Now that I have gotten my wife into riding with me, I also see her dancing away from me without a problem…. I gotta lost weight too!

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