N.B. I googled this phrase because I thought: certainly someone has written about this in the context of endurance sports. Turns out it’s a biblical phrase and I’d just like to say, no I am not going there. I’m not trying to plagiarize the Bible, nor am I going to be that guy who compares working out to religion.
People often ask why I spend a perfectly good Saturday riding my bike for 50, 70, sometimes 100 miles. And their question is often punctuated by, “I could never do that”. I say, Of course you could. And then I say, I do it because I love the adventure. I love the camaraderie, as well as the mental and physical space that cycling affords me. I do it because I love the fresh air and I love the challenges, and because it is fun. I get to go fast and work hard, and suffer a little bit—and I think that is where I lose some people. Why would I choose to suffer? Part of the reason is because I can.
I didn’t discover that I had any athleticism or ability to endure much of anything until I was 20-something. As a kid, I recall not being able to swim 25 yards without thinking I had Asthma. I always lost at tag. I “attended” right field in softball. I spent my youth eschewing all conventional team sports (and fashion??) and opted for riding horses competitively.
While guiding a one-ton animal over large obstacles takes hard work, talent, and skill, it does not demand the same kind of cardiovascular and mental endurance that moving ones body weight up a mountain necessitates.
When my equestrian career was over, I had to discover new things to do. I picked up skiing, started rock climbing, began running longer distances, and eventually got into cycling. Little by little I discovered what I was capable of. Although I never desired to race and I was far from making an entrée into professional athletics, let alone onto any podium, I accomplished more than I could have ever imagined, and my life became more colorful. Once I crossed into that vortex known as my 30’s, and mysterious aches and pains turned into diagnoses, I learned to appreciate every moment that my body fully cooperated with me, which made me love cycling even more because I momentarily imagined my life without it. Fortunately I have a physical therapist who is an avid mountain biker, an acupuncturist who is an Ironman finisher, and a massage therapist who was retained by Team Oracle during the Americas Cup. They all know better than to tell me not to ride.
They understand that when your brain asks your body to work for you, and the answer is a beautiful chorus of your legs, your heart, and your lungs acting in harmony—that’s the best feeling. You feel truly alive, and you feel the fibers of your being. This feeling comes with endorphins but at the price of effort and yes, some pain.
It is that suffering that we all love—maybe not the suffering itself, but coming out on the other side of it, making it through, reaching the top. It’s a different threshold for everyone. Some need more than others, and everyone is reaching into a different well for different reasons. It’s an affirmation that you are capable of enduring more than you think you can. We all know someone who is suffering, but not by choice. And we know that one day our bodies will not be as capable as they are now. For these reasons, we cherish the moments that we can push our own limits because we can push our own limits. Even on my crappiest day out there, my first thought when I get home safe and sound is one of thanks because I’m overcome with gratitude for the fact that I have the privilege to suffer for fun.