How to Survive a Suffer-fest

with JEN HUDAK

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a cyclist. And if you’re a cyclist, you've most likely experienced a suffer-fest at some point in your riding career. If you haven't yet, you probably will. So, what is a suffer-fest you ask? Simply put, it’s a ride that is beyond the threshold of what you're comfortable with riding, but somehow you manage to get through it, suffer through it, or, you turn around and go home... We're opting for the former.

I've personally suffered on my bike numerous times. From doing the Park City Point-to-Point three times (a 75-mile mountain bike race with 15,000 vertical feet of climbing) to bikepacking/bushwhacking in Alaska for five days on end, suffering on a bike is something I've grown to enjoy. The reason this dichotomy exists is that I have worked out a way to survive a suffer-fest. The satisfaction that you get upon that achievement is enough to lead you into your next extreme adventure. So, how do you survive those painful days in the saddle? Read on.

  1. Remember That This Is Hard

Remind yourself that you're suffering because what you're doing is hard, not because there's something wrong with you. You’re not suffering because you’re not good enough, strong enough, fit enough, fast enough or skilled enough. When suffering begins you’re usually low on energy/fuel, feeling dehydrated, sweat is saturating the inner-lining of your helmet, and beads of sweat are cascading down all the slopes of your body. You're not sure you have enough gusto in your legs to keep those wheels rolling, and you just feel like giving up. That's when the voices start coming.

“Oh my gosh, these people are probably wondering why I’m so slow! I'm so out of shape... I should've trained harder, I could've done more. Ugh, what is wrong with me? Why is it so easy for everyone else?!”

Sound familiar? That voice is your inner critic. We've all experienced it in one way or another, and in the midst a suffer-fest it will be your worst enemy. If you cannot redirect your negative thoughts, they will not only make your suffering worse but could prevent you from finishing the ride. How do you deal with that inner critic, you ask? You question it. It's all-too-easy to believe those thoughts inside of our head. They came from within us, after-all. But, we have upwards of 70,000 thoughts in a given day – not all of them can be true, even if they feel true at the moment.

When you're sitting on your bike wondering why you suck so bad, remember that what you're doing is actually hard. There are a lot of people who are sitting on their couch drinking a Coke and eating popcorn while watching the latest episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta. But you – YOU are on your BIKE! You are out there; you showed up and were willing to put it all on the line. The reason you're suffering is that you're pushing your threshold and testing your limits. You’re growing, and growth is uncomfortable. Just ask the caterpillar right before he becomes a butterfly.

  1. Communicate Your Needs

Do your best to communicate how you're feeling and what you need to those you're riding with. When we're suffering, we often believe we're the only ones having a hard time. This makes step number one all the harder. You think everyone else is having a jolly old time, not struggling at all, while you're over there in your suffer-cave, counting down the pedal strokes until the ride is over. If you're having a hard time, pipe up! Let the people you're riding with know how you're feeling: that you're tired, that you're running low on water, that your legs are about to blow up. This isn't about excuses, this is just about effective communication. Maybe you worked out super hard the day before and you're a little bit sorer than you thought. Or maybe you did nothing, and this ride is just harder than you were anticipating.

Either way, it doesn't matter. Letting your riding partners know that you're having a hard time opens up the door for them to become your support system. If they don't know you're struggling, they won't be extra mindful to cheer you on in the steep sections, offer you snacks and water, or wait for you at the next trail intersection. It's not always easy to speak up in these situations, but it really will pay off.

  1. Stay Fueled & Hydrated

Stay ahead of hunger and dehydration on challenging rides. Keep in mind, this strategy only works if you've brought enough food and water so that you can stay ahead of your hunger and dehydration. If you haven't, this ties back to point number two, communicating with those you're riding with.

If you're running out of energy and steam, and you think your fuel and hydration levels might be an issue, let your buddies know. Some of my friends are great about keeping extra food and water on hand, others are not so great. My husband? Terrible. But, the better you can keep yourself fueled, the less bad the suffering will feel. While your muscles might still be working extremely hard, and perhaps harder than they've ever been, at least you're giving them the opportunity to succeed.

Suffer-fests, as their name implies, HURT! But when you start implementing these strategies and realize you can survive the pain, you’ll find a new place in your heart for the struggle. You might even begin seeking out the next epic challenge. For everything that doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.

Learn more about Jen Hudak, mindset coach and former world champion athlete, at JenHudak.com.

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