athletes · training · triathalon

Greetings from inside the pain cave


Three things got me thinking about sports training and pain again.

The first was a series of ads for indoor training videos, Sufferfest. There’s something about indoor training whether it’s on your bike on a trainer or on an erg, or rowing machine, that’s particularly brutal.

And finally some female faces.

The second was a lively discussion with a friend on the age old question of whether being a masochist helps with sports performance. My answer, yes.

The third was this story,  It’s true! Triathletes are tougher than the rest of us.

Triathletes can tolerate more pain than the rest of us, a new study confirms, which helps explain why they would swim, then bike, then run, all because they want to and not because they are, perhaps, being chased by a bear.

That’s interesting on its own, but there’s more: Researchers say that understanding how athletes can withstand the pain of a grueling endurance event may eventually lead to potential treatments and therapies for people with chronic pain.

“It’s a very masochistic sport,” said Jenna Parker, who was the top female finisher in the New York City Triathlon in July. She was joking, but only kind of. “I guess to some extent, I always wondered what it is that makes people able to compete at a high level in athletics. Obviously there’s something that’s different that makes us able to push our physical boundaries in a way that other people can’t.”

Here’s my past posts on the topic:

diets · eating · weight loss

Diets Don’t Work but They Do Make Us Suffer

diet-fix-bookI had a few errands to run this morning before work, so I hopped in the car just in time for CBC Radio One’s The Current.  This morning Anna Maria Tremonti interviewed Dr. Yoni Freehoff, author of The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail (and how to make yours work).

Freehoff’s main point was that diets fail because they make us suffer, and human beings aren’t built to suffer indefinitely. We can suffer for a period of time, but eventually we’ll say, “enough’s enough.”

Now, I have read and heard and even written quite a bit about dieting and why it doesn’t work. See here and here and here, for example. So I didn’t think there was a lot new for me to pick up, though of course I found the segment interesting. But one thing I learned that was new to me was the idea of “best weight.”  Best weight, according to Freehoff, is whatever weight a person reaches when they’re living the healthiest life they truly enjoy.

I like the idea of best weight because it doesn’t legislate standard weights but rather scales it to enjoyment and choice.  The idea doesn’t totally divorce weight from healthy lifestyle, but it doesn’t suggest rigid height/weight/BMI measures either.

As Sam has done in her post Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI?, Freehoff reminds us to ignore BMI. It’s only a meaningful measure for populations, not individuals.

If you want to hear the whole interview with Freehof, you can tune into it on The Current, here.

And they ended the segment with a country song called, “The Diet Song.” It was new to me, though I guess it’s been around for a while.  It really captures the suffering of a dieter with these lyrics:

Breakfast black coffee one slice of dry toast no butter no jelly no jam
Lunch just some lettuce two celery stalks no booze no potatoes no ham
Dinner one chicken wing broiled not fried no gravy no biscuits no pie
And this dietin’ dietin’ dietin’ dietin’ sure is a rough way to die

Here’s the whole song (not entirely unproblematic in its entirety, but the dieting suffering part gets that feeling of deprivation right):

cycling · sports nutrition

Suffering: It May Not Be Fun But Is It Good?

winter wind

On Sunday morning I kept looking at the weather report and out the window, almost (well, okay, REALLY) hoping for rain. It was cloudy with a low probability of precipitation, but both the forecast and the trees outside said: WINDY. Winds of about 40km, gusting to 60 km. And kind of chilly (6 degrees C)–I had to duct tape the vents in my shoes to keep my feet from freezing (didn’t quite work).

So why was I hoping for rain? Because Sam said that if it was raining we wouldn’t go for our bike ride. I wanted an out. (See here for more on excuses.) But no such luck. We went, which prompted Sam to post about the “which is worse? wind or hills?” debate among cyclists.

We went with two cycling friends, Eaton and David. They all ride all the time. They’re fast. I’m new at this. And slow. When I got to the meeting spot at the Forks of the Thames, Sam asked if I’d seen Eaton. I was already late (because of road construction and poor planning) and he’d gone to look for me. The theme of Sam, Eaton, and David waiting for Tracy had thereby established itself before we even started.

We biked the Belmont “short” route. I’m really glad that no one told me ahead of time that “short” meant 50 km because I am pretty sure that I might have bailed. Our trek out of town gave me a sense of the wind. It was mostly coming from the side and I still felt pretty fresh, so not too bad.

Then at one point, for a short time (maybe about 10 km or less?) we had a glorious tail wind. That is something from heaven, truly. It’s totally calm, you ride along side one another chatting and laughing. The blazing fall colors take your mind off your cold feet.

When David told me that this feeling of lightness and wonder (we were zipping along effortlessly at about 30 km an hour!) is an actual thing in the bike world, a thing called a “tail wind,” it did occur to me, if only in a fleeting way, that it wouldn’t be like this forever. That home was the other way. That there must be something opposite to a tail wind.

Yes there is. It’s called a “head wind.” And the wind is not the only opposite. Take that light, zippy, effortless feeling of a tail wind and reverse it. The result: a heavy feeling, like you’re putting in maximum effort and getting nowhere. I’m not sure about anyone else, but my mind started to really want to defeat me right then and there, when we turned into that fierce and freezing wind, and everyone else was waiting for me up ahead (and I was conscious of the fact that they’d be much closer to home if not for me), and I was running out of fuel.

In a word, I was suffering. And suffer I would, all the way home. David, Eaton, and Samantha took turns trying to help me out by drafting. It did help a bit but I had trouble keeping up sometimes. Eaton, also small (cycling is the only context in which I have repeatedly been referred to as small and light), explained that I probably needed food. So I downed some of his home made electrolyte replacement drink (thank you, Eaton!) and a fig bar, and suffered on (trying to smile).

Hills (which apparently we don’t even have around here–something else I am assured I will change my perception of in time) started to appear like mountains in the distance. At one point, as we approached a hill that Sam was already over the crest of, I said to David, “I don’t think I can do it.” He said, “Just try and see how far you get.”

The hill was short but (to me) fairly steep. On my right, along the side of road, a bank covered in fall leaves sloped upwards. The leaves looked soft and inviting. I hit my gear shifter to switch to an easier gear. Nothing left to go to. I picked my spot and let myself fall to the side, both feet still clipped in, and landed on the leaves, which by then felt like a warm blanket. My thighs seized up (Eaton tells me that’s my VMO muscle and that once I improve my technique it won’t happen quite as easily). I lay there for a couple of minutes before clipping out, dragging myself to my feet, and then staggering up the hill with my bike beside me (Sam and David couldn’t even see me; Eaton had already said his good-byes because he had to be somewhere that he’d never get to if he went at my pace!).

My next source of defeat came with a second hill, more gradual but longer, and without the cushy option at the side. I had a small victory this time: I ran out of steam, yes, but I clipped out without having to topple over. My thighs cramped up again, and I threw myself down on my back onto someone’s front lawn for a couple of minutes to gather my energy for the rest of the ride.

We rode through an industrial area on the east side of town where Sam gave me a quick tutorial about what to do if I got chased by a junk yard dog. Sprint. If you can’t sprint away fast enough, keep the bike between you and the dog. But, she assured me, most of these yards have electronic fences around them. Several demolition yards later we were in the clear. Dog encounters gratefully averted.

I haven’t mentioned the wind for awhile. It continued to howl at 40 km or more as we rode dead into it. I know the northwestern wind well from sailing. It’s the one that brings with it the more serious storms and high seas as it builds from the north corner of Lake Huron, gathering force as it roars down the lake.

Anyway, I split from David and Samantha when we approached downtown on the bike path because I wanted the shortest route home. After I waved good-bye to them I leaned my bike up against a guard rail and foraged deep into my pocket for the last fig bar. I took a sip of water. With about 15 minutes of riding left, I clipped in and headed home. To a bowl of cereal, a handful of nuts (I couldn’t muster the energy for more), a hot bath with mineral salts, and a delicious and satisfying afternoon nap.

Okay, so now to the question: Suffering may not be fun, but is it good? I can attest for sure to the first part. It wasn’t fun. Not at all (other than the tail wind). In lots of ways, it was humbling. But there were a few things good about it.

For one thing, I did it. Part way through I began to reflect on people who climb Mount Everest (I know, I was being a bit melodramatic) and how the people you’re with–whether aiming for the Everest summit or trying to finish the Belmont short loop on a cold windy day–can only help you so much. When the rubber hits the road (or the sleet starts to fall on your new bike and the wind screams in your face and it feels like someone dropped ice cubes in your shoes), you’ve got to finish what you started. Yes, there was one point (on the second hill) when I felt like packing it up and calling a cab, but I didn’t do that.

I have a cycling war story already, and I’ve really only been out for two rides! I think this has a lot to do with what’s good about suffering. We love to talk about it when it’s all over.

I learned a few things: about what I need to eat (something along the way), what I need to wear (my cold weather gear is great except I definitely need those shoe covers!), that I have some technique to work on, that my more experienced riding friends really will not leave me even when they’re cold and probably wish they could just blast on home (thank you!), that I can suffer, give up, and then get right back on the bike and keep going.

It’s hard to imagine worse conditions. Sam said that it’s the windiest day she’s ever been out for a ride. So that’s good to know. It’s only going to get better from there.

It’s bolstered my enthusiasm for my winter commute. Twenty minutes? No problem! I can suffer for twenty minutes.

So there is some good that comes of suffering, though I hesitate to say that it’s good in itself. When we teach about the theory of value called hedonism in our ethics and value theory classes, the students always say stuff like, “no one can truly appreciate what’s so great about pleasure without also experiencing what’s awful about pain.” They offer this as a way of countering the claim that pain is always a bad thing–an assumption that a simple hedonistic theory (which says that pleasure is the only thing with intrinsic value and pain has intrinsic disvalue) embraces.

They’re questioning whether we would want a world free of pain (as some hedonists claim we should want) because might that not deprive us of certain pleasures–like those “wins” I just listed that came from my Sunday ride of suffering? It’s true–the bath, the nap, both felt more wonderful and luxurious than any bath or nap I’ve had in recent memory.

So I think the real question is, I feel good about having made it through, but would I feel as good if I hadn’t suffered as much?

Sam has written a couple of times about suffering and painful workouts. See here and here. I think I have to disagree with her idea that painful workouts are “fun.” In my case, I really only feel good about them in retrospect, not at the time. I know there is quite a bit of research that shows that it’s the mental battle that usually gets the better of us. The body can actually withstand a lot more than we allow it to, most of the time.

And there is a certain kind of bonding that occurs among communities of athletes, much of it having to do with suffering. In Michael Atkinson’s research paper, “Triathlon, Suffering, and Exciting Significance,” he identifies triathletes as members of a “pain community” and interviews 62 of them, documenting their narratives of pain and suffering.

Chances are, and Sam has noted this, athletes wouldn’t do a lot of what they (we?) do if there wasn’t some suffering involved. Pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone is a huge part of the attraction. It’s what motivates us to do more, try harder, go further, hang in there a little bit longer.

It snowed yesterday. That prompted Sam to say, “looking at the snow on the ground now I’m still glad we got out! That’s the thing, you rarely regret the decision to ride.”

So for all the agony on Sunday, do I regret the decision to ride? No, not at all.

cycling · racing

Three great articles on the psychology of pain and of pushing yourself

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about pushing yourself, knowing your limits, and that moment when your body tells you that you absolutely cannot go on. You don’t choose to stop. You stop because you have to. You physically can’t do it. Or at least that’s what it feels like and it’s the way I naturally describe it.

I walked one of the hills in the Gran Fondo. I just couldn’t make it up that hill on my bike. Now maybe the Gran Fondo isn’t a great starting point for this since I was deliberately riding, not racing, it. But certainly there have been races and hard training sessions where I hit my limit.

There’s gallows humour associated with athletic suffering that cuts across so many of the sports I like. Rowing, cycling, and CrossFit workouts are all associated with jokes about throwing up and passing out. And they’re not just jokes. I’ve seen several bouts of barfing at training sessions during my time as a cyclist. Mostly during interval training at the track and interval training at the crit course, of course.

For all the talk I hear and read about people injuring themselves from overdoing it at CrossFit (see this article on CrossFit’s dirty little secret for example) I’ve never actually seen it happen. I’ve been doing CrossFit for a year and a half now and I’ve only encountered sane and sensible coaches who push people, yes, but not beyond their limits. Since I’ve only done CrossFit in Canada and New Zealand I’ve wondered if it’s a cultural American thing, this pushing yourself to the point of injury. Maybe not. All the boxes are independently operated and so I don’t don’t there’s some bad coaches or communities out there. I just haven’t met them.

What’s fascinating reading about this idea of limits and the role they play in athletic performance is the role the brain plays in it all. Tracy and I have both written about listening to our bodies but what’s tricky here is that it turns out our bodies and brains aren’t always the best judges of what we can do. It turns out that our brains send the “Stop now!” signal not our bodies.

Now that would be fine, the brain working as our internal governor, if we were all tuned the same way. But we’re not. In some people the “can’t go on” moment happens much sooner than it does for others, even with the same physical cues.

That’s why some athletes win even though the data (VO2 max, for example) suggests they shouldn’t.

Different people react different ways in different situations too. Some years ago I had my VO2 max tested (I forget the number but it was “superior” though not “elite”) and my max heart rate tested too. I wasn’t relying on calculated data. I had actual numbers.

But the funny thing was looking at data from my heart rate monitor during criterium races that I exceeded the max. There were these bright red spikes on the chart generated when I uploaded the data. On hills? I couldn’t make myself come anywhere near the max. Still can’t. And I know that’s psychological.

Knowing it’s the brain, and not your body, throwing the off switch doesn’t make it any easier to control though.

I said a similar thing about aging in my post Is aging a lifestyle choice? If the reason we slow down is psychological rather than physical, that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to keep going.

Lots to think about here. I’ve written a bit about before in Why are painful workouts so much fun? (And other questions about suffering and athletic performance) And if you’re at all interested in the performance aspects of physical activity, rather than just the health benefits, it’s well worth reading the articles excerpted below in their entirety.

  1. “Winning cyclists must believe in themselves—but be wary of trusting their own brains. Research shows that the brain lies to the body and prevents it from fulfilling its potential. The brain sends us alerts to slow down or stop in the form of fatigue and pain because it thinks the body might be damaged if you exercise past certain limits. Top cyclists, however, know through practice that they can ignore the warnings and ride through the “pain barrier” to finish faster (although utterly depleted).” Read  Cycling Science: 7 Fascinating Facts About Bikes – Popular Mechanics
  2. “In the last decade or so, the field of endurance-­sports science has been turned upside down and set on fire over the question of what, exactly, causes suffering, which scientists call “fatigue.” Some scientists are even questioning such bedrock concepts as VO2 max and lactate threshold, as well as the very notion that an individual’s physical performance has absolute, physiological limits. The lactate-threshold test? Meaningless, some experts say.We’re not even sure anymore what suffering really represents, what causes it, and why some people seem to be so much better at enduring it than others. The old, purely physical view of suffering and fatigue—that your legs hurt because your legs hurt—is giving way to a much more complex model, where our performance, and our feelings of pain, and even what we think are our absolute physical limits, are all controlled by one fickle master: the brain.”  Read Transcendent pain
  3. “There’s been a revolution in running science in the last few years. For a century, researchers have focused on the role of the heart, legs, and lungs to explain the limits of human endurance, but they’ve ignored the brain. Turns out, that was a mistake. It’s not lactate levels in your blood or oxygen shortages in your muscles that force you to slow down, it’s how your brain interprets those signals. In other words, the effort of running is only as hard as your brain perceives it to be. Scientists have since demonstrated that seemingly absolute physical limits are imposed by the brain—not the body. But knowing it’s your brain that hits the brakes doesn’t help if you can’t overrule it. So a few researchers scattered around the globe have begun testing methods of harnessing the brain’s power: zapping it with electric current, modifying the activity of certain brain regions, or simply training the brain—much like runners train their bodies—to become more fatigue-resistant, so you feel less effort while running at the same pace.” Read How to build mental muscle

It’s 2 km day!

Today I completed my second 2 km erg test as part of the Off-Water Masters Program at the London Rowing Club. Part of my goal for the Fittest at Fifty campaign was to try something new and rowing is that thing. To find out more, read Row, row, row your boat!.

Each month we’ll be doing a 2 km erg test which will both measure our progress and form the basis for future training efforts. (For example, we did a workout earlier this week at +10, where +10 is 10 seconds above your 500 m split time for the 2 km effort. I did the last 2 km with a 2:10 avg so my goal for that workout was to avg 2:20.)

This is familiar to me from the cycling world. When I was training with the Vikings Cycling Club in Canberra we did monthly field tests–two 5 km time trial efforts, with a recovery in the middle–and sent our times into our coach. Another time we did monthly 15 km time trials, different distance but same general idea. Again, that’s a sure way to track progress and to match people for team trial events. We also used those times to see if we’d adequately recovered during our monthly rest and recovery week.

One thing that’s different is that for rowing on the erg we divide into two groups so that we can cheer one another on. I like that. I always do better with people screaming at me.

I think I was pretty much guaranteed to do better this time around since I have a better idea of the technique: fast, short strokes at the start to get the flywheel spinning, then an all out effort, then before you blow up settle into a pace you can maintain for the middle. For the last 500 m you sprint again.

Here’s my times, last time and this time to compare:

Nov 2nd:

2 km time 8:45.4
avg split 2:11.4

Dec 4th:

2 km time 8:30.1
avg split 2:07.5

What will January bring?

Here’s Coach Jay on How to Pull a 2k test

He’s also got some more thoughts on a favourite theme of mine, pain and suffering. (You can read my post, Why are painful workouts so much fun?)

The 2k test became a staple in the rowing world in 1995, when the Charles River All Star Has Beens changed the format of their little event from 2500m to 2k. Everyone can blame these clowns for the invention of the dreaded erg test in 1980. They thought it would be “fun.” Thus the erg, never very popular before, became synonymous with pain.

You see, there is a big difference in discomfort between a 6000m and 2000m test. As I’ve written before, the 6k is a test of endurance and mental toughness. The 2k emphasizes endurance, power delivery, mental toughness, and pain tolerance. The 2k hurts you, if you do it right. It hurts you a lot, and being mentally prepared for that pain is far better than not knowing what you’re walking into. So, off we go.

I loved only one thing about 2ks, and that was the feeling of the first 350m. All the nervous energy would burn off, and most people get to their target split without too much trouble. (Always have a goal or target for a 2k. Always.) After that first 350 is the beginning of the “fun,” because the rower starts to hurt.

Not a lot at first, but enough to be noticeable. Lactic acid was produced in that first 200m burn, and it ends up in the muscles where it was born, so the legs start a little complaining. The best route here is to find that goal split and concentrate on “building the piece” of as many of those splits in a row as possible. If 1:40 is the goal split, make sure every stroke is there at 1:40. An early indication of a piece in trouble is the inability to hold that goal, with the splits jumping around with every stroke.

At 1500m to go, I’d like to take a little power 10. Nothing serious, just 10 strokes to push the splits down 1 or 2 and get ready for the worst 500m of my life. Because the 2k is going to fail or succeed right in that second 500m, and the mental toughness of the athlete will decide it. Right there, I would usually think, “I can’t hold this pace. I need to back off,” because here it really starts to hurt and you are not even halfway done yet!!!

Read more here.

And here’s what it really looks like! No vintage waves, long hair, or wild wind.

row2 row

fitness · injury · training

Why are painful workouts so much fun? (And other questions about suffering and athletic performance)

What makes painful workouts so much fun? Or assuming there’s some self selection at work here, we could ask the question a little bit differently: Why do athletes find painful workouts so much fun?

Now not all of the workouts I do are painful. Most days of the week I workout out twice a day and I wouldn’t be able to take that kind of intensity all the time. Nor does it make sense from a training point of view. But still the best workouts, the ones that are the most fun, are the painful ones. And as philosopher, I find this appreciation for pain more than a little puzzling.

But let me begin by describing two of the painful workouts I’ve done this week.

Here’s Monday’s Crossfit workout: The snatch ladder (be mature, no sexual jokes please, we’re all grown ups here)

The snatch ladder from the Crossfit Games looks like this

30 Snatch (M 75 / F 45 lbs)
30 Snatch (M 135 / F 75 lbs)
30 Snatch (M 165 / F 100 lbs)
Max Rep Snatch (M 210 / F 120 lbs)

“This workout begins from the standing position. The athlete will complete all reps at the first weight before advancing to the next weight. Score is total reps completed in 10min.”

We tried this event as our workout of the day on Monday. I’ve got to say it was 10 min of torture. Yet, lots of us loved it and therein lies in the puzzle.

Tuesday’s rowing workout was more painful though and more fun. Rowing workouts are notoriously tough. A friend regularly does something she calls “the erg of death.” I get that.

Though I’m new to the rowing world, cycling workouts are much the same. The best series of cycling training videos, for indoor workouts on the trainer or the rollers, is called The Sufferfest.

Gallows humour about throwing up and passing out is routine. Like the Crossfit tshirt says, “Yes, you will pass out before you die.” And we all know the sayings: Pain is weakness leaving the body. What doesn’t kill you…etc etc etc.

The rowing torture took place on the erg at the London Rowing Club. Here’s the drill: 2000 m for time, rest 3 min, 1500 m for time, rest 3 min, 1000 m for time, rest 3 min, 500 m for time. Collapse on the floor gasping a mere shadow of your former self. Crawl to car, drive home.

I won’t bore you with all the gory details but I did manage the final 500 in 1 minutes and 56 seconds. I was very happy that I finished faster than I started even after all that effort. But I had nothing left in the tank at the end. My legs were screaming for those final 200 m and I was gasping for air. It helped that I had a coach and some other rowers who’d finished ahead of me cheering me on but still that last bit of our workout really hurt.

And I loved it.

So here are some questions about pain and athletic training and performance I’ll be talking about in the coming weeks. Here I just want to raise the questions. Later I hope to say more about them. In the future I’d like to write a philosophical paper on pain in the context of sports training.

1. Are athletes masochists? Now before we all snicker, let me say I don’t mean sexual masochists necessarily. Sexual masochists take sexual pleasure from pain delivered in a sexual context. But you needn’t find sexual pleasure in pain to find pain enjoyable.

Here’s Lance Armstrong:

“Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it’s absolutely cleansing. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain… Once, someone asked me what pleasure I took in riding for so long. ’Pleasure?’ I said. ’I don’t understand the question.’ I didn’t do it for pleasure, I did it for pain.”

And my former track session leader at the Forest City Velodrome used to run from one corner of the track to the other yelling “suffer” as we did 500 m efforts.

2. Are we right to use the language of pain and suffering here at all? While some of us relish talking this way–guilty as charged–others are put off by talk of how much the efforts hurt. They find it demoralizing. As with childbirth (another kind of pain with which I’m intimately familiar) some athletes prefer to talk about intense sensations rather than about pain.

“Wow, that was an intense workout.”

And it’s true that athletic pain from effort is different from pain from injury. It’s not like someone is chopping your arm off without anesthesia. I’ve often compared childbirth which I’ve experienced three times, all without pain relief, to the pain of athletic effort. And I do tell friends that if you’re familiar with that sort of pain, childbirth will be, to that extent, familiar.

I’m not even sure I’d erase the pain, if I could magically do that without drugs, from the experience of childbirth. It felt like an accomplishment much the same way that finishing an endurance sporting event does.

3. Cyclists sometimes say that the person who can suffer the most will win the race. The ability to suffer, to take it, is highly valued. It’s a fascinating question I think, the psychological limits of our ability withstand great suffering.

Consider the article The Transcendent Pain from Bicycling Magazine: “In which we dig deep into the history and the latest research of the revered art of suffering and discover some good news: You can always go harder. Or is that the bad news?”

4. Athletes are known to have high pain tolerances and medical researchers have sometimes wondered what makes athletes different. Is it just self selection (people who don’t like pain quit sports) or is there something more? Can the ability to tolerate pain be learned?

From the journal Pain, “Higher pain tolerance in athletes may hold clues for pain management,”

5. What tricks or techniques do athletes use to push through the pain?

“Your mindset plays a huge part in your ability to tolerate pain. If you want to be a competitive cyclist, you have to know how to go deep into the pain cave.  A cyclist’s ability to suffer often determines who steps onto the podium and who is standing off to the side. Whether you’re climbing a 10% grade, bridging a gap, or sprinting for the finish, there will be times when you need to dig deep and go harder than you ever thought possible – so how do you it? “I’ll tell you what racing’s about. It’s about suffering. It’s about pain – racing hurts.” Andrew Juskaitis.”

In the article “Suffering: Preparing to Push Yourself through a Hard Effort,” in the journal Podium details a variety of methods cyclists use to cope with pain.

I’ve tried some of them–counting to 20 before I’m allowing to downshift when climbing, for example–but others are new to me. I thought I’d try some out and report back.

6. Finally, what does it mean to talk about the ‘good pain’ of a really tough workout? I gave a talk on gender and cycling at the Trent University and some audience members were genuinely puzzled, claiming never to have experienced anything they’d call a good pain. All the athletes in the audience though knew exactly what I meant. I think for another blog post I’ll try to answer that question. Wish me luck!