What a great article by Lesley Paterson. Embrace the suck.
Lesley shares her techniques to embrace the suck and I agree, however, there is a huge difference between the discomfort of your muscles burning and real pain. Real pain should not be worked through or ‘out’ – that only leads to long lasting injury.
- Practice suffering. The single most effective strategy to becoming better at suffering is to force yourself to experience it. When you practice suffering, you are strengthening neural pathways in the brain that make you better at suffering in the future. What this means for you: Don’t shy away from opportunities to put yourself the hurt box. They’re a gift. Put on your big girl/boy pants and force yourself to feel uncomfortable. If you are dreading the session or feel nervous about how much it’s going to hurt: you’re on the money.
- Build the expectation of pain. Contrary to popular wisdom, you can improve your ability to tolerate a sufferfest by preparing for the worst rather than pretending it won’t hurt as much as you think. Scientists call this ‘feed-forward’ but you can think of it as “bracing” for it. Your ability to suffer improves if you prepare for it to really hurt. What this means for you: Develop a pre-suffer ritual (or pain pledge) where you accept the potential for ‘worst possible discomfort’. Are you willing to go through this today? Your answer will help shape your ability to cope.
- Segment every single effort into tiny chunks. Your brain will poop its pants if it thinks it has to endure a long, arduous bout of suffering. We even know the part of your brain that’s doing the pooping: the anterior cingulate cortex. What this means for you: Break every session into small chunks and only think about the segment you’re on. Doing 10 x 5 min threshold efforts is much easier than smashing for 50 min straight. Riding 10 x 10-mile segments is far easier than riding 100 miles straight. Break. It. Up. Always. Your brain will thank you.
- Start Counting. Your brain loves repetitive sounds as means to deal with pain because it helps quieten other parts of your brain that are screaming at you to stop. What this means for you: Count your pedal strokes over and over again to help reduce the perception of effort and increase your tolerance of discomfort. The worse it feels, the more obsessively you count. Don’t aim for high numbers. We’re looking for repetition: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8…. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Get your Rain Man
- Learn a meditation or mindfulness technique to practice keeping your focus on a single cue (typically your breath or your heart rate). This works much in the same way as counting, except it helps you also deal with intrusive thoughts of stopping, declining motivation, or negativity when the suffer bus gathers speed. What this means for you: Download a free app to learn the skill of passive attention – accepting the sensation (“Hello pain”) without judging it (“This sucks!”). My favorite app for learning this skill is called HeadSpace. Start with 10 minutes per day for 10 days.