We all have them.
Some of our pain caves look like this:
Some of them like this:
Some of them are real caves I reckon, mines a little cave-ish.
But stalagmites or just dust bunnies what I’m continually impressed with this time of year is the fortitude some folks have. The determination to get down into their pain caves and suffer!And suffer HARD!!!
I talk to folks who spend hours at a time in their caves, some of them doing very specific workouts on very specific training plans. I’ve seen folks already this year have spent three and four hours in the pain cave. Now I like a little pain. I wouldn’t race singlespeeds if I didn’t, and I like some pain for a long long time. I wouldn’t race hundreds of miles on my singlespeed if I didn’t. But FOUR HOURS ON A TRAINER! No flipping thanks.
The remarkable thing though is that we as cyclists; more so as people, are capable and willing to put in this kind of time for goals which are months away. Goals which may not even have a tangible date. We spend this time because we hope that come spring we will be fitter. But I think on another level we know that if we learn to train ourselves now we will have something to draw on during the coming season of riding and racing.
I’m a big believer that hard man miles, epic rides, and serious pain can all be drawn on later. It’s “fuel in the tank,” I’ve been heard to say. So while you dig deep into yourself looking for fuel for the coming miles and churning away deep in your pain cave let me give you a look into one of the chapters of pain that fuels me from time to time. One of the chronicles that I can pull from and when I’m feeling weak and say: I did that, I finished it and dammit I’m still living to tell about it!
It was 2012, not that long ago really. I had been persuaded to sign up for a first year event called the Bel Monte 50. It was a 50 mile slog through Sherando. 50 miles, 9 thousand feet of climbing. The creators of the event ran it alongside their running race which seemed to me like a terrible idea but I, as an evolved man not merely content to drag my heels through the mud of the earth, entered the 50 mile bike event. So after some average quality Mexican dinner Zach “The Manimal” Morrey headed up into Sherando and pitched our tents. We knew about the 5:30 AM start, we heard there was rain coming, and zach constantly muttered something about a GPX file he had on his Garmin. Since I would be racing my ss, I was more concerned about which Iron Maiden album I would wake up to than any sort of gpanything. As an aside I noticed The Manimal (always capitalized) choosing not to put up his rain fly. I say this because the last thing you ever want to do is tent with a pre-race Manimal. Filing this away I went to bed. dreaming of this little baby:
Until I woke up. 1:30 AM, four hours from race start and that Manimal was furiously trying to put his rain fly up as the deluge commenced. Glad I changed to a slightly easier gear I nodded back to sleep. 5:30 came, the gun sounded. A blue Honda Element rolled in and unloaded a Bishop. A kurland showed, and a few others. Not a deep field, but a strong one. And Francine Rapp. The lone lady to reg, and the lone lady to finish. Unless you count the defeated men who failed, girlies all of them! We started. And I followed Zach’s wheel off the gun ads we paced hard out for an early season fifty. Short prologue out and back then right on the parkway for a few miles. Except everybody else was flagged left, Zach and I isn’t know it was left until a box truck caught up to us four miles out on the parkway….
That’s how you want it to start alright…
We worked until my lonely gear just couldn’t take the pace any higher and zach pulled off. Still muttering about a gps. To quote Indigo Montoya: “I don’t think that means what you think it means.” Pedaling on I caught some dudes, the dudes, the ever present dudes at the back of the pack. Those dudes get it. I caught Francine. And finally, blessed finally! I caught the pack. And the pack surged and slid into the Hell on Earth known as Torrey Ridge on a rainy 38 degree day. But shred on our hero did! I caught up to a Jeremiah Bishop as he slowed to judge a flat rear tire. I’d see him again. I knew it. But I rolled on to a flat of my own! A seal n flate and a prayer to Father Tomac and on that single speed rolled. Down down down, to a frozen ring of…moss and rocks. Yeah, that’s the size of it. Moss, rocks, dirt, mud, sweat, swears, blood, bearings, bruises, and Shannon Tevendale at the first aid station. That aid station gave me more fuel for the ride than just a soggy bar and banana, seeing Shannon and saying a few words to another living being was a blessing. I rolled on. I could hear the dragging, the grinding, all exposed surfaces, and many so called “sealed” surfaces, being ground away with that limestone grit dissolved in a slick soup. Mother Nature’s Taint Polish I’ve heard it called. Just gets in everything. The whole bike would be fried if we finished.
I’ll spare the specifics, mostly because I blocked them from my memory. But I remember climbing, finding Jeremiah up ahead, passing him in what appeared to be as dark a place as I was. I didn’t glory in it, I couldn’t. There was no glory that day. Survival, that’s what we were racing. I remember a long rutted climb after a descent I couldn’t enjoy because of the metal on metal of brake pad piston on rotor. I remember not seeing a sole for twenty miles. I remember stopping to pee off a rock because it was the right thing to do. It was the only way I could exert any control over the situation. Also because I am a man, and that’s what we do. Just saying.
Finally the fire road topped out, and I was sent down again. In the endless series of ups and downs this had become I didn’t care, I didn’t feel. It was a matter of rolling that gear home. Blessed home. Territories and sights I knew started to come into sight. I began to see in the distance Wintergreen mountain. Huge and stunning. And dreadful. It’s hard in my car but on an over geared single speed with brakes rubbing and bottom bracket disintegrating?! Naw man, naw. But this had to be done. So I did it. I remember passing a floundering bobbing Alex Kurland. I remember every switchback. And yet I don’t. I remember an overwhelming sense of discomfort, and an anticipation of relief which was nigh on religious. But that purgatory had to be climbed first. I’m a little glad I was fully distanced from anything GPX, because baby it wouldn’t be pretty.
And I made it. I crossed the finish line. Third on the day it turned out but blissfully not giving a damn. There were showers, and food, and beer. Not enough of any of them. But any would do
So that’s my pain cave. That’s the place I look back to on the Death Climb. That’s the place I look back to at a cold and wet Dark Mountain at 3:30AM. That’s the place which inspires me.
All of this to say that these caves have their place but their real place is to show us and remind us that we can do literally anything. If we can spend an hour on the bike every day, if we can ride a hundred miles in the rain, if we can sweat and bleed and cover our top tubes in snot day after day we can do anything! Here’s to finding a deeper, darker, harder cave this winter. Winter miles equal summer smiles boys and girls. Now get in yer hole!
P.S. Wanna see the “results?” Read it and weep