Pain cave

I was supposed to do a power test this morning. When I say “supposed to”, that was what my coach had set (more about coaching another time). I’d already deferred it from Wednesday for some excellent reason which now escapes me. And I ducked it today as well. Again for excellent reasons, namely that I was slightly hungover from a work dinner and only had five hours’ sleep – not exactly perfect preparation for a maximal effort. So that particular joy awaits me next week instead.

So what to do instead? It was still a cycling day (as opposed to a swimming day, my other main occupation a the moment). So feeling slightly guilty for bailing on the big test, I found a suitably tough looking Sufferfest video (more on them below) and got down to it on the turbo. (It was Fight Club, since you ask.)

When I first heard the term “pain cave” being used to describe the place where cyclists have their turbo, I thought it rather over the top and presumably the invention an American. However I have decided that it is, in fact, rather apt. My turbo is in the garage, which is a pretty grotty place (as you can see from the photo), used mainly for storing important stuff (bikes) and unimportant stuff (junk that will almost certainly end up at the dump one day). It’s cold, has bare walls and a disintegrating concrete floor. Mrs 40SC says it smells of rats or mice; she has a better sense of smell than me and is probably right. It’s quite a lot like a cave.

img_1717As for the pain bit, that obviously depends on how strong your masochistic streak is. But I suspect most cyclists have a pretty strong one. Indeed it is said that the most successful pros are the ones willing to inflict the most pain on themselves. I am a very long way from that level of craziness, but nonetheless it is pretty satisfying to really push yourself hard on the turbo, in a way which is difficult to do on the road because of unhelpful things like crossroads and traffic lights.

Crank up the resistance, put it in a big gear and push as hard as you can. Feel like your lungs are on fire, watch your heart rate hit ever higher levels, feel your legs start to give up and then slump over the bars, barely able to turn the cranks, chest heaving. Spin weakly for a bit, sit up, watch your heart rate come back down again. Wipe away the sweat and snot. Feel your legs regain some strength, spin faster, edge the resistance up. And do it all over again.

It hurts. Quite a lot. So why do we do it? It makes us fitter, true, but there is more to it than that. Is there a need to counteract, both physically and psychologically, the slightly excessive eating and drinking of the previous night or weekend, or a perceived slothfulness of recent days? I think that plays a big part. “I’ve been a bad cyclist, I must do my penance.” It’s like self-flagellation as a punishment for your sins. On reflection, it’s not masochism, because it is not pain for pain’s sake, it is pain to purify, to cleanse, to strengthen. “I am a good cyclist again.” It allows peace of mind.

Going long

When writing about the turbo, I have to give special mention to one of my cycling buddies, the Aussie Terminator Triathlete. He will be known as ATT. When training for Challenge Roth last year, he was known to put in five hour sessions on the turbo if the weather was inclement on the day he was supposed to doing his long ride. Five hours?! I think the most I have ever done is two, on a desperate Sunday when the rain was lashing down. OK, his session didn’t have the bar-chewing intensity of a shorter effort, but it still shows incredible determination and persistence. Chapeau, mate.

Doing it on your own

Some things just have to be done solo.  Some bodily functions for instance. The turbo is one of those things.  I once tried doing it with a mate, when the Sunday forecast was horrible. He brought round his turbo and bike and we set up in my garage.  The bikes were at 90 degrees to each other. We sweated and grimaced together for about 90 minutes.  It was somewhat uncomfortable – where to look  at that moment of maximum exertion – deep into his eyes?? That was a few years ago and neither of us has ever suggested a repeat performance.


I’d known about Sufferfest for a while but not bothered to subscribe until this autumn, when the fading morning light made it too dangerous to charge around the country lanes at high speed and the turbo finally had to dusted off. For those of you not familiar, for about $10 a month, you get access to quite a large library of videos through an app, which give you both a programme for your turbo session and some film footage to keep you focused, often of real racing, sometimes just of a guy on a bike. It’s good stuff and works well on an iPad. It’s difficult to remember how I did without it in previous years. As the name would suggest, it plays to our desire to cause ourselves suffering and is pretty good at achieving that result. I recommend it. And no, I am not on commission. Yet.


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