The Pain Cave: Suffering Loves Company

I rowed crew in high school. It was an incredible experience, that taught me the value of discipline and how much fun it could be to suffer with a group of other athletes.

To be on the crew team required an enormous amount of discipline, especially for teenagers. We trained hard for hours after school–and sometimes before school. We gave up every weekend for at least half of the year–if not more. As members of the lightweight 8, my crewmates and I restricted every morsel of food that went in to our bodies.

1991–> Holy Spirit lightweight 8, with our coach Joe Haney. Thanks to our discipline, we went undefeated that year.

 But, it wasn’t all hard work all of the time. We had a comraderie that fueled us, and a type of silliness that only a group of teenaged girls could produce.

My coxswain and I, fooling around after racing at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta at St. Catharines, 1990.
My coxswain and I, fooling around after racing at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta at St. Catharines, 1990.

Together, we developed and nurtured a love for the sport that wouldn’t die – no matter how hard the workouts got.

And our coach had some doozies, some of which I like to schedule for my athletes today. Circle of suffering, and all that.

I enjoyed the purpose that those days had, and those early years have had a long lasting effect on me – not just in sport, but in everything I do.

Discipline is a value that has served me well.

Just like crew, triathlon requires a great deal of discipline to train every day, to give up every weekend, to restrict every morsel of food I put in my body (holidays as an exception, unfortunately!). Sometimes, I find myself toying with the idea that I might “quit” triathlon.

But, just as it was with crew, I know I won’t quit. I love it way too much.

I love it because it requires discipline, and because it is a challenge. And, I love it because it connects me with a community that is strong, supportive, competitive, and purposeful–just like those early years when I rowed crew.

2013-12-28 11.15.29
What’s a little suffering among friends?

Over the past week, John (along with the help of our friend Rick of Cote Carpentry – HOLLA!) made a serious upgrade to our garage Pain Cave. We now have a heated room, and plenty of space for training partners to join us. After all, suffering loves company, especially sweaty company.For quite a few years, John and I spent most of our time alone in the pain cave. Now, we happily find ourselves enjoying the company of other like-minded fools who love to train hard and spend their weekends in the saddle and on the roads.

This past weekend, as four of us settled into our rides, and created little rivers of sweat on the garage floor, I was reminded of my old crew days.

Back then, we were a bunch of athletes huddled in a boat bay (crew’s version of the pain cave), doing circuit training, or preparing our clothing for a cold row out on the bay.

Today, we are a bunch of athletes huddled in the newly renovated pain cave, riding our bikes, watching Nitro Circus and preparing our clothing for a cold transition run.

The specific details might be different, but the feeling is the same.

This weekend, I found myself riding hard, while the time went quickly. Normally, a solo long ride seems like hours. Okay, technically, the ride was hours, but they were “quick” hours.

We learned from each other as we talked about stuff that matters to us: race strategies, hill repeats, cadence, bike durability, swim endurance, FTP, and beer. We engaged in a type of silliness that only a bunch of middle aged triathletes and runners can produce.

Sure, the topics have changed from high school, but the way that community fuels our efforts has not.

As I begin the 2014 season, I will pull from the lessons I learned so many years ago on the back bays of Brigantine. I know the value of discipline, and I am grateful for the community that makes that discipline worthwhile.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner! Stotesbury 1990. I’m holding our “mascot”. I wish I could remember the story with that little plushie, but it was almost 25 years ago.


What do you think? Share your thoughts and experience!