Everybody Hurts

At some point, every one of these riders is going to feel just as crappy as you do. That point might even be now... not that they're gonna show it.
At some point, every one of these riders is going to feel just as crappy as you do. That point might even be now… not that they’re gonna show it.

[If I didn’t immediately get the song by R.E.M. stuck in your head, then either you’re too young or I’m getting too bloody old.]

When I get home after a really hard ride, I’m virtually catatonic. I walk around dazed. Putting things away, drinking water, uploading my ride, drinking water, making some food, drinking water. After three years, I’ve come to accept that this is just part of how it goes. All the pleasures of riding long, fast, and hard have to be paid for. That doesn’t bother me. What bother’s me is that when I look around, no one seems to be tired as I am. What gives?

There are two things happening here. The first is that from our subjective standpoints, it’s hard to see the pain of others more than our own. It’s not to say that we don’t recognize when others are suffering, or when they’re tired, stressed, broken. But since we cannot experience their pain and can only experience ours, it’s hard for us to recognize similar levels of discomfort in others. Our pain looks worse because it belongs to us.

I was riding with a friend one time who I swear never gets tired. We finish a climb, he’s ready for a sprint. We sprint, he’s barely breathing hard. I was thinking “Damn, I just can’t keep up!” And he said something that was pretty interesting: he said he’s in pain, too. He’s suffering on the climbs, and he’s breathing hard on the sprints. But he just doesn’t show it.

That leads us to the second thing that happens when you’re tired: that age-old aphorism of “misery loves company” is exemplified on a ride. It’s not that we want our fellow riders to suffer. But when we see them hurting to crest a long climb just like we’re hurting, it validates our efforts. “Man, this is a big hill, and I’m beat, but look at her, she’s tired as well. And hey, so is he. So maybe this really is a big hill, and I’m doing okay.”

Remember: perception is reality. If you perceive others as being tired when you’re tired, then you’re on “equal footing”, so-to-speak. Both efforts have lead to the same result. But if someone doesn’t show they’re tired, if they downplay their efforts, then your efforts seem larger in contrast; your exhaustion becomes more pronounced in comparison. This works the other way as well – if you hide that you’re tired when someone else is breathing hard, it can make them feel even more tired. Probably a good racing tactic, come to think of it.

So the next time you look at someone and think “Why aren’t they tired?!?! I must suck.” Sit back and give yourself a break. They burned calories and spent energy on that climb or that sprint as well. They just might have a better poker face is all. Know that at some point their legs feel crampy, their butts are sore, their arms are tired, and their neck wants to collapse. Everybody hurts… whether they show it or not.