At a brief interlude between two books, I found myself flipping through my always-handy copy of Cycling Science . While trying to read this book through like a novel is difficult, it’s the most extensive single volume of cycling knowledge I’ve ever seen and an incredibly useful reference text if you have a curiosity about the science behind cycling. The chapter of interest this afternoon was on motivation and confidence. What really caught my attention was the concept of The Grind.
What is ‘The Grind’?
Anyone who’s halfway serious about improving their cycling performance – or performance in any endurance sport, for that matter – has likely tried to follow a structured training plan at some point. And, inevitably, at some point in the training plan you just don’t feel like doing the training you’ve set out. The bed, couch, or local group ride just seems like a much more appealing alternative than the long solitary hours on the bike doing intervals. This decision, to keep pushing yourself forward despite more attractive alternatives, is The Grind.
The Grind can also be seen at a more microscopic scale within the scope of a single ride. You’ve been out on the bike for however many hours with still more to go. You’re tired, hungry, and would rather call it a day. But you keep on pushing through the discomfort. This is also The Grind.
How does this help?
A rare few actually like The Grind. Most of us tolerate it as part of the sport. Sometimes The Grind wins and we end our ride early, sometimes we push through, but every time we’re faced with that decision, that is key moment where we decide if we’re going to get stronger or accept the level we’re at. By choosing to continue through the discomfort, you push yourself farther than you have before, bringing not only more physiological adaptations but also raising the bar for discomfort that you can withstand just that little bit more. This extra mental and physical strength raises your performance as an athlete. But all of this should be obvious; the more pain you’re willing to endure, the greater the pay-off (to an extent). I’d argue that you encounter a similar Grind off the bike as well and learning to endure both Grinds has benefits across the board.
The Everyday Grind
It could be a string of difficult tasks or situations at work or school, long and tiring hours driving somewhere, or just a lot of stuff that needs to get done at home, the Grind is very much prevalent in everyday life. The physical discomfort might be replaced with more mental discomfort, but you’re plagued with discomfort nonetheless. Learning to convince yourself to just keep pushing forward not only ensures that the situation is resolved, but it further strengthens you physically and mentally. The next time you’re in a similar trying situation you know that you’ve gotten through it before so you can do it again.
The strength built from pushing through extends beyond just encountering the same situation again, but rather influences your physical and mental resolve when you find yourself in any seemingly-unending discomforting situation. This is the key connection to make. By enduring long, unpleasant hours on the bike, your patience and mental resolve is strengthened so that the next time you need to work long hours, it’s mentally that little bit easier. The converse is true as well. By enduring long, unpleasant hours working/driving/doing chores, your patience and mental resolve is strengthened so that the next time you need to grind out long hours on the bike, it’s mentally that little bit easier.
I see this as a way to get faster and stronger for free. If your priorities are such that you aren’t riding your bike or training a whole lot, that doesn’t mean you can’t become a better athlete at the same time. Whatever it is that’s demanding your attention instead is helping to strengthen your mental resolve so that when you do get back to riding or training, you can push yourself just that much longer.
Helping push through The Grind
There’s plenty of advice and wisdom out there for dealing with long, stressful situations, but here are a few more tricks that I find particularly helpful:
- Chunk it down. Break the task into smaller and smaller pieces until its mentally digestible. Take Everesting for example: thinking about doing 23 25 minutes hill reps is incredibly daunting. Doing three or four or five is manageable, so focus on that chunk first.
- Reward yourself on the way and follow through. Sometimes a little extrinsic motivation is helpful along the way. Promise yourself a reward after a chunk and actually deliver on it. If you wouldn’t lie to or cheat other people, why would you lie to or cheat yourself?
- Adjust your performance expectations. When you’re deep in The Grind, you’re far from fresh. The standard you hold yourself to should adjust accordingly.
- Think of the end goal, not the process. There’s a reason you’ve gotten yourself into the situation you’re in. Keeping the end goal in mind can help to motivate you without getting discouraged by all the work that’s left to do.
If you’ve read this far, I hope this has been helpful for you. If you take away only one thing from this, let it be: while it’s not always about the destination but rather the journey, sometimes the journey is unpleasant, but you’ll be better off for pushing through that unpleasantness.
Cheers and Ride On!