I signed up for a Sufferfest this year. A moment of weakness, a compelling (but probably very bad) idea, a challenge issued, and a handshake agreement. I’m committed.
A friend Andrew and some cycling buddies of his have an annual ritual. They meet up in some Interior BC city on the May Long Weekend, and spend three days riding bicycles long distances over high mountain passes. I saw pictures of last year’s cold and rainy event: it was a Sufferfest.
This year’s plan is no less suffer-worthy, but includes some roads I have never ridden, hence my being compelled to contemplate perhaps taking part. Then the shocking realization came in.
Day 1: (185km) Vernon to Merritt via Kelowna, 97C and the Pennask Summit.
Day 2: (165km) Merritt to Sorrento, via Kamloops, Highway 5 and the Surrey Lake Summit.
Day 3: (140km) Sorrento to Vernon, via Sicamous.
This will be done on bicycles, as fast as possible. Rain or shine, perhaps snow. Suffering encouraged.
The reason I bring this up is that it is creating a lot of discussion among my
drinking buddies usual life advisers around techniques to reduce the level of suffering, and much of this discussion is getting very metaphysical. To wit:
Andrew’s advice is to “train”. Aside from the issue of whether I should take any more advice from the guy who got me into this in the first place, the idea of “training” is sort of antithetical to the way I ride bikes. Even in the old days when I used to race bikes, I didn’t train so much as I just went for a lot of long bike rides and more than a few fast bike rides. Intervals? Speed work? Spinning? Not so much. I love to ride, and training was just an excuse to ride more, why reduce the fun of the riding by introducing “training” to the mix? This is perhaps why I generally failed to win races.
I got to thinking, at the meta level, if to train is to suffer, then one has to decide if more suffering is the best approach to reducing suffering. You see, the Sufferfest is going to invoke suffering no matter what I do between then and now. The scale (both depth and breadth) of the suffering will be reduced by filling the intervening time with training, which is programmed lesser suffering to reduce the eventual event suffering.
But how much pre-suffering is necessary to meaningfully reduce the event suffering? Or more important, how does one reduce the net suffering. If one was to graph the suffering over time, you would get something like this:
Since the front part of the curve (training-induced suffering) effects the back part of the curve (Sufferfest suffering), I need some way to reduce the total suffering, which in this case is represented by the shaded area under the curve. I need to find the smallest possible value for that area. That way, I can assure I don’t waste early suffering that will not impact late suffering: I need to find the suffer-minima. I knew I should have paid more attention in college, because this is going to take some intregal calculus.
Then it occurred to me that this may not help me, because the person who has to worry about that is Future Pat. The suffering of Future Pat really shouldn’t be the concern of me, Present Pat. I am already dealing with all the bad decisions made by Past Pat, who not only got me into the terrible shape I am right now by blithely ignoring his bikes for a couple of months, then making some sort of deal with Andrew that has me in my current situation. Past Pat is a real jerk that way, never thinking of others.
This is the same Past Pat, I remind you, who constantly failed to study adequately for calculus exams, dooming Future Pat to marks not befitting the stress induced. I’m afraid he has left me with little choice. Already carrying the load of Past Pat, I’m in no position to be taking yet another Pat under my wing, Future Pat is on his own.
Future Pat is going to suffer the May Long Weekend, the poor bastard. Glad I’m not him.