The Thing About Demons
Tim Speciale - February 25, 2020
The thing about demons is that they never go away, no matter how much you try and bury them. I'm increasingly finding that the best way to handle pain isn't to distract myself from it, but to embrace it.
This is no place for fun
It’s February in Northern Illinois. There is snow on the ground outside and the roads are constantly covered in a thick paste of half-melted salty snow and dirt. There is no riding outside. But the season is on the horizon and there is work to be done. I’m in the basement of the crappy condo I rent. Water seeps in through cracks in the walls and floor. It’s dank. Next to me is a box of cat litter.
The workout isn’t that complicated or even that difficult. It’ll take about an hour and a half and consists of 3 seperate 15 minute intervals. Anything over 10 minutes is a struggle for me. My mind is weak and my strengths are in shorter efforts. This is why I’m doing this workout though.
I’m often asked by friends and family why I do it. Why would I spend so many hours training for races that no one sees? How can I justify the time? How do I have the discipline to put myself through these painful workouts? We all have our reasons but mine are my demons.
Bury the pain
Your legs are burning? You can’t breath? You can’t finish this interval? Of course you can’t. That’s what they all think of you. Prove them wrong.
The more I focused on the things I didn’t like about myself or my life, the deeper I was able to go. The pain – in my chest, and my lungs, and every limb on my body as the lactic flooded my blood – became desirable. At least I was feeling something.
The need for distraction
At a race in Galena in 2011 or so, I had to share a hotel room with Wayne. As we were going to bed, I put my headphones on and to fall asleep to a podcast, as I had always done. He looked at me baffled.
Oh. I get it. You can’t turn your mind off.-Wayne
He was right. If left to its own accord, my brain wanders from thought to thought. Hyper responsive to the loudest stimulus. This is why I trained with absurdly loud music, and why I thought of people that I thought slighted me. The distractions that I focused on instead of the pain of the work were negative, but it worked. For a while at least.
Part of my whole shtick, internally at least, was predicated on things I went through as a kid. Cycling forced me to find grit. My former life – a series of unfortunate events and circumstances in my youth – served as the foundation of a callus that had yet to form. The more I worked, the thicker the callus grew. A 15 minute interval pales in the difficulty of being a 10 year old talking police officers through handling my psychotic and addicted brother 4 hours after enjoying recess on a random tuesday.
The circumstances in my youth were issues out of my control and of no fault of my own. In 2012 I found myself in the depth of one of the darker episodes of my life. My ego was shattered and the path I saw in front of me was proven to be a fallacy. Everything I thought was good and mattered was erased. In the following year I was forced to recover mentally. I give cycling a lot of credit for getting through this. Directly in the sense that I found a new team, new friends, and new purpose, and indirectly by relying on the callus I was forming through racing.
At the end of it, I was a more secure individual. I found it increasingly difficult to care about the issues that helped hide the physical pain of training. My racing suffered.
The thing about demons
The thing about demons is that they never go away, no matter how much you try and bury them. I’m increasingly finding that the best way to handle pain isn’t to distract myself from it, but to embrace it. You must look it right in the face and recognize that it will only defeat you if you let it. In my past life, the best training sessions correlated to when I was angriest. Today, the best training sessions are the ones in which I’m the most calm and welcoming of the pain. Embrace the pain.