Willingness To Suffer Training: Part I

I’ve made a major discovery. The evidence has been there for years, but I finally put the puzzle pieces together as I started writing this article. My intent was to write about how tough our last weekend of training was, how hard we had to try (boo hoo), what we learned from it, and so on and so forth. But then, mid-sentence, I realized this:

Humans have four major muscles groups.

Wait…what? That’s nuts.

But really. Hear me out.

The four major muscle groups are:

  • Physical Muscles: The most well-known, these muscles move your body and can transport you over mountains, through valleys, and across finish lines.
  • Willingness to Suffer Muscles: When working towards a goal, these muscles convince you to put one foot in front of the other – no matter how badly you want to stop – until the job is done.
  • Good Judgment Muscles: These work alongside the Willingness to Suffer Muscles to help you gauge the appropriate level of risk to take. They help you determine when it’s time to push harder, and when you need to pull back to avoid serious consequences.
  • Friendship Muscles: These muscles counteract your ego by overcoming your desire to focus on you, and instead work to support, encourage and inspire others.

Until this past weekend, our Ironman training has been focused primarily on the first muscle group: Physical Muscles. We’ve gained strength, technique, endurance and confidence.

Last weekend we unknowingly transitioned into the “Willingness to Suffer” phase of our training plan. It was a shock to my system. I didn’t recognize what was happening, and I felt personally offended by the fact that the training got really hard, really fast, and I didn’t see it coming.

But now it all makes sense! If you’re training for a race or adventure that really challenges you, your training plan shouldn’t focus exclusively on strengthening your Physical Muscles. Instead, it should challenge and strengthen all four muscle groups, preparing you to overcome any physical or mental obstacle that may arise.

What “Willingness to Suffer Training” looks like
The correlation between one’s willingness to suffer and his or her likelihood to succeed has been broadly discussed (especially in the world of endurance sports). Until this weekend, however, I didn’t truly understand the concept. I’m now learning how far I’ll need to stretch my mental limits in order to achieve what I want to achieve.

So “Willingness to Suffer Training” has officially begun, and it looks like we’ll have about 3 back-to-back weekends of it before a brief reprieve. I’m hoping this training phase will help us increase our capacity for…well…being miserable.

Here’s what “Willingness to Suffer Training, Part I” looked like:


  • Training plan: 57-mile bike ride + 12-mile run (we cut the bike ride down from 90 miles when the unrelenting hills and heat got the best of us)
  • Summary: “Ugh! These hills suck! I’m too hot! I’m tired! I’m thirsty! How much farther? I hope I don’t run out of water soon. Eww! A bug just flew in my mouth! Can you believe I fell off my bike in front of those people?”


  • Training plan: 1.75-mile swim + 45-mile bike ride
  • Summary: “That swim wasn’t so bad! My butt hurts. I’m bored. What do you want to do after this? I’m bored. My butt hurts. Okay…that wasn’t so awful…but my butt hurts.”


  • Training plan: 11-mile run + 2.4-mile swim
  • Summary: “I hope it stops raining soon. Man, my legs are tired! Do your joints hurt? My joints hurt. Ooo, snack time! Clif Bar! Woohoo! Ugh, now I’m tired again. Why were you swimming faster that me? Were you trying to lap me? How rude. Oh…you weren’t trying to? I was just that slow?”

For any ultra-athletes out there, I won’t be offended if you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal? That’s like my typical mid-week workout schedule…maybe even easier.”

For me and Tyler, it was a wake-up call. Not a bad one – just a reality check reminding us that we’re going to need a lot of grit to get through the next 2.5 months of training (and the Ironman itself, of course).

A closing thought: “Suffering” is a relative term. I choose to train hard and push myself to my mental and physical limits because it makes me stronger. In writing this article, I realize how lucky I am to live a happy, safe, and comfortable life where my version of suffering occurs as a result of following my dreams. I’m grateful to have these opportunities and to have someone to share them with, and I’m thankful that suffering isn’t an inevitable part of my everyday life. Just wanted to share that!

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