"You...have...got...to...be...kidding...me!!" Those were my first thoughts looking at a recent training plan from my cycling coach. (Yes, I now have a coach who's providing me with customized workouts based on my goals, which are fairly humble: to turn back time, prevent aging, and stave off midlife.) My coach is pushing me into harder workout zones, helping me notch up my functional threshold power (that elusive, theoretical number that estimates what kind of wattage you could put out for an uninterrupted hour of pain on the bike). His alchemy for structuring these workouts astounds me: he pushes me just to my breaking point and then backs off with a rest day. Each week he increases my workload, in terms of hours, intensity and duration of intervals, etc, and then allows me rest, cementing my gains and getting me ready for the next training phase. After a month of hard workouts, he builds in a week of recovery and regeneration.
This particular workout was open-ended. He wanted me to climb a canyon in a wattage range that I would find challenging for 20-30 minutes. But this sustained climb, by my estimate, under the best conditions, would take me 90-120 minutes! What the heck?! Yet, with my Teutonic genes, I submitted to his coachly authority and undertook the assignment. It nearly killed me! I blew up after about 35 minutes. Each time he pushes me like this, I face obstacles I never thought possible. And this particular one, was, in fact, impossible. But I later found out he was testing me to see what I could do in that particular week of heavy training. I learned much about my body and its limits (as well as my propensity to mutter under duress).
"No pain, no gain." We've all heard that before. To a large extent, especially considering the distinction between good pain and bad pain, this adage is true. Good pain forces us to grow and adapt. In the hands of an experienced coach who knows us and cares for us, good pain makes us stronger and better. Good pain stretches us and, with proper rest and recovery, good pain takes us to another level of performance. (Bad pain, by contrast, is the result of overdoing it without a plan or can come under the auspices of someone who doesn't know us, know what they're doing, or particularly care. Bad pain tears us down; good pain builds us up.)
I'm learning much about spiritual formation as I pursue this training on the bike. I am realizing how beneficial it can be to have a coach who cares about us and accompanies us in a challenging period of growth. I'm realizing that we can't expect to grow without being pushed--sometimes to our limit. I'm also realizing that pain, in the hands of Someone wise and thoughtful, can be used to develop us into people we never thought we could be.
My cycling coach is trained, experienced, and knowledgable. His workout plans are tailor-made for me. His communication via email is compassionate and encouraging. He often ends his notes with, "The main thing is to be sure to have fun!" That particular day, I felt like saying, "Yeah, right."
But I got through that day and that week. In fact, the very next day, with another challenging climbing assignment, I actually felt better. Nietzsche, that very non-Christian philosopher, was once reported to say, "That which doesn't kill us only makes us stronger." Without buying into his philosophy, I think he was on to something. Under God's gracious care, the discipline that life doles out, while seeming painful at the time, can often yield fruit we never thought possible. So, hang in there, people. And keep on pedaling.