Mentally managing intense suffering

I have done a few workouts recently in my plan called Red Lake +8 and Raymond +7 and these workouts are excruciating and test your toughness. They are workouts in mid-Volume Sustained Build. The suffering is very intense for me, especially during the last couple intervals and it’s mostly mental.

I find that having an approach to mentally manage the suffering is key. If I watch the interval time for example, it’s so discouraging that I’m more likely to crack. For me, I seem to gut it out best if I close my eyes the whole interval and listen to inspiring music. I will know how long the track is so I can gauge how close I am to finishing the interval based on where I’m at in the song. It’s such an incredible feeling to survive these types of intervals when you would have never thought you would be able to at the beginning of the interval.

Interested in hearing approaches others take to manage the suffering during the darkest moments of really tough intervals.


I sometimes count pedal revolutions… I think it’s a hang over from my running days when I’d always count footstrikes in races >10km or on longer intervals.

I also play little tricks like counting to 100 on the left leg (knowing that my cadence is, say 90), then zone out/change position before starting the count to 100 on the right leg such that I feel like I’ve only done 2min of the interval but actually it’s more like 2:20 or so :slight_smile:

Good luck with your suffering!


Yeah, can relate to the feeling of satisfaction! :100:

On a productivity and efficiency level, do whatever you can to reduce the RPE. Music is good start. Caffeine, group workouts and fuelling with carbs work too.

Regarding mental strategies, I like turning my attention to various places around my body to see what it feels like and check that my form is still strong. Another form of distraction, I guess, but it feels like I’m doing something productive.


When you look through this plan, you realise that these are just ‘tasters’ for what’s to come…

I never look at the timer, regardless of the interval length. It would grind me down. I prefer to mentally put myself in a situation. For long Supra efforts I imagine I’m trying to breakaway from the group. Visualising the course really does help me get through.


Music and old race numbers on the wall.


Yup. When things get tough, the last thing I want to do is look at my interval timer.

I play stupid mind games with myself and say I’ll let myself look at the timer when a certain event happens or a character appears in whatever movie or show I’m watching. Then when things get really really hard, all that is out the window and I just stare straight ahead at the wall and focus solely on the rhythm of my breathing (mad panting?).

When I used to run a lot, I did both of these things on the TM and I found them pretty helpful at distraction. I’ve carried it over to the trainer and they help. I also run Zwift and do my TR workouts in Zwift and that helps a bit.


Sometimes when things getting really tough I feel I perform better with as little additional noise as possible (music etc.). Sometimes it feels like that is distracting me and I can’t focus on the work ahead of me.

I am a “clock watcher” though and find that trying to break intervals down into 2 minute chunks helps for me. Not sure if it was said on a podcast or its from TR workout text but the phrase “anyone can do anything for 2 minutes right?” always replays in my mind and it gets me through.

Its fascinating all the little things and different approaches individuals take just to get ourselves through the suffering :slight_smile:

Even before it starts I play the mental games. the first and last intervals are for free (the easiest), therefore Red Lake+8 only has 3 that are hard. :smile:

The first 2 mns are “settling in”, therefore the intervals are only 4 mins :smile:


Apply Rule #5



Visualisation does it for me. Sometimes during long SS efforts I’ll imagine I’m at a certain part of a TT course then realise I’m doing 10-15w above target and have to back off.

For suprathreshold efforts, make sure your playlist is on point – every track hand picked, save your best for when it’s toughest. For me, Foo Fighters The Pretender is perfect.

Other than that I focus on getting my power as close to target power as possible (dumb turbo). Going 10w above during SS is fine. But when you’re working at 108% FTP, those extra watts will make you pay later on.

I have two.

  1. I don’t always relate to the TR instructional text, but I find VO2 stuff to be very supportive of REALLY breaking it down into 5 or 10secon intervals. A minute when you’re dying feels impossible, but 10s when you’re dying actually goes by quite quickly (at least for me, because I can’t focus). It’s all about breaking it down into small chunks.

  2. This one sounds a bit woo-y, but I really try to get ‘out’ of myself and sort of self-analyze what I’m feeling. Like, yes I’m breathing crazy hard, and yes my legs are on fire, but how bad does it hurt, really? Compared to the real injuries I’ve had? Almost nothing. And then when you’re done, 30s later you basically feel fine. I actually find this tactic even more useful in threshold stuff. Threshold can feel very grinding, but when you really break it down and compare it (to things like VO2,) you’re like, “Oh, this is actually barely anything.”

And then a little bonus tip, the ramp test should have taught you the difference between pulling the cord when you have a choice and when you don’t. If you truly go deep enough, there is no ‘choice’ in stopping at all. Put another way: If you’re unsure of whether you can continue or not, you definitely can.


Well…for one thing I’d stop with the doomsday like self talk. You’re riding a bike indoors so you can ride a bike outdoors better. Not actually suffering through something like a close relatives decline into Alzheimer’s.

Red Lake +8 has an IF of .85
Raymond is at .87

Hardly workouts that should come with the descriptors you’ve used above.

You got the uplifting music part right. Try videos as well. Watch VdP in the last few minutes of Amstel or other exciting finishes. Match your favorite segment by interval length and instead of imagining you’re “suffering” some “dark moment” imagine that you’re cresting the local 5 minute climb and you’re beating a PR you set 10 years ago or that if you concentrate and finish strong you get the KOM.

It’s bikes, like when we were kids. Not a non-tank supported fire team rush across The Fulda Gap.


I find suffering easiest when chasing (or occasionally breaking away from!) others. Most of my power PRs and climb segment PRs have come from races or group rides where I’m not even really thinking about the suffering because I’m so immersed in what’s happening around me and trying to hang onto a wheel.

So for the really hard intervals I try and visualise those race situations to help me get through them. Good music can help. If it’s longer threshold or SS intervals where it’s more about mental toughness than really intense suffering I prefer to just mentally tune out by watching Netflix or maybe listening to a podcast.


lolwat :rofl:

Red Lake +8 has a 15-minute 65% stretch at the end. It’s great that you’ve done both workouts (right?) without suffering, but that is not the standard experience, heh.

I mean I wasn’t doing 4x5 and 5x6 at 108% when I was a kid myself, but I’m glad your experience has set you up for such success!


(Disclaimer: This may be very n=1, and ymmv, but I’ve been thinking about this question a lot over the last couple of years)

I’ve found that the last thing I find helpful is anything that will “romanticize” the effort in a hard workout. It’s one of the reasons that Sufferfest has never really worked for me: that combination patronizing aggrandizement is just really, really demotivating for me. I have to turn off the notes on some of the TR workouts when they get a little too “peppy” just because it flips a switch in my head that, “Oh, right, I’m making a heroic effort right now!” that I don’t find helpful at all. If I wanted to hear “Good job!” every two minutes I’d sign up for a 10k.

What works for me is “normalizing” the suffering. When the TR crew were doing live FTP tests, someone pointed out that @ambermalika didn’t even look like she was hurting in the final couple of minutes of her test, and she replied “I have a pretty good game face.” That’s not something you’re born with–it’s a skill you develop.

So work on your game face. Relax your face. This will sound crazy, but try to actually force a smile. For me that actually drops my RPE a bit. Think about making an effort like this in a race with the hint of a smile on your face. Or on a long threshold effort with your riding buddies. Think about how demoralizing it’ll be for them. Then practice that as a skill.


I think @fet_och_gammal was just trying to establish a different perspective. I didn’t do 4x5s at 108% as a kid, but for most of us this is a hobby and there are not going to be extreme consequences for not completing an interval or workout. No one is forcing people to do these workouts and if those descriptors are accurate, maybe a different perspective or pursuing a hobby other than cycling would be beneficial.

Feeling that way about a workout seems like a good path to burnout to me. Its a freakin’ hobby.


Pain is weakness leaving the body

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Totally agree. That kind of self talk is setting oneself up for failure. One of my beefs with endurance athletes is this ‘fetishization’ of suffering. It is not heroic, in and of itself it doesn’t make you a better person, its just self flagellation. I also find it interesting to frame a workout that way, I mean, its a totally voluntary hobby. If its really that bad, find a new hobby! Stop the workout!

I believe there are studies that document high-level athletes mostly associate with discomfort of their efforts, they don’t try to disassociate from it or ignore it, but they also don’t wallow in it. I specifically don’t use the words ‘pain’ and ‘suffering’ as I think those lead one to fetishizing suffering and wallowing in it in an unhealthy way. Its just discomfort that I can stop at any time by stopping pedaling, it is feedback from my body about the effort I am undergoing.

I recently finished reading ‘On Top of Your Game’ by Carrie Cheadle and think that is the best mental skills book I have read, better than the couple of others that are recommended on this site (that I have purchased and read.)


I do exactly the same using both those coping strategies - one caveat to anyone else considering using this, if the first “free” interval is really hard it can spell trouble!


I do watch the clock and feel the discouragement of it, and I experience the voice inside my head saying “I cant complete this”. Experiencing these things, then pushing through them, is part of mental training of toughness.

Don’t deny the difficulty, witness yourself overcoming it and know you can do it again.