Theory of TPL Revisited

I recently put together some examples of my creative writing and I decided to use something off this blog, since I’ve not been doing a whole lot of writing that I’m not too embarrassed to share. So I used “The Theory of TPL” entry from May. I’ve revised it a little and tightened it up. It still could use more work, but I’m hitting a deadline. I thought I would share my changes with my loyal readers… So here it is. Let me know what you think:

The Theory of TPL

When I did the MS 150 ride in 2001—the year my husband died—I had a lot of time on the road to think to myself. Especially since I was riding a mountain bike (those were my simple, slower days). During the ride, I was thinking about the course of my life. My husband had only died two months earlier and I was trying to put my life in context. What would I do now? Where would I go? How was going to continue my life without him now that we’d made so many plans? It’s on this ride that I invented the theory of TPL.

TPL is “Tolerant Pain Level.” For me, riding a bike long distances has always been about finding that level of physical pain that just hurts enough to push me onwards, but isn’t so painful that it overwhelms me. You can deal with intense pain in little spurts—fast sprints to catch up with a group or to climb up the last few meters
of a hill. But sustained for a long period of time, intense pain will cause you to burn out too quickly. So you have to find that level just on the edge between being uncomfortable and outright suffering. If you are too comfortable, you will run out of time before you reach your goal; if suffering too much, you’ll wear out and have to quit. I hate quitting.

I learned this principle of suffering early on when I started climbing mountains with my husband. I have always been good at budgeting pain, conserving my energy, and keeping myself going at all costs to complete a chosen goal. It’s my strength. It always has been. I’ve joked with my friends that I excel at suffering. It is my talent. And it’s a good thing it is. Otherwise, I would never have made it through the roughest times in my life. I’d have given up before I could even see the goal.

As I was riding the MS 150 that day, I started to realize that the principles of TPL could be applied to dealing with life. Anyone can coast the downhill parts—the rare moments of elation, the longer stretches of contentment, the ease of recognition after an accomplishment. It’s those other parts of life that take a determined toughness to push through—working towards goals, struggling to keep yourself afloat financially, making a small spot for yourself in the world, managing the loneliness and sadness of watching loved ones die.

The loss of the only person in your life who really knew you almost better than you knew yourself, the one person who completed you; the emptiness; the struggle to rediscover yourself in the face of that tragedy. To survive these things and live again, you have to take the pain thrown at you and parse it into tiny bits you can handle: discover your own tolerant pain level and manage it.

I am trying not to make this another young punk’s melodramatic “life sucks” blog. So bear with me a minute because there’s a happy ending here (which, if you know me, you would think is a major breakthrough). Because, you see, I had an epiphany and it only fully hit me recently. For the last several years, I’ve tried everything I could to ease the pain of losing my husband. Most of this involved a lot of running. I ran to Colorado, thinking a different location (albeit my dream location) would change my frame of mind. The problem with that was Colorado was our dream, not my dream. It could only have worked with the both of us. I had to make new dreams and find myself again.

Not everything in life is a mistake, though. In Colorado, my passion for cycling was ignited. Because it was a bike-friendly state, I found myself becoming more and more involved with cycling. I started riding three days a week to work (twenty miles each way). I did the Great West MS 150, which I always say was like the Tour de France—straight through the mountains, several hours up passes only to zip down them in twenty minutes (at 40+ miles per hour). I am proud to say that I did complete the entire first day’s 75 miles, and on a road hybrid bike. I only made 45 miles of the second day, as my legs were shot from the previous day of climbing. However, throughout this entire torturous venture, I gained a confidence in myself I didn’t have before, and I rediscovered the elation I feel in the suffering of a strenuous ride. It gave me a place on which to focus all of the mental anguish, anger, and frustration I was feeling. While I was riding, I only felt the physical pain, for I had little thought to spare for the mental. By the end of the ride, all the endorphins running around in my brain prevented me from feeling anything other than pride for what I’d accomplished and relief from the physical pain.

Cycling still gives me focus. Whenever I am feeling all the highs and lows of life, I have the desire to ride. If I am anxious about something, I ride; if I am upset about something, I ride; if I am exhilarated and inspired by a beautiful summer’s day, I ride. Any anxiety, upset, depression—these all get worked out on the ride. In fact, I tend to ride harder on these days, pedaling until all I feel is the physical pain. Any joy I feel gets pushed to even higher levels when I ride. It is my drug

Years and years of trying to find the one sport I could do without looking awkward and I’ve finally found it. This is something I’m good at. And I’m good at it because I don’t need to compete with anyone else but myself. The ride is all about celebrating life, feeling the emotional ups and downs with the very physical stress of driving my legs at a pace that is just between uncomfortable and suffering, matching my emotional TPL with my physical, and working it all out in the ride.

As time passes when you’re riding, you can feel your TPL increase (and this happens yearly because you always have that winter haul of not riding). I’ve learned that I can take on more emotionally, too, when I’ve taken on a little more than I thought I could handle. I’m not saying widowhood is surmountable; it was the single most horrible event to happen in my life. I am often sure I couldn’t handle such a thing again (though many people would disagree with me after reading this). I’ve merely found a way to cope with what I feel now. For the first time in years, I’m starting to feel alive again. And that’s saying a lot. I haven’t felt—really felt—in a long time. But my body is defrosting and I’m thawing in the heat of the summer. I can smell the breeze, hear the birds, and see the sun glinting through the trees. I can survive. It
took me six years to get here.

I really feel like I’m coming out of a long hibernation. I’m sure I’m still going to have those moments all my friends know so well—those times when I miss my husband still so much that it physically burns like a laceration in my heart. Who wouldn’t? He was a wonderful man and I will never meet another like him. Those who have touched our lives never leave us, not really. They always own a piece of your heart that no one else can possess. No one can judge me for this. It was a rough winter, but I’m working really hard to appreciate the spring. I’m managing my pain and finding a
new strength in it through cycling. I’ve found my TPL.

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The Theory of TPL

When I did the MS 150 ride in 2001 — the year my husband died — I had a lot of time on the road to think to myself. Especially since I was riding a mountain bike (those were my simple, slower days). During the ride, I was thinking about a lot of things, of course. My husband had only died 2 months earlier, and I was trying to put my life in context. (Little did I know, I still had a good load of grieving to deal with.) It’s on this ride that I invented the theory of TPL.

TPL is “Tolerant Pain Level.” You see, riding a bike in long distance rides, for me, has always been about finding that level of physical pain that just hurts enough to feel, but doesn’t overwhelm you. When the pain overwhelms you, you will give up. You can deal with overwhelming pain in little spirts — fast sprints to catch up with the crowd or to get back some speed you lost in a weak moment climbing a hill. But sustained for a long period of time, the pain will become too much and overwhelm you. So you have to find that level just on the edge, between being uncomfortable and outright suffering. You cant let yourself be too comfortable, or else you will never get anywhere. And you cant let yourself suffer too much, or you’ll wear out.

I learned this principle of suffering early on when I started climbing mountains with my husband. I may have learned it even earlier on in my life when hiking with my Uncle Mart in California (my Uncle Mart, affectionately nicknamed by me as “Uncle K-Mart”, was the one who introduced me to outdoor pursuits). Regardless, I’d done enough endurance sports by this point in my life that I had it figured out. I have always been good at budgeting my pain, conserving my energy, and keeping myself going at all costs. It’s my strength. It always has been.

I’ve joked with my friends that I excel at suffering, that it is my talent. If you know me, I’m not being overly melodramatic… just kind of ironic… Because it’s true… It is my talent. And it’s a good thing it is. It’s what got me through the roughest times in my life.

As I was riding the MS 150 that day, I started to realize that the principles of TPL could be applied to dealing with life’s rough spots… Anyone can coast the downhill parts — the rare moments of elation, the longer stretches of contentment. Those other parts, however — the struggling to keep yourself afloat financially, socially, mentally; all the hard work it takes to better yourself, to work towards a goal, make a small spot for yourself in the world; the loneliness and sadness of watching loved ones around you disappear and being unable to control it. Losing the only person in your life who really knew you almost better than you knew yourself, the one person who completed you. The emptiness. The struggle to rediscover yourself in the face of that tragedy. All of these are things that require you to take the loads of pain thrown at you and parse them into bits you can handle… to discover your own tolerant pain level and manage it. That is how I survived.

I am trying not to make this another young punk’s melodramatic “life sucks” blog. So bear with me a minute because there’s a happy ending here (which, if you know me, you would think must be a major breakthrough). Because, you see, I had an epiphany and it only fully hit me recently (prompting me to create this blog). For the last several years, I’ve tried everything I could to ease the pain of loss. Most of this involved a lot of running. I ran to Colorado, thinking a different location (albeit my dream location) would change my frame of mind. The problem was, that was our dream, not my dream. It could only have worked with the both of us. I had to make new dreams and find myself again. But all I knew how to do back then was run.

Not everything in life is a mistake, though. In Colorado, my passion for cycling was ignited. Because it was a bike-friendly state (and just about any outdoor sport-friendly state), I found myself becoming more and more involved with riding. I started riding three days a week to work (which was 20 miles each way). I did the Great West MS 150 (which I always say was like the Tour de France — straight through the mountains, several hours up slopes only to zip down them in 20 minutes at 40 miles per hour). I am proud to say that I did complete the entire first day’s 75 miles, and on a road hybrid (Trek 7500Fx). I only made 45 miles of the second day, as my legs were shot… But, the point is, throughout this entire tortorous venture, I gained a confidence in myself I didnt have before… and I discovered that I enjoyed the suffering of a strenuous ride. It gave me somewhere to focus all of the mental anguish, anger, and frustration I was feeling. While I was riding, I only felt the physical pain, for I had little thought to spare for the mental. By the end of the ride, all the endorphins running around in my brain prevented me from feeling anything other than pride for what I’d accomplished and joy over the relief from the physical pain.

Cycling still gives me focus. Whenever I am feeling all the highs and lows of life, and they are getting to me, I have the desire to ride. If I am anxious about something, I ride; if I am upset about something, I ride; if I am feeling inexplicable joy in appreciation of a beautiful summer’s day, I ride. The anxiety, the upset, the depression all get worked out on the ride (and I tend to ride harder on these days, pedaling until all I feel is the physical pain). The joy gets pushed to even higher levels when I ride. It is, as I said in my summary of the blog, my drug.

Years and years of trying to find the one sport I could do without looking awkward and I’ve finally found it. This is something I’m good at. And I’m good at it because I dont need to compete with anyone else but myself. The ride is all about celebrating life, feeling the emotional ups and downs with the very physical stress of driving my legs at a pace that is just between uncomfortable and suffering… matching my emotional TPL with my physical… working it all out in the ride.

As time passes when you’re riding, you can watch your TPL increase (and this happens yearly because you always have that winter haul of not riding). I’ve learned that I can take on more emotionally, too, when I’ve taken on a little more than I thought I could handle. I’m not saying widowhood is surmountable; it was the single most horrible thing to happen to me in my life. I am often sure I couldnt handle such a thing again (of course, as you read this, you’re probably saying, “Oh, Mars Girl, from what you’ve said, I think you can.” But it’s hard for me to imagine.) I’ve merely found a way to cope with what I feel now. Strangely, for the first time in years, I’m starting to feel alive again. And that’s saying a lot. I havent felt — really felt — in a long time. But my body is defrosting and I’m coming back into the summer light. I can smell the breeze, hear the birds, see the sun glinting through the trees. I can survive. It took me six years to get here.

Maybe I just have spring fever. I really feel like I’m coming out of a hibernation. I’m sure I’m still going to have those moments all my friends know so well… those times when I miss my husband still so much that it hurts… But who wouldnt? He was a wonderful man… and those who have touched our lives never leave us, really. They always own a piece of your heart that no one else can possess. I shouldnt be judged for this. It was a rough winter, but I’m working really hard… I’m managing my pain and finding a new strength in it through cycling.

TPL. It’s the secret to endurance.