Being a cyclist means that we have to put up with pain, muscular pain, saddle pain, and the occasional fall pain. We accept that the only engine is us (all recent motor doping aside) and we have to push our bodies hard to achieve the speeds we want. Are we all sadists? Are we motivated by trying to keep up with the Joneses? (or hopefully beating them)
Physically, physically, physically fit
The pack speed raises toward the end of our weekly ride, we can almost smell the breakfast which is to come. We have just 10km to go but everyone is tired after a warm 100km’s. This is where we see who can push themselves, who is physically fit and who is mentally strong. We ride in single file as the pace rises. We take turns on the front and gauge how our control of the pace affects the riders behind us, if only we could see their faces perhaps we could judge the pain and therefore the amount left in their tank. Riders peel off the front and join the back for a rest but must be ready for the next push as at this speed it's easy to drop the wheel in front. At these times the will to continue is tested, you always have a choice to “drop” but do you push through the pain? Should you? Your legs are screaming but at what point do you give in. It's like some fun form of self-imposed torture.
Threshold for pain
People have different pain thresholds. Some riders stop well within their limits meaning that they do not damage their body but these riders sacrifice the speed that they are capable of attaining. Others can push through this mental barrier allowing them to continue as their legs scream for rest. These riders can be in danger of damaging their bodies through sheer strength of will. Often I see a rider who is more physically fit come in second place to a rider who can push themselves harder. I have been this rider many times and can't to access the will to fight through unless in an actual race. This mental strength makes a big difference but there is a very fine line between mental strength and physical damage.
Help at hand
For riders trying to get the best out of their bodies, a power meter is a good way to start. Using a power meter can be hard work though. Be prepared to study as you will need to understand how the meter records and displays your output. With the meter and understanding in place, you can begin to train to a planned power and duration. There are many different training plans available online or through cycling coaches and sites. Knowing your capacity can help with planning your attacks as you have some idea of how hard you can push and for how long. Hopefully allowing you to avoid injury.
I would recommend seeing a specialist for any injury that causes you undue pain whilst riding. This means any pain that isn't a normal part of cycling (sore muscles is normal!). Overly tight muscles can cause sprains, strains and even worse in the long term if they are not treated or stretched regularly. If something hurts that shouldn't, then trust your body and do something about it before your will to continue puts you off the road long term.