Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Spun out

You can always tell when Geoff or I are injured or burnt out, because those are the only reasons my road bike ends up mounted on an ancient magnetic trainer in the front room. It just sits there, propped on stacks of flattened USPS boxes, gathering dust as rain and sleet pound the front window and Geoff’s disassembled car racks crowd in like bars in a jail cell. Roadie on the trainer has become a depressing sight to me.

I set it up when the weather or trail conditions have become too much for me. I ride it for a day, and it reminds me how wonderful blowing snow and cantaloupe-sized ice chunks can really be. But when I set it up today, it was under doctor’s orders. It felt less defeatist and more purposeful. I started one of two DVDs I own - and have seen about 20 times - and set into easy spinning.

I didn’t feel any knee pain. I didn’t feel normal ... but no pain. The feeling was more akin to a slightly dislocated joint that was looking for its proper place. I planned to ride for an hour, and every 10 minutes I increased the resistance. At minute 52, a voice in my head started saying, “Please stop. Please just stop.” I was confused. The strange feeling was still there, but no pain yet. “Please stop,” it said again. So I listened. I jumped off the bike with 8 minutes to go. A few hours have gone by since. I have the same generally-improving stiffness I’ve had for weeks, but still no pain. I’m beginning to think I really am crazy.

The problem is, I don’t know if that voice spoke up because I was bored, or if it was protesting some inner trauma that I didn’t ever consciously connect to. I have never been very good at “listening” to my body. In many ways, I can’t even hear it most of the time. I actually believe that’s one of my assets, considering the sport I’m most interested in is endurance cycling. I’m not exceptionally strong or physically talented like Geoff. If I ever measured my VO2 max, it would probably be right around average. I’ve never been adept at muscle building, and my balance and hand-eye coordination are both atrocious. All of these attributes scream “NOT AN ATHLETE.” But when I get on a bicycle, I shift my body into neutral and turn my willpower on overdrive. Then I let my mind do all of the heavy lifting. It tells my body to keep going, and my body listens. It assures my body it can go forever. It makes my body believe that. My body has never failed me.

Until now, maybe.

I try to shrug this whole knee thing off and believe it’s not a big deal - despite the daily complaints on my blog that may indicate otherwise. I guess the complaints are closer to my reality, though. It’s been hard for me. It hasn’t been that long, but I already feel like I have a swath of emptiness in my life where bicycling once was. I’ve heard recovering alcoholics use the same words to describe their addiction ... that there’s simply a hole there, and nothing is ever going to replace it. But the big difference between them and me is they’re doing everything to stay away from that hole, and I'm trying to get back in.

I think maybe it’s time to try again. Don’t worry - I’m not going to overdo it. I’ll take it slow. I won’t push through any pain at all. I’ll listen if my body says “Please stop,” even if it is just saying it because dagger-like sleet is falling from the sky and a 50 mph crosswind is threatening to pin me to the pavement. But I need to show my body who’s boss. And it’s about time it started listening again.


  1. I have to disagree, "listening to your body" is extremely important in endurance cycling, especially if you want to do well.

    You should learn to listen so you know when to back off just enough to prevent injury, when you have just a bit more to give, and how to tell the difference between drowsiness from not enough fuel vs drowsiness from too much fuel vs drowsiness from fatigue.

    Always listen to your body. The trick is figuring out what it is saying and what actions to take in response.

    The trainer might be boring, but the goal here it to prevent reinjury while recovering, no?


  2. You are very dedicated. I know for me, when I complete a 24 hours race or a multi-day ride, I enjoy letting the natural cycle of rest take over - time to do some different things for a bit - hike, go rock climb, do some reading, work on my photography, work on my relationship bust out maps and plan the next adventure. Knock on wood, but I've never gotten badly hurt either. Not saying one is better than another - just different strokes for different folks.

  3. ice. ice inbetween sets, ice after, ice before if your committed to ice, be committed to ice. did I mention ice. I actually have two gigantic ice packs that just get bitter cold in the freezer but oh do they slick up a bum joint really nice.

  4. Winter indoor riding can be a motivational challenge. I can ride about 10 minutes on a resistance trainer before I loose motivation. My suggestion is to give rollers a try. I have found that an hour on rollers is much easier mentally than 10 minutes on a trainer. Its fun and develops balance and smooth technique. Don’t quit, keep training, this injury too will pass.

  5. Hey, my knee hurts now. I think its your fault!

  6. I'm reading Bicycling Science (David Gordon Wilson, ISBN: 0-262-73154-1) at the moment and it has a chapter on how cyclists cool themselves.

    The author feels that current estimates on human power output while cycling are wrong because most of the testing has been done indoors on stationary bikes. My math isn't too good but from what I gather even at fairly slow speeds we loose a great deal of heat through self generated head wind.

    Indoors and stationary we overheat quickly and I think this is a big part of why people hate trainers. You simple can't ride as hard as you're used to and even at low efforts it's going to feel significantly different because of this difference in cooling.

    Hang in there and take your time, you will get better.

    Oh, and I highly recommend Bicycling Science. It has enough math and formulas to be real science but it isn't written like a text book, most of it is pretty easy to follow. It's also has practical stuff, for instance the author calculates when it's more efficient to get off and push on a hill.

  7. Indoors and stationary we overheat quickly and I think this is a big part of why people hate trainers. You simple can't ride as hard as you're used to and even at low efforts it's going to feel significantly different because of this difference in cooling.

    I think overheating is a big part of the dread, though for me it has to be just the sheer monotony as well, because I briefly used a trainer when I lived in Alaska, and even tho I did it in the garage where it was about forty degrees in winter, I still couldn't bear to stay on that thing for longer than an hour without feeling like I was going mad.

    It would be nice to find a trainer that converted your work into electrical power to drive a fan to keep you cool.

  8. I hear a voice telling me to stop riding the fluid trainer as, but its just laziness and boredom. I can ride a bike outside for hours, but 15mins on a trainer seems like an eternity....not sure why?

    Just take it easy and give your knee sometime it will sort itself out.


Feedback is always appreciated!