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.