Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thinking about defiance

"As life gets longer, awful feels softer ... well, it feels pretty soft to me."
- Modest Mouse, "The View"

Today I walked out the front door with my snowshoes in my hands. I passed the row of pansies in my front yard, crossed a dry street strewn with Barbies and tricycles, and brushed a row of bushes now spiny with spring buds. Signs of summer are emerging everywhere ... cruise ships in the harbor; sightseeing buses streaming down the road; dogs prowling the yards; children's voices in the distance. I fought through a tangle of broken branches, wet roots and mud for a quarter mile. Then I strapped my snowshoes on. It may be the middle of May, but there is still enough snowpack for me to move freely across the soft surface of Douglas Island. I hiked for four hours, and then I went to work. I am happy to be back in Alaska.

I went a little higher, and a little longer, than I intended too. On the way home, I started to feel the usual downhill pangs in my knee. So I focused in, taking each step consciously and asking myself a question that has become almost a mantra - "How much does this really bother me?"

It's a valid question. How can I tell the difference between pain and what may be just a gut reaction to habit and precedence? My mom and I talked about my history of injury last week. Every time I bashed or bruised my knee as a kid, I was prone to hobbling around stiff-legged for days. She would eventually tell me to "just walk normal," and I'd usually protest. "But it hurts," I'd whine. "If you don't start using it, you won't know when it doesn't hurt," she'd say.

I decided before I went to Utah that if I had problems, or if any physical aspect of my vacation didn't go well in any way, that would be the reality check I'd need to turn to desperate measures - complete inactivity. No elliptical machine. No snowshoeing. Maybe I wouldn't even go swimming. Because, obviously, after three months, if those things hadn't worked, they weren't going to.

Well, the vacation didn't go well ... at least, not nearly as well as I hoped. I turned to face the reality of my decision, and met my own inevitable, whining protests ...

"At what point do you accept something as chronic and try to work around, rather than away, from it?"

"What if inactivity doesn't work? Better to be moving at 50 percent than not moving at all."

"How much does this really bother me?"

Maybe I can just decide that it doesn't. I'll just tell myself the little pangs and jolts don't bother me enough to stop. Cowboy up, so to speak, and get back on the bike where I'd like to be. I know I'm still prone to stiffening up after cycling, but that's really my biggest struggle. I made a mistake in Utah of the swift introduction of a 45-mile day after months of 0-mile days. But if I took it in slow doses - one 5-mile day, one day off, one 8-mile day, one day off, etc. ... Maybe that would work better than complete inactivity.

Because my alternative, truthfully, is returning to the binge cycle ... last week, several days of rest followed by a deluge of biking and backpacking; this week, several days of rest followed by a four-hour hike with way too much downhill. I'm like a dieter with boxes of brownies in the cupboard. And since I already know I can't resist, I might as well eat them one at a time.


  1. About a year ago, I fell off a boulder while hiking and messed up my shoulder pretty bad.

    It took 6 months of inactivity for it to stop hurting.

    If I were you, I'd take up sea kayaking, or anything that doesn't involve your knee for a few months and see if it gets better after that.

  2. Fight the urge to binge! I know it's been really rough on you. But I've made real progress with my slow but steady advance back. I'm increasing my mileage and intensity slowly and I'm finding that my knee's handling it well for the most part. I don't think you have it in you to do the "completely" inactive thing. Obviously, I don't either!!! So...you gotta be smart about that activity. Take it slow. Enjoy. Rest as hard as you train. All the stuff you know already! You've made strides...I think you;re just not seeing them.

  3. I injured a tendon on a new bike because of an incorrect setup and it took 6 weeks of total abstinence from the bike to heal.

    Personally I wouldn't listen to advice from internet folk. I would find a doctor or PT or chiropractor - somebody with medical training whom you trust and follow their advice to the letter. If they say only couch surfing for 6 months do it.

    Ultimately it is easy to think we are the exception to the rule, but if a medical professional [again that you trust] says it needs to be treated a certain way listen to them.

    I think you saw a doctor who was an tri-athlete at one point. Perhaps that guy would be a good one to listen to as he has a sports background.

    It is your life and your leg, but it hurts just reading about what you are putting yourself through. I'd be staying off it unless the Doc/PT recommended specific activities and then I would only do them for the duration and intensity they recommend.

    How about taking up yoga, sea kayaking [as was mentioned above]a meditation practice. Time away from your bike, snowshoes, gym doesn't have to be wasted.

    Anyways good luck and I hope are able to get back to 100% as soon as possible.

  4. yeah the binge concept.. for me it was 6+ weeks then off the couch overnighter and a big peak. Silly really.

    The chocolate chips instead of the brownie is probably a better strategy.

  5. Hi Jill,

    I've been following your blog over the months (I posted one comment before as I recall) as my situation is very close to yours: in Jan. I injured my knee, kept riding hard through Feb., and have been in and out of Drs offices, the gym, on and off my bike, ever since. I just wanted to tell you my experiences, for what they're worth. I don't have any medical knowledge, so I won't presume to give you advice, but reading your travails have helped me deal with mine so I thought I'd give back a little.

    I'd been training for a 750mi, 90hour ride in France in August, and had made it halfway through the (4) qualifiers when knee disaster struck. I got a lot of diagnoses, "slowed down," stooped to swimming (I *hate* swimming) and bit my fingernails down to the quick as I counted the days till the next qualifier. I got better and worse. I removed a pedal and rode one-legged for a while. I got to the point where I couldn't sit for more than 10 minutes without pain. (Which was a real problem, since I'm writing my diss.-- all I do is sit.) 2 weeks ago (upon seeing the MRI results which showed I tore a ligament) I decided to just STOP. Do nothing. Complete inactivity. I try not to even walk too much. And I've been getting better like crazy. It no longer hurts when I sit. I can walk without my knee feeling all wobbly. I'm also miserable. I keep saying to myself, 4 more weeks. I count down the days. I think my husband and 3 yr. old son are contemplating taking a little 4 week vacation from me. I've had to give up on my ride in France, which means, since its only held once every 4 years, that I have to put it off till 2011. I'm planning to start training for it in exactly 27 days.

    Anyways, good luck with your recovery. I'll update you again at some point. And thanks: your blog is a sea of calm for me amid the pressures of PhD, motherhood and motionlessness.

    sincerely yours,
    Agnes Callard

    p.s. if one of your worries is that complete inactivity = nothing to blog about (this would be one of the silly things preoccupying me if I were you) know that I am one of the complete strangers to you who will remain your loyal reader through thick and thin.

  6. Agnes,

    Thanks for sharing your story. The fact that injury is keeping you from a once-in-four-years 750 in France makes my carping about not being able to ride this year's Fireweed 400 seem very petty indeed.

    Interesting observation about blogging. I feel like I already have been journaling about a lot of nothing for the past few months. I don't feel too bad about this because writing about whatever makes me feel better, but thanks for sticking by and for your continued comments. Thanks to everyone.

    I should probably more seriously consider the road of inactivity because I am actually serious about riding next year's Ultrasport 350, and I have a long, long way to go to get ready for it, even if I was healthy. Prolonging unhealthiness is only going to push me further from this goal, but it's so hard to think that far into the future.

    I do like the idea of chocolate chips ... they can be so satisfying even in small doses. Just today, I enjoyed a chocolate chip cookie after lunch. I was really careful to just have one, because I am not exactly a ball of calorie-burning fitness anymore. Self deprivation, unfortunantly, has to work on all sides.


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