When I got injured back in July 2016, I thought perhaps a few weeks off the bike would be a blessing in disguise after a big few seasons. Little did I expect the weeks would turn into months, and the months into years. This is third hill climb season I will miss. I did get one or two invites to hill climbs which was nice, but even if my back and hip were better, I still have a lingering cough from summer virus when I make significant exertion.
In a way, these years off the bike remind me of my early twenties. Where a combination of illness and injuries kept me off the bike from around 1998 to 2004. The difference is that in those days I did not do very much to get better. More than anything, I had the mentality of a student and I was too tight to pay £45 to see a physiotherapist. When I did go to a good physio, it helped considerably and on a few occasions of injury, I was able to get better.
This time, I have tried everything you can think of. But, nothing seems to shift the relatively minor but very stubborn injury. It is becoming a mystery. I have tried several physios, osteopaths, rolfing massage (painful, relaxing and expensive) Egoscue, Pilates, stretching, riding through pain, complete rest. MRI scan, expensive back doctor specialist e.t.c. And at times, a combination of the lot. There is probably something missing but I’ve become weary for trying new things. Whenever I go to someone, they are always optimistic it will soon be better and I believe this optimism. I don’t think my problem is a negative thought pattern or subconsciously holding onto suffering. I remain hopeful I will be able to ride properly soon, but then I’ve been hopeful for the past 27 months.
What to do when not cycling?
Often you notice how much you value something when you can’t do it anymore. Cycling was a great balance to my work of sitting hunched over a computer. I thought without cycling I’d be able to do a lot more with all the new free time I have. But, it doesn’t always feel like that. Not able to exercise makes you less dynamic and you can end up struggling to maintain that same sense of purpose. Certainly having virus over summer was not much fun. I have written two economics books, but that feels scant consolation.
Without cycling, I have spent more time in trying different exercises which maintain movement in the body. As a workout, its very low level, but it gets you breathing, moving and the heart working a little more than just being stationary. Even doing this low-level exercise is very helpful. It doesn’t replicate cycling, but it goes some way to maintaining that sense of dynamism and looking after the body, which is really important.
These are some brief comments on different practises I have tried.
I always dismissed Pilates because I associated it with a particular type of ‘yoga mum.’ Subconsciously it just felt like something I shouldn’t do. But, I read a book and there are a few things I like.
A key element of Pilates is to maintain complete control, focus and concentration on the exercise. It is not the number of repetitions that is important but the quality with which you can use the mind to be involved in the particular movement. It’s not unique to Pilates, this kind of absorbed focus I have thought about before. But, it is an interesting challenge to try and attempt that 100% focus on the movement, and not allow thoughts to distract you. Before moving, you put your will into the muscle to make it more effective.
This kind of ‘mind-training’ for want of a better word will be useful for cycling.
There are some Pilates exercises which are good for relieving back pain. They are similar to egoscue.
One thing I learnt was that my posture was bad. Doing all these egoscue exercises for four months has led to a much better posture. In theory, this should enable the body to heal itself and move again without pain. I have the posture, and am now waiting for the muscles to catch up. Again like Pilates, you can see the benefit of concentrating wholeheartedly on the exercises.
Ancient Tibetan Rites
I have written previously about the ‘Fountain of Youth‘ exercises. I started doing them a few months ago. They are supposed to delay ageing – even reverse it. When you feel the years slipping by, sitting on the sidelines, I like this focus on staying young at heart and ignoring your physical age. The exercises strengthen the core, and it was satisfying to be able to build up the strength to do 21 a day. Spinning 21 times in the morning is kind of fun too.
One interesting thing, if you see old people they tend to become hunched over, become shorter. These Tibetan exercises work by stretching and working in the opposite way to avoid getting curled up but remain tall and strong.
After over a year of doing physiotherapy with no results, I stopped doing them when I started Egoscue. The egoscue practitioner stated if your body is out of balance, you may just be strengthening your imbalance. Now I have good posture I went back to doing some physio exercises for leg strength. Unfortunately, on the first day back, I did my left hamstring in and it is stubbornly hanging around.
The hamstring problem reminded me to do stretching. Also, some Pilates exercises look impossible because I don’t have the flexibility so I should do more stretching.
The main alternative to cycling has been gardening. I’m fortunate to have an alternative outlet. Though sometimes digging aggravates the hip/back.
Now, this is something I never thought I would do. But, I’ve never liked how susceptible to the cold I am. This is partly my ectomorphy body type. When you are 190cm and 60.5kg, that is a large surface area to mass – it is a brilliant heat defuser in summer, but the flip side is you’re going to be cold. (BTW. I got back from New York, the land of donuts, fried food and calories – and despite no exercise for the past three months, I was still at my racing weight of 61kg! 61kg and not able to do hill climbs – What a waste! Some riders have to kill themselves to get that kind of body-fat ratio.)
Anyway, back to cold showers. The logic is that if you take cold showers, the body adapts and is able to better withstand the cold. You can find some videos on youtube where people are evangelical about the benefits of cold showers – saying it will solve everything from the common cold to losing weight and better circulation. Maybe. But, in a bizarre kind of way, cold showers remind me of hill climb intervals. Why?
- You dread doing hill climb intervals/having cold showers.
- You know it is good for you.
- You are interested to see if you can increase your capacity – ride faster/stay in the cold for longer.
- When you are doing them it is torture. But, as soon as you stop, you have that endorphin rush of exhilaration that you made it through, and you feel a sense of satisfaction you stuck it out.
I started on lukewarm showers and then turned it to cold for about 10 seconds. But, in the past few days, I have been able to stay in for a minute, and I feel a little proud of myself, plus surprised. I know I’m clutching at straws to compare cold showers to hill climb intervals, but if it heals my Reynauds disease I will let you know.
One thing about training at full intensity is that you were often tired. This is a virtuous kind of tiredness, but getting up in the morning was sometimes hard work as the body was just so sluggish. The one advantage of not cycling is that you don’t have this physical fatigue. It makes it easier to stay awake for my early morning meditation, which is a bonus. With not cycling I have put more attention on my meditation, and this has been a good alternative.
So if you’re not able to ride your bicycle, just think of all the things you can do. Cold showers, pilates, meditation and growing giant marrows. Always look on the bright side of life and all that. One thing though it is definitely harder to write a cycling blog.
Well, if you are doing the hill climb season this year – good luck! and just be grateful you’re not stuck indoors doing yoga and having cold showers.