With my wife taking up the roll of household cycling noob, she’s been running into a lot of pain issues that I did but never really thought much about. I just didn’t care, I was riding and it took at least a week of nagging pain before it rose to a level of importance. All I knew is that cycling hurt a whole heck of a lot less than running and that was about the done of that.
My big setup related pain issues, those that absolutely could not be ridden through, are well documented. Saddle height, saddle width, cleat alignment, stem too long or too short, wrong handlebar width, too much cushion in the saddle (I was two days into road cycling, gimme a break)…
Everything else, dead legs, saddle sores, minor aches and pains, sore feet, nervous Achilles’ tendons, tendinitis in the elbow (for a full year I couldn’t shake someone’s hand without wincing), sore neck, sore shoulders… I rode through all of it. The truth was, cycling was more than fun enough that I was willing to disregard the pains I had to ride through. My wife, on the other hand, pays a little more attention to the minor aches and pains than I did. All too often my answer to her “why does this hurt” questions are, “Meh, ride through it. If it still hurts next week we’ll start looking into it.” Let’s just say I expect some aches and pains when I ride as I do. The important thing is that my aches and pains move. My right shoulder will hurt one day, my lower back another, my hip yet another… These, to me (and I’m not a doctor but I play one at home), are simply my body’s reaction to being pushed to the limit on a regular basis.
Now, there have been a couple of issues that rose to a need for action for her: First was setup. I tried to set her new Triathlon geometry road bike like her road bike and she rode it like that for a couple of months before having it set up at the shop. My wife went through quite a bit of knee pain before finally getting the bike into the shop… Not only did that help with her aches and pains, that setup was also worth 2 mph on her average (some of that gain is due to willingness, I’m sure). Then there was another knee issue (top of the left knee, outside of the knee) that came down to a minor cleat adjustment. Other than that, she’s been able to ride through everything else.
As the mileage and intensity (or speed) increases, dead legs become an issue… Dead legs, up until this year, have been a constant problem that I’ve had to deal with. Those first few years, when I had decent increases in duration or intensity I’d go through periods where my legs were sore and tired. Not intensely sore or “wiped out”, just “not right”. I’d have a tough time sitting still or even sleeping at night, my legs were restless… It’s really quite hard to describe, now that I think about it. This year has been entirely different though. I’m riding a lot more frequently and I haven’t had any of those problems which has meant that I haven’t had to worry about taking as many days off. In fact, over the last 19 days I’ve only had one day off of the bike due to thunderstorms. The trick has been a tip I picked up from a pro: Your hard days aren’t hard enough and your easy days aren’t easy enough. This was exactly the case with me. Another tip I picked up that had a huge impact was that my easy days should be ridden at a pace that I would be embarrassed of if one of my friends saw me. Over the first three years, my “race pace” was in the vicinity of 20-21 mph average solo or 21-24 mph average in a group and my “recovery rides” were at 18 mph. While 18 felt easy, it wasn’t easy enough. I’ve dropped that down to 16-17 and it’s made a world of difference.
Minor Aches and Pains
Back, shoulder, neck, hips, knees, feet, arm/elbows, wrists and even thumbs… Something always hurts during cycling season. Today it’s my neck (minor, almost not worth mention), left hip and right shoulder but they’re minor pains that only really cause discomfort when I think about them. These minor pains don’t require any form of medication whatsoever, they don’t even rise to the level of aspirin though an aspirin or two every now and again probably would do some good. The point I’m trying to get at is this: While there’s no doubt that physical activity does hurt from time to time, the pain associated with living a sedentary life greatly outweighs a minor discomfort every now and again. I don’t worry about minor aches and pains until they become stationary (say my knee hurts for a week, same spot – that’s cause for concern).
Major Aches and Pains
Once an ache or pain settles in a body part and doesn’t go away after a few days, I start to look at setup. It’s a well-known fact that the setup requirements of a bike can change over time. Rather than mess around with self-diagnosis, I go one of two routes: The Bike Repair App on my phone has an excellent section on figuring out pain indicators. Or I just talk to the owner of the local bike shop and get his opinion. This usually nets two birds with one stone because he’ll be the one making the adjustments.
So, as we head into the heart of cycling season, know thy pain. I would suggest you “listen to your body” but mine’s a sissy so I spend more time telling mine to “shut up” or “quit whining”. Listening to mine would be rather counterproductive. I suppose it would be acceptable to “listen” but only on a very limited basis for the major aches and pains.