What I know about abnormal pain and cycling; Distinguishing REAL pain from “my butt hurt ‘cuz I rode hard”…
Trigger (heh) warning: I’ve always had a problem with the phrase “listen to your body” and I’ve poked fun at it from time to time. I’m about to do it again, but only mildly. You have been trigger (heh) warned.
I’ve always had a problem with the phrase “listen to your body”. If we’re being honest, all too often “listening” isn’t the problem, it’s the interpretation of what the body is saying that messes people up. All too often I’m amazed at what people take time off riding or running for. Little tweaks, minor disturbances, tiny discomforts, a little twinge here or there under the guise of “listening” to… um… something.
I go by this simple rule: If I can walk, I can ride. This isn’t to say that has the possible chance of being the wrong thing to do, I just haven’t run into a situation like that yet, pardon the pun.
Last week, I wrote about my back barking at me. I was in a fairly ridiculous amount of pain all day, every day – I messed it up, somehow, but I couldn’t figure out how. I thought the issue might be tight hamstrings, but when I think back, I never have problems with tight hamstrings unless I’m riding on a saddle that’s too wide and I haven’t changed any saddles. Then I went back to when it started hurting in the first place – when I took the Trek to the shop to have my name put on the top tube…. I rode my gravel bike on the trainer for a week or so. The set-up is more upright compared against my other road bikes and it doesn’t have as much cockpit reach (22″ opposed to 22-1/2″)… That’s when my back started barking.
Still, if I can walk, I can ride…
And I could definitely still walk. The first day outside on the bike (last Friday) in a month, hurt pretty bad but I loosened up around mile fifteen (give or take). I didn’t care anyway, I was outside! Saturday, Mrs. Bgddy and I took the tandem out and that hurt. All of that time in the saddle and pedaling a lot harder (tandems are about 20-30% harder than a single bike on the captain). Still, outside, didn’t care. Sunday was more of the same on the tandem. You know the drill. I could walk, so I could ride.
All this week I was in pain but I rode anyway… till Wednesday. My daughter had a swim meet and there was no way I had enough time to fit in a ride, even on the trainer. So I took a day off for the first time in two weeks. My back didn’t straighten up. I spent the day with a nagging back. Still, I could walk, so I could ride. I got home from work and dutifully mounted the Trek on the stand at quarter after Five… and 20 minutes in, I could feel my saddle nose in a way one doesn’t want to feel a saddle nose whilst riding. I rode for another 10 minutes to see if I could shift my way into feeling better. Nope. At 30 minutes in, I dismounted, grabbed my Allen wrenches from the bike room, and adjusted the nose of the saddle down an eighth of a turn each on the back and front bolt (back out the back bolt, tighten the front – that’ll lower the nose). I got back on the bike and the adjustment was a little too much. It felt like I was sliding off the saddle, from back to nose. I loosened the front bolt a sixteenth.
I rode the last fifteen minutes and felt quite nice actually. Take a guess at whose back doesn’t hurt so bad this morning… It’s not completely healed but the pressure is off and I don’t feel it sitting here writing this post, a distinct change for the better.
Folks, the normal “listen to your body” deal is take a bunch of time off and heal up, then continue at a cautious pace, blah, blah, blah. If I’d have done that, it’d be another two months before I figured out what the real problem was, I’d be slower, fatter, and I’d have missed out on four fantastic days of outdoor cycling in the middle of winter… Instead, I’m fitter, faster, and I fixed the root of the problem – all because I told my body to shut up and take it.
I am not a doctor and I don’t play one on this blog. I don’t trust my doctor, either, because he’d have me taking time off too… That’s what doctors do. So, how do I know when to take time off and when to tell my body to suck it up? I don’t have a good answer, other than “if I can walk, I can ride”. The rest tends to work out in the wash.
The answer, methinks, is to do what you feel is right. Just make sure the interpretation is the right one. And if you’re going to hurt yourself, don’t do what I do! Listen to your body and take some time off! Or somethin’…