The Wrong Kind of Pain

It’s been a while.  So, why haven’t I written anything about my riding adventures since last June?  Well, I’ve been struggling with my body and with my riding.  This goes way beyond just the simple, “I’m sore from this or that ride.”  I have been experiencing bodily issues that even had me wondering about DIS-eases and illnesses that could interrupt or even worse, take a person off the bike altogether.

When did it start?  At the very end of August in 2011, I had completed a century that nearly took me down.  In fact if you look at it in other ways, it most certainly did cook me.  Literally.  The temperatures that manifested that day in the area in which we were riding went into triple digits.  Sure, some of you have ridden in triple digits and have done just fine.  However, I’m guessing that the majority of you who did that have done so in low humidity settings.  This is Georgia, which means humidity is sky high most of the time during the spring, summer and early fall.  So, riding in the setting of 100+ temps (even higher when you consider how hot it was just above the pavement) in sky high humidity is a recipe for disaster…at least for this humble soul.

I had done the same century a year before and finished it 2 hours faster.  That year, I barely finished it.  Yet, I was determined not to hop into a SAG wagon.  I had seen countless others, fallen comrades, waiting on the side of the road because they couldn’t pedal another inch.  “No!” I told myself.  I was not going to be one of them. So, I hobbled back to our starting point.

Now, you would think that after this ride that I “went south” and stayed there, right?  You might even think that it was utterly obvious that this ride is what started my descent into a world of pain, weakness, disappearing endurance and shocking loss of strength, right?  No…not so much.  Why?  First off, the struggles began as intermittent experiences.  Next b/c that’s not the only cause.  There’s a host of other reasons – stress, stress…and oh, stress – that mounted higher and higher over a period of several months leading right up to my husband getting hit and run on his bike a mere 2 days after my last blog post.  [Yes, he’s fine, now, thankfully!]  If I thought my stress levels were high, I was mistaken.  Gravity had no bearing on my soaring stress levels…to the point where one could look back down from beyond the outer reaches of Earth’s atmosphere.  Alas, my stress levels could only see the darkness of space.  That’s how high they went.

At this point, my intermittent bodily struggles changed to became a daily affair.  Oh, I still rode, but my average speed dropped by quite a bit.  I could barely make it through a mere 30 mile ride, when it used to be that a 30 mile ride was just a warm-up for this cycling chick!  In fact, my rides dropped down to only 15-20 and an occasional 25 miler.  Then, friends who used to ride with me–partly for the good company but also because we were on pare for speed–didn’t want to ride with me, anymore.

Oh no, I don’t blame them, at all.  It’s one thing to ride with someone much slower than you.  You can use those occasional rides as recovery rides for yourself, while your friend struggles through what is a tough ride for her or him.  However to do that a few times week?  You’d lose the level of fitness you had worked so hard to achieve by metaphorically camping on the couch by riding so slow.

So, life got lonely.  Funny.  I “lead” rides.  While I’d show up, I headed out with the slow group…struggling to keep up.  To say that this was even harder (mentally and emotionally) on me was an understatement.

Here I am, a person who is so deeply in love with cycling that I cannot begin to express the enthusiasm I have for the sport, and the joy it has brought me.  Furthermore, cycling has had a huge(!) impact on my life.  Thanks to re-discovering this once-forgotten sport of my youth, I now have (kid-you-not) more than 100 (perhaps even 150?) new friends and acquaintances thanks to joining the cycling realm.  This alone is a shocking number for a person who in real life is shy in groups and doesn’t talk much, that is, till you get me in a cozy, quiet setting.

Thus to experience the struggles with my body that prevented me from being able to enjoy even a once-simple ride and prevented me from seeing and spending time with so many of my riding friends…Ugh!  Pure. Hell.

I love riding so very much, and it does so very much for me that here I was not able to receive the benefits from the very sport that made my heart and soul sing, that brought the sun to shine in my day (besides my husband and kids, of course), the thing about which I have so many thoughts…Every Single Hour…of Every Single Day.

Oh sure…go to the doctor.  Find out what’s wrong, right?  Well, that wasn’t so simple, either.  At first, I was convinced that I was merely tapped out and that my nutrient balances were out of whack.  What do doctors know about nutrition?  Little, if at all.  (Most medical schools, which are funded in the largest part by drug companies, do not teach a thing about nutrition.  If they do teach it, it amounts to 30 minutes of “credit hours”.  That’s not much.)  So, what else could or would they do?  Stick me on a chemical-based drug with side effects that merely masks symptoms and never addresses the true cause of what’s going on?  HAH.  Not on your life.  Waste of my time and money, too.  Furthermore, the realm of cycling, doing the riding I was used to doing, is different than other forms of exercise with which doctors might be familiar [some know nothing of that, either].  Gym workouts (especially the assumption of the type of workouts women “should” be doing or “prefer” doing) are very different than road rides and mountain biking I do.  Um, no.  Standard doctors are not for me, not in this particular instance.

Plus, there was the regular thoughts, “Oh, I just need more of ___ or less of ___.  …Maybe I should just do ___.  Maybe I should just give it more time.  This will pass, and things will get back to normal.”

But no.  Things did not get back to normal.

Finally…come September 2012 (yep a year after the century that started this awful experience), I went to see an alternative doctor, recommended to me by a friend (several months earlier).  I had come to the point where I had to acknowledge that I had to ask for outside help, that I couldn’t figure this out on my own.  For me, asking for help with regards to my body and nutrition is not an easy endeavor.  (Side story, I’ve had so many negative experiences with healthcare givers that this, too, affected my willingness to look beyond myself for help.)

So, it took a couple of months, but “one day” right after possibly the worst mountain bike ride I had ever experienced in terms of lack of strength and endurance [well actually, 3 days after that ride in literal terms], I hit the trails, again, but this time, something was different.  I instantly noticed that difference and felt no need to “warm-up”.  You see at this point in my journey, warm-ups for me had come to mean “check the body and legs to see what I’ll be able to do” because I wouldn’t be sure if I could even do my favorite trails.  For some rides, I had to stick with the beginner trails; my body just didn’t have it “in me” to do anything more taxing

Nope, no warm-up.  I went straight for my favorite trail and proceeded to do it 3 times and wanted to do it a 4th but the sun was setting.  I hadn’t done that trail that many times in over a year!!!  I did a total of 15.7 miles on my mountain bike that day, and it was EASY!  Prior to this, I had struggled to make it through a mere 6 miles and could only do my favorite trail once while suffering greatly the whole time!

I was back!  The excitement I felt sent me soaring once again but, this time, in a good way!  But will it stay?  I was afraid to hope.

It did, until last month, when a situation happened that sent me off the charts in stress levels.  I felt like I was just a pile of walking ashes; I was so burnt out.  Of course, it was Murphy’s Law that I was, also, out of every single item the Doc had put me on, and I couldn’t get back in to see him for 3 weeks.  Eeek!

Thankfully, my body strength and endurance didn’t entirely leave me, but it was close.  So, I’m back on all those items and am waiting for my body’s bell to start dinging, again, letting me know that “I’m back!”

In the meantime, I’m still riding, as best this humble soul is able.  Thank God for the bike.  What would I ever do without it?  That was a question I was faced with asking during parts of this past year.  I am grateful that I won’t have to answer that.  Okay truth be told, I did come up with an answer to that dreaded question.  I’d crawl, scratch, claw and beg just to get my body over the top tube, my feet on the pedals and start rolling.  Somehow.  I always would.

That is how much riding means to me.