Maybe this is a revelation I’m coming to because I’m so far removed from the interval sets I’d usually be doing at this point. But after continuing knee issues for the past three months, I’m starting to believe it. Training isn’t the hard part of the sport that we do because the actual riding is the reason we got into it. We all started riding and fell in love with the sport and the way it made us feel. The endorphin highs and exhausted post-ride meals with friends or teammates brought us closer together. Then we started racing and the need for speed and enjoyment of competition pushed us to continue to improve. And while motivation can ebb and flow, we were always happy to get on the bike and get out there and ride because it seems like the thing we were born to do.
So, my hypothesis today: that’s not the hard part. No, the hard part is when you have to stop, look around and evaluate yourself. Sometimes you may find a problem, either mental or physical and you have to decide whether to take a rest or keep going. I’ve made that decision four times over the past year and each time, I’ve decided to take a rest before continuing on. And each time it’s been more difficult as the clock ticks on both my racing goals and the time available to spend riding with friends in College Park. But each time, I have not regretted it. I have been angry, frustrated and disappointed but I’ve never regretted it.
If you’ve been following this site for a while, you’ll know that I’ve had ongoing issues in my left leg related to muscle imbalance. Well, this time it was something even more stupid. See the chunk missing from my right pedal there? I rode like that for two months and apparently, that was enough to give me patellar tendonitis in my right knee as well. The decision to take a rest at this point is one of the hardest that I’ve made, especially since in November I was on track to have probably my best season yet.
One of the common refrains that is heard when talking about any sport is “no pain, no gain” and while a certain amount of toughness is required to compete, it’s not the be all, end all. This is something that athletes will even repeat in interviews and it might give people an unhealthy perception of how to deal with pain. Obviously, muscle soreness and the burning sensation of a hard effort are necessary but we need to pay attention to pain in unexpected areas. If there is pain outside of what seems normal, it can be indication of dysfunction such as a muscle imbalance like I had or a poor movement pattern. Taking the time to either go to a professional or do some research yourself can yield important information in reducing any impact or even avoiding injury altogether.
Another aspect to consider stopping for is the mental side of the sport. This is an incredibly hard sport and sometimes things can get overbearing depending on your degree of seriousness and external stress. Even if you’re outside the elite ring (like myself), mental issues can crop up. Depression is something that impacts between a tenth and a fifth of adults in our society and it can cripple you if it’s not taken care of. Cycling is something that enables people to mask underlying issues even when those things become critical. And that’s something that can be very hard to admit due to the social stigma regarding mental health issues.
I don’t want to self-diagnose myself with depression because it’s a very serious condition but it definitely felt like after I stopped riding due to the ankle issue over the summer, some issues bubbled over. There was a strong unhappiness that would not go away until I actually paid it some mind. These issues can stem from environment, cultural influences and more but the underlying theme is that it does need to take time to heal, like any physical injury. The good news is that you don’t really have to take time off like with a physical injury, just make sure you’re listening to yourself and never be afraid to ask for help. Someone will be there for you.
So, to conclude: if you think you might need to take a rest, listen to your body or mind and should take it. You never know what you may be able to avoid.
Update: In the middle of writing this blog, I started riding again and did a short set of steady state intervals. They sucked but I was so happy about being able to ride again that I barely felt it.