Learning to listen to your body

As far as cyclists go, I’m pretty competitive.  I’m always pushing myself to ride longer, farther, better and faster.  This means I’m usually challenging myself during my training rides.  Sometimes I’ll sprint to make a light even though I’m already in my cardio red zone, other times, I’ll see someone on the road ahead of me and try to catch them as quickly as possible.  For me it’s fun…part of why I ride.  Like Jens Voigt, I’m always pushing myself to be better.

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This year I had a couple of scary injuries where I had to learn to listen to what my body was telling me.  Quite frankly, it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.  First, I had an umbilical hernia where the doctor prescribed taking it easy for a couple of months after surgery.  We had quite a few discussions about the types of exercises I would be allowed to do.  Naturally, I asked when I might be able to get back on the bike.  The problem with this type of injury is that it affects your core.  We talked about my position on the bike and what parts of my body I did not want to stress.  Then he said, “Take it easy, you really don’t want to come see me again, trust me.”

Those words really stuck with me.  My surgery was one of the most painful experiences of my life (both before and after).  I have a high tolerance for pain and rarely use the painkillers prescribed to me.  This time, I had to actually get a refill.  I knew I really didn’t want to see my doctor again.  So, I learned to listen to different parts of my body differently.  In the process I also learned how different riding styles affected different parts of my body.  For example, I found that when I’m climbing, the pressure on my core is directly correlated to how much I’m exerting myself.  I also found that getting up out of the saddle requires a lot more core strength than when I’m sitting down.  My position while sitting also made a difference.  I had never really noticed this before because I was usually too busy pushing myself.

Now I find myself paying close attention to what’s going on with my body when I’m on the bike.  I find myself making mental notes as I’m riding, not only about my physical activity, but also about how what I eat affects my performance.  I’m still pushing myself as I work myself into better and better shape, but I’m getting smarter about listening for those tell-tale signs where I might be going too far.  After not being able to ride my bike for a total of 8 weeks in the last few months as a result of two injuries, the last thing I want to do is earn another time out from the bike.  Surprisingly, my conditioning continues to improve at  a pretty good rate.  So much so that many of my riding buddies have commented to me about it.

Next year I eclipse yet another age milestone…hopefully I’m wiser.   After all, I want to be riding for a long, long time.

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3 responses to “Learning to listen to your body

  1. I’ve had a blog post like this in my head for months! I know exactly what you mean. As a spinal cord injury survivor I’ve had to learn to dance between what my body wants and what I want. And for months I’ve wondered how to apply this to the sport of cycling. I always try to protect my body in the long run, but in order to exceed your own limitations you have to learn when to “pull a Jens!” Great call.

  2. P.S. You can add the following to your list of mental notes about how certain eating and hydration techniques work for your body. Save yourself the debilitating stomach cramps I got yesterday by doing the following:

    When you wake up when it’s still dark outside for an early charity ride – and are still half asleep when you’re mixing your electrolytes into your water – DON’T skip using the measuring device just to squirt some in the bottle with your eyes still closed.

    No, that technique doesn’t work. Take my word for it.

  3. Good point on hydration. The same is true for food.

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