Tag Archives: cycling

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.


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.


A lot can happen in a split second

I consider myself a pretty experienced cyclist.  Sure I take some chances bombing down hills where I know the terrain pretty well and don’t expect to have to make any sudden evasive maneuvers, but I feel that I’m a pretty safe cyclist.  Three weeks ago today I had a pretty bad crash where I went over the handlebars and landed face first in the road.  The last thing I remember was my handlebars dropping unexpectantly.  I came around to a man standing over me advising me to stay put and that EMS was on the way.   I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised this happened because as An Old Guy On Two Wheels pointed out, 50% of all bicycle accidents are solo accidents, in other words they just involve the cyclist.

Giro Stylus helmet

My severely damaged helmet

So, there I was, in the middle of the road trying to gather my wits, but it was virtually impossible.  I was clearly dazed and confused.  I attempted to form some words but my face and mouth were not responding so it sounded like mumbling.  In fact, I couldn’t really feel my face, but my shoulder was pretty sore. I was pretty out of it, but somehow I managed to reach into my back pocket to grab my phone.  I found my wife’s number on my recently dialed lists, dialed and handed it to the man standing over me.

The next thing I remember was an EMT asking me questions.  I have no idea what he asked me or what I responded with, but I do remember telling him that I had a RoadID.  It wasn’t on my wrist so they went and found it.  The EMT told me he was a cyclist as well and I do remember feeling better about that.  I vaguely remember him telling me about starting me on some pain medication via an IV.  I then realized I was in a full neck brace.  He’d already started cutting away my favorite jersey.  He was about to cut my heart rate monitor strap and bib shorts.  I managed to undo the strap and convinced him to just pull down my shoulder straps.  I’m not sure what was actually going through my head, but I was somehow worried about these.  I vaguely remember the ambulance ride and feeling thirsty.  I definitely could feel the pressure of the neck brace as my face continued to swell up and I was a little panicky about losing my cookies on the ride.  I mustered up whatever concentration I could to keep down the contents of my stomach.  I think I was successful, but honestly, I don’t remember.

I don’t remember much of what happened at the hospital…glimspes of a CAT Scan, the pain from the local anesthetic they used to numb me up for stitches and the EMT coming back to check on me.  At some point my wife was there.  After they taped me up and stitched me up, I walked out of the Burnet ER.  My wife says I asked her about what happened multiple times, but I don’t remember this either.    The next week I was in a fog.  Some of it was probably due to the painkillers I was taking.  Normally, I don’t use the painkillers they give me, but the side of my face, my jaw and teeth were very sore and swollen.

The next week was a total blur.  I attempted to work from home, but I had a great deal of difficulty concentrating and slept a lot.  This was actually a good thing.  If you have a serious concussion you’re supposed to limit the amount of mental stimulation you’re getting.  They also recommend avoiding alcohol and caffeine.  I was also taking Ibuprofen.  I read somewhere that you should avoid that, too.  However, my shoulder and back were still pretty sore and it was the only thing that was helping.  The other thing they want you want to avoid with a concussion is strenuous activity.

All this was very frustrating for me because I was just beginning to get back into decent form after some abdominal surgery I had earlier in the summer.  I had been off the bike for 6 weeks and had to ease myself back into riding per doctor’s orders.  But, I knew from previous concussions that this type of head injury was not something to take lightly.  Too much too soon could easily lead to permanent brain damage.  As I get older, I’ve learned to listen to my body more and more, but I’m still an athlete at heart so I’m always pushing myself.  I have a pretty high tolerance to pain, so I really needed to be careful this time.

Accident’s like mine are pretty common for cyclists.  They are usually accompanied by a concussion and, more often than not, a broken collarbone.   It’s a good idea to have some form of identification on you to help first responders determine who you are along with critical medical and emergency contact information.  That’s why I wear a Road ID.  It took about a week and a half for my concussion symptoms (short-term memory lapses, difficulty concentrating, headache, etc.) to go away.  Hopefully sharing my experience will better prepare you in the event you are involved in an accident while riding your bicycle.

I am very thankful to the good Samaritan who called EMS and my wife.  He also brought my bike and other belongings to the hospital.