Learning to take it easy…

I am not a person who likes to sit around. Or a person who understands the concept of a “relaxing ride.” Every fiber of my being is aggressive. I like to attack life–take it by its horns–and beat on it with my head no matter what the cost to my own head in the struggle. I think this is probably one of the aspects of my personality that has helped me overcome a lot of emotional struggles in my life. It’s also the unstoppable force that has led me to completing 152 miles of a bike ride in a single day. It’s the inner strength that pushed me up mountains. I like think of myself as tenacious; if I’m not the fastest or the best at something, I’m definitely the most determined. That head-strong tenacity won’t let me quit even when my body wants to give up.

The downside to my aggressive nature is that I can often push myself a little too hard, resulting in injury as what has happened to me most recently. I never seem to think about the consequences of my aggression–not at the time I’m pushing myself. I suppose no one does. But over the past two years in my cycling I’ve been challenged with a knee injury and now this spine/back problem, both of which have resulted in me being unable to ride for a period of time.

I was finally able to get back on my bike over the last few weeks, but the process is slow. I have only been able to ride up to 35 miles at a time at the most. The pain in my shoulder seems to have weakened my whole body, combined with the fact that I was actually unable to ride for about two weeks there. I’ve lost some of my fitness level so even when my shoulder is back 100%, I’m going to have to slowly work myself back up to rides between 60-70 miles.

Yeah, I said slowly. The PT seems to think that my lack of training this year before throwing myself into the intensity of Calvin’s Challenge and TOSRV put extra stress on my body which caused the intense flare-up of arthritis. He also suggested that I have pinched a nerve, thus all the pain in my upper arm and back. While he encouraged my continuing to ride my bike over the next few weeks, he cautioned against pushing it too hard. And so I’ve had to struggle with not pushing myself despite the overwhelming urge to do so. Today, for example, when I was taking a rest stop in the Cuyahoga Valley at Szalay’s–about 20 miles into the ride–I was tempted to loop through the Merriman Valley before heading back towards home which would have ultimately given me about 45 miles. I had to talk myself out of it, which was very frustrating. As a compromise, I allowed myself to go on to Ira Road instead of turning down Botzam to get to Akron-Peninsula Road. I also bullied myself into climbing the steeper Wetmore in favor of the more gradual Truxell. It seems like a favorable compromise, except when you realize that the aggressive part of myself was still winning the argument with my logical half. “Easy” and “relaxed” still don’t appear in my vocabulary.

It was a good thing I didn’t push myself on to Merriman. I was feeling a bit exhausted and weak on my climb up Wetmore, and I jumped to the granny gears a lot sooner than I normally do. My shoulder started to get uncomfortably achy in the last five miles from home. I actually was ready to get off my bike when I arrived home. That was definitely disheartening. But at least I know I can probably start riding to work next week since it’s a 35 mile roundtrip–and that’s bursts of 15 miles separated by eight hours of rest. I think I can do it without causing too much strain on my body. The hill climbing required to get through the valley in my commute will help regain some of my strength.

I had a second PT appointment on Friday. I received a massage and electrical stimulation–both of which made me feel markedly better. I’m not out of the woods yet–sleeping last night was just as uncomfortable as it’s been for weeks–but my comfort level throughout the day was greatly increased. I am looking forward to Monday’s session as well as Friday. I am starting to feel more positive about getting this thing beat and behind me. And not just because of my plans for riding this summer, but also for the sake of my U2 concert spree. The pain definitely took something out of me in Denver and I was seriously worried that my other shows might be ruined, especially if I had needed surgery or something. But now I anticipate a much more comfortable experience in E. Lansing and the following shows. The PT has estimated a recovery time of four weeks with therapy twice a week and exercises I do at home.

The cautionary side note is that I will have to learn to temper my aggression for the rest of the summer. The PT says that I’m susceptible to recurring pain in my shoulder because it will still be healing. Like a pulled hamstring, he says. Having witnessed a friend going through the misery of a hamstring he pulled while skiing a few years ago, I understand the analogy quite well. This information is dully noted.

Next year, when I allow my aggressive nature to take over my body again, I’m going to have to work myself slowly into the high mileage, like I did in the years past. So that means if the spring weather is as sucky as it was this year, I cannot do TOSRV or Calvin’s Challenge. Which is fine, right? I need to teach myself that I may embark on any challenge I desire, but I must do it safely. My body is just skin, bones, muscle, nerves and I can easily abuse these. Abuse to the point of injury is not an acceptable result. Injury takes me out of the sport I enjoy so much. I will need to find the patience within myself to practice good physical training. It’s time to learn to stretch. My body has informed me that I’m overdoing it and I have to learn to listen to the difference between pushing too hard and aggressively pursuing a challenge.

Oh, but it’s all so hard!

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