A friend and teammate requested an article on recovery and how to deal with the mental anguish of being off of the bike, trying to recover, and feeling stuck. While articles on racing, nutrition, and performance are awesome: perhaps the hardest part of being an athlete is when you can’t…
It goes without saying that if you cycle frequently there will come a time in your life when you want almost nothing more than to be able to ride your bike like you used to before ____ happened. The blank could be an injury, an illness, or maybe it’s just life getting in the way. Regardless of the reason: recovery and time out of the sport or activities we love is painful for more than one reason.
Outside of the obvious pain caused by injury, illness, or otherwise – the mental anguish of being less active than desired is arguably worse. Mentally we are fraught with the angst of not being as active as we are accustomed to: not able to release the stress and tension of life, not able to escape ourselves for just that small time, not able to feel the thrills of speeds, the hum of wheels on pavement, the endorphin happiness of exercise, or even the companionship of other road warriors just like us.
For competitive cyclists: we can be additionally frustrated because we cannot meet the expectations that we have put on ourselves. We realize that every week that passes equals an even longer road back to where we left off… and the angst builds. To some, it’s almost too much to bear and those on the long road to recovery might cut themselves off from the world to sink into their own little pit of despair until the fog is lifted and they can once again feel the joy of muscles working.
The mistake I’ve made in the past is to let my angst get in the way and, in my haste, forget to allow myself to heal. I am not the most patient person in the world and I have pushed my recovering body before it’s ready. Guess what? It made the ordeal longer with a relapse and additional time to heal. Cyclist are great at pain – we deal with it all the time. We push through discomfort in order to meet our goals. But when it comes time to recover: patience and perseverance is necessary if you want to recover fully.
Trust me: you want to recover fully.
There is no denying that being injured, sick, or unable to do what you love sucks. There isn’t any prettier way to say it. Mentally it can be grueling, so how can we ease the pain of what seems like the indefinite road to recovery?
Perspective, awareness, and appreciation.
You aren’t dead. You will ride again even if it’s not quite the same or not quite as fast. You must allow your body to recover fully or you could cause permanent damage worse than what it already there, so be patient! Focus your pent-up energies into getting better, doing what you can with what you have – whatever that is. Even if it’s knitting! Celebrate your mini-milestones. After losing part of a digit – I was thrilled to just be allowed to elevate my heart rate a little. Each day after that was spent focusing on what I could do and help my body heal.
Weeks after a brutal chest infection that almost hospitalized me: I was able to do the slowest ride in the world and it was the best ride ever! I was so happy to be back on the bike I could have cared less how fast I went. Focus on every little achievement. Forget the training program or how long it will take before you are at your ‘A’ game again – those thoughts are meaningless during recovery. Be grateful for each day that you CAN recover.
Perspective, awareness, and appreciation.
Get your head straight, let go of the thoughts that do not serve you.
Focus on what matters right now.
Be aware of what your body is trying to tell you.
Allow yourself to heal fully.
Appreciate each day that passes and each mini-achievement.
Allow your friends to help you along the way.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself. As professional coach and pro-triathlete in training, Angela Man, said: “You may not be loosing as much fitness as you think … I retested after I got cleared [by the doc] and my numbers actually went up”. Angela went on to say about her current injury: “…instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I’m doing all the little things necessary to come back even stronger”. You can allow the temporary get the best of you or you can focus on new goals: the accomplishment of getting well, feeling better, and whole again.
For those injured, ill, or on the bench because ‘life happened’: your friends are there for you. We all know and understand the pain you are going through inside and we care.
From one cyclists to another: Recover Well.