Aahhh, advice. So readily dispensed and yet so rarely solicited. But regardless of whether you’re inclined to heed the knowledge of those with more experience, or you prefer to go it alone and learn everything the hard way, there are just some pearls of wisdom that are timeless, and dare I say nearly infallible, that should be followed:
-Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
-Don’t eat yellow snow
-Always drink upstream from the heard
-Listen to your body
-Listen to your wife
In case it’s not as clear as a hammer blow to the head, it’s these last two pearls of wisdom that are particularly relevant to my story. And I share this from regrettable recent personal experience. You see, in many ways this past riding season was trying (to put it mildly). I’ll lay out that little gem of a story in a future post, but the main take-away here is that I entered this winter in maybe the worst shape I’ve been in the last 3-4 years. And that’s saying something being the only guy suiting up in a size 4X team kit as it is.
No way am I trying to head into next year lugging this extra gut up the climbs, so what’s a guy to do? Well, I did buy a trainer last year, but holy hell! I just don’t know how some of you guys do it. Maybe it’s because I don’t really have the proper bike for a trainer. Maybe it’s because the only space I really have for it is in the garage. Maybe, and most likely, it’s because I know that once I get home I have no will power to convince myself to, (as my daughter so eloquently puts it), ride to nowhere. (Seriously, she marches next to me and repeats in a very sing song-y voice “I’m riding to nowhere” over and over. Kids, right?) Whatever the reason, and however lame the excuse, it’s just not something I can consistently do.
So, at a loss for any other viable option, I decided to head out to that monolithic monument to our culture of overindulgence – The Gym.
I knew the gym had a racquetball court when I signed up, and even though I gave it up years ago due to a combination of elbow pain and my new found cycling passion, I also remembered that my best shape of the last decade was when I was playing regularly. What the hell, it can’t hurt to hit the ball around a little, right? You know, just to see how much skill I’ve lost in the last four years. Besides, it beats the hell out of the treadmill. My wife looked at me with increased skepticism and remembrance of my elbow wrapped constantly in ice, but I assured her I’d take it easy. I mean, it’s not like I don’t get beat up riding my mountain bike; how bad could it be?
I decided that this would be my cardio complement to spinning, and continued to seek out empty court time. But then it happened. Getting ready to hit the court one night and I feel the tap on my shoulder. “You waiting on someone?” was the question. “No, just going to hit the ball around a bit” was my response. “You want a game?”
And there it was. Gauntlet thrown. Decision time. As much as I knew I might regret jumping back in so fast with both feet, of course I wanted a game! More guys showed up and rotated in as we played, and an hour or so later I left feeling exhausted, refreshed, and also somehow signed into a kind of group text app they used for organizing games. This could be bad. It’s one thing to decide not to go play when you don’t know if anyone else is there anyway, but when you see that little message pop up on your phone, “does anyone want to play today”, well, all bets are off.
That was Tuesday. I managed to avoid the temptation to play again Wednesday, and then woke up Thursday morning very painfully reminded of muscle groups I had long forgotten existed. Second day is always the worst, right? No way I was playing today either, but then that notification chirped on my phone, and there it was. Sweet, awful, unavoidable temptation. Oh, what the hell, a little hair of the dog, eh?
Thursday’s game went surprisingly well, and by Saturday I was itching to play again. I found it incredibly easy to round up a few guys to play, but after an hour and a half or so, I was really feeling the fatigue of playing three times in five days. And this is where my off-season started to fall apart. It was the weekend before Christmas, and if you’re from the Central Ohio area you’ll remember that the forecast for the next few days was for some very unseasonably warm weather, maybe even pushing 50 degrees. The plan was to take it easy on Sunday, and then spend the better part of the next few days working on, and actually riding my bikes(s). But the guy that so graciously invited me into the group showed up just as I had had enough for the day. I was bummed that we didn’t get to play, and he promptly mentioned that he was already planning a game on Sunday and had the court reserved.
I wanted to say no. My wife wanted me to say no. My body wanted me to say no. My bike wanted me to say no. I should have said no. But damn it, I said yes. We made it through three pretty quick games on Sunday (mostly because I was getting my tired ass handed to me), and were about to call it quits, but realized we still had 10 min of court time left. Again, I should have listened to all the voices telling me not to push it, but ok, one last game. A few points in, and my entire off-season routine would be altered. Chasing a ball toward the wall, I took a step before swinging and…POP! I heard it as much as I felt it, just at the top of my right calf. F@#K!!!! What sweet hell was this?!?
I immediately limped out of the court and my opponent was kind enough to raid the gym’s first aid kit of ice packs. As I sat immobilized on a nearby weight machine, all the voices that I should have listened to began their chorus of “see what happens?” The realization that I would now be spending these next few beautiful days laid up at home rather than out riding my bike started hit, not to mention the potential impact to my off-season plan to regain a shape other than round. After a few minutes of testing what limited mobility I had, I managed to hobble out of the gym and drive home. The rest of the evening was spent simultaneously wrestling with myself on whether or not to hit the Urgent Care, and trying to avoid what I assumed would be the inevitable “I told you so” (admittedly though, that never came. If my wife thought it, she was kind enough not to say it).
Let me just say that it’s a good thing I had so many unread bike magazines left from the summer. I spent most of the next couple weeks flipping through their pages while watching Red Bull bike videos on repeat. I also spent way too many hours trolling around on all the various online bike retailers because, you know, if you can’t ride your bike you may as well upgrade it. And that’s when this happened.
***Quick update – It took me so damn long to finish writing this that it’s now been five weeks since I hurt my leg, and I’m happy to say I’m feeling much better. I was able to do some light spinning after a couple weeks, managed a real, outdoor, 15-mile bike ride last week, and just got back to some light jogging. Even played a pretty easy game of racquetball a couple days ago, but definitely going to be listening to those voices a little closer from here on out. With a trip to the Louisville Mega Cavern in March, and the annual Spokejunkie First Ride at Mohican on the horizon for April, I’m not taking any chances.