A theory, of dubious value

Written on November 19, 2016

It is about 2am, on a Saturday morning. I have climbed out of bed to scribble down a few notes on business that was keeping me awake. That is now done, but there is a bit more scribbling to do.

The day after I got back from Langkawi, I went for a massage to relieve that stiff neck. I signed up for an hour of the deep, painful kind that is called “therapeutic” around here. 

I had a few of these before, the last one probably back in June. And that is an important point to note.

About a minute into the massage, eyes bulging and tearing up for the pain, I started to suspect what may have been another contributor to the DNF in Malaysia.

This first post-Langkawi massage was used up entirely trying to release knots and lumps in a relatively small area of my neck and upper back. An hour of hard work only provided some relief, but anything approximating normal is still far away. I went back today, for another dose of the same. The neck and upper back soaked up another hour of hard physical labor on the therapist’s part, while I focused on sphincter control, nearly losing the battle multiple times. More progress, yet far from being back to normal. At this rate, it will take another half a dozen to a dozen sessions before I will be put together again. I can’t wait to find out what is going in in my lower back, hips and legs…

This is interesting, because I was not aware of any of these issues, despite how serious and obvious they were. They were veiled off somehow, and it required the navel-staring following a DNF to have that veil drop away and reveal the truth. The truth being that my body is battered and beaten to the point of total dysfunction. And dysfunction being not being able to hold aero for any length of time, or pedal in Zone 2.

This is a big truth, one that should be discovered by somebody with medical training and an interest in endurance sports. But endurance sports require you to put up with shit. They teach your body or mind - whatever it is that talks inside your head - to look away, to put up all sorts of veils. So it seems that the more I trained, the more I disconnected from my own body. I got really good at ignoring much of what it was telling me.

Now, the rub is that I do believe that ignoring what the body has to say is a good idea – to some point. My body loves to whine and usually contributes the following arguments to sport relates decision making:

  • “Look, that sofa seems so comfy and available. Let's forget that treadmill for a day.”
  • “Why not sleep another four hours? What's the harm in that?”
  • “Well, we could certainly eat that grilled chicken whole, right? And the cake, too? With whipped cream?”

And most importantly:

  • “I can’t take it anymore, we must stop right away!”

So, what should be ignored? Hard to say, but perhaps anything that starts or ends with “Why not?” or “Can’t…” or contains a suggestion that an effort prescribed for a specific day could be more suitably executed at a later time should be carefully scrutinized. Negative, acute decisions that reduce immediate effort or pain are suspect, in other words. 

What should be taken seriously? Equally hard to say. Well, what did I miss, were there any signs that I could have picked up? Yes. 

First of all, at some point this year, every bed in the house became uncomfortable. I just could not find a comfortable position in any of our beds, or a spot to just curl up for a nap. All hotel beds were also uncomfortable. 

Second, there were some weird, nagging aches and pains that did not stop me, but were there, reliably in the background, week after week. I guess my mind learned to mute these signals, only their tip could break through. But the fact that they were there day after day, in retrospect makes them significant. 

Third, in the past month or so, my bike position started to feel different. It my particular case, I felt that my seat moved closer to the aerobars. It is nearly inconceivable that this really happened. (That said I am going back to check my bike fit….) I guess my body started to warp changing what I can comfortably tolerate. To the point that under race stress in Langkawi, I could not hold aero for a mile at a time. 

Ok, so what to take seriously? The chronic nagging issues, that appear inconsequential, yet fail to go away after a while, probably warrant a look. The acute stuff, the screams and shouts about the sky falling down unless I immediately stop or delay or postpone I will just continue to ignore.

A disclaimer on the last point: If you snap your femur in two in Zone 7 on the trainer, your eyes pop running intervals and roll under the treadmill, you pee blood or drown in the pool, you should probably stop and analyze these acute signals.