Surviving down time

This is not a post about riding. This is a post about NOT riding. Because I was on a break and having downtime. Off season. Rest month or two. Healing time. Recovery. But that was surprisingly harder than it should have been.

Off the bike and into rehab

I’m not going to lie. That first week off the bike felt fantastic. Combined with the finish of a trimester of teaching it was a glorious break from everything. A week after my ‘over the handle bars taking flight’ moment at the Bendigo Women’s 3 hour I was hurting pretty bad. You know that feeling when you’re so tired you think you could sleep for a week? I reckon that’s pretty close to what I did. The ribs had taken a right pounding and turns out blunt force trauma is no joke.

The first weekend off the bike I went to see Marcelle Malan (The Movement Philosopher) to keep working on the issues I’ve been having on the longer rides: namely my numb right arm/hand. I tried to do some of the basic exercises she wanted me to try and it was struggle town. Not only were the ribs still very very tender, but the movements to try and ‘activate’ my inactive shoulder muscles were difficult to say the least. Turns out when you don’t use certain muscle groups for decades they don’t really work properly.

The next couple weeks passed by in a blur of exam marking at work and prepping for our annual ‘pilgrimage’ to Copenhagen, so I didn’t really notice that I was missing the bike. That combined with some pretty shocking winter weather actually made me feel a little smug. I still checked Strava every couple of days (habits die hard) and after noticing it was nothing but Zwift rides after Zwift rides (ugh, seriously Strava needs a Zwift filter) I stopped looking at it.

Precious Family Time

We flew through Hong Kong this year and spent a couple days exploring. Turns out all that time on the bike did me no favours when it came to walking and I managed to pull my lower back on the first day of walking. You know, just for fun.  But onwards and upwards (and a lot of panadol) and we went off for the second day. Hong Kong was as you’d expect during the rainy season: hot, humid, and very very wet. But it was magic anyways as I got to start focusing on spending some #preciousfamilytime with my two kids and husband.

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Landing in Denmark we stayed for a few days out of town at an Air BnB. It was beautiful: only a few hundred meters from the coast. Quiet. Peaceful. Magic. And Denmark finally realised that summertime meant sun (last year we had nearly 5 weeks of rain, it was horrid) and the weather was fantastic.

At this point I had been four weeks off the bike and was starting to get used to it. And I mean really used to it. Late dinners outside with a bottle of wine, sleeping in, making the kids breakfast, lazing around on the back deck reading a book, then getting ready for a late work day (I was in Denmark working for the five weeks, it’s not all fun and games) meant that I had slid quite happily into a sloth-like lifestyle. Eat drink and be merry was the plan right? And I was loving it.

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Until the worry started kicking in.

Cue Panic

What if I never wanted to get back on the bike? I had kind of assumed that it would be hard for me to stop riding.  Which it wasn’t. And then I had assumed that after a couple week’s off I’d start to crave the riding again. Which I hadn’t. I’d lost my mojo before, but this felt different because I wasn’t riding through the mojo loss. I wasn’t riding at all.

So I was worried. All these hopes, dreams, and goals I had started to think about were like dust in the wind, floating away from me. All the assumptions that I had made about my ‘graceful return to the bike’ were tossed to the side as I began to worry. Worry about getting lazy, not ever wanting to ride… and really about losing my identity. It’s funny how seeing myself as a ‘cyclist’ had really taken a big hold of who I was, and not just as an athlete, but also as a person. And perhaps with the time off the bike I felt like I had a lost a little piece of myself.

Or perhaps anxiety just sucks and makes me overthink everything.

Either way, for whatever reason I felt like I HAD to get back on the bike. And coincidentally we were preparing to move from our Air BnB on the coast to our ‘house’ just outside Copenhagen. So using a little bit of Strava magic, I created what I thought would be a nice scenic route from A to B, taking in a little gravel, a little scenic tour, and a little off-the-beaten-path. It’ll be fine, I thought, I haven’t ridden in a month but how hard could it be to knock off a 70km ride on a gravel bike in Denmark. I mean, it’s flat right?

Oh how we laughed.

First off, I set off without removing my water bottles from the fridge, so after 45 minutes I looked down to find empty cages. Muppet. Cue a slightly worried text back to my husband (for a possible emergency water run to find me) before I found a local supermarket. Unfortunately the bottles I did find were far too small for my cages, which meant I got to carry them in my back pockets. Turtle style.

Then the ‘gravel’ I had chosen turned out to be a wee bit more technical single track than I had bargained for. Turns out I had found some ace MTB tracks that weren’t exactly ideal for what I was riding. That was fun. Made me wish I had a different bike though!

This ride also reminded me of how much I disliked the tyres we had put on the CX last year. They were okay on the gravel, but on the tarmac it felt like I was working far too hard for every inch I gained in forward movement. Or maybe, just maybe, my fitness was not nearly as good as I thought it still should be.

That ride nearly broke me, and definitely did not rejuvenate my love for cycling.

The next few rides I dialed back the distance to around 40km, and that suited me just fine. I changed the loops, found something that suited where I was at, and just stuck with that single loop once or twice a week. And while it didn’t make me a ‘cycling believer’ again, it kept me from panicking about completely losing my fitness and having to come home and start from scratch. Again. And meanwhile, I just got on my commuter basket bike and rode every day. Just a little bit. And spent a ton of time with my family and friends.

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So hindsight being 20:20…

Reflecting on my Danish bike experience, I should have trusted myself more and listened to my body. The reason I didn’t want to get on the bike was because quite simply my body wasn’t ready for it yet. I still had a lot of healing to do from the trauma of the mountain bike crashes (plural) and mentally needed to re-focus on finding my purpose and goals again.

And sure enough, a few weeks later we went to Norway and I found my mojo again. I found my happy.

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Which was handy because when I got back to Australia it was deep in the heart of winter still so it was all indoor trainer rides. Back in the naughty corner, pedalling in circles. But you know, that’s okay with me. I know why I’m doing it now, and I know that this time it won’t last forever.

But bring on the weekends of sunshine and friends.

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