Monday, 21 October 2013

Dealing with the Hurt

I'm a cycling commuter and my commute is 12 miles each way, unless I take the long way round. This means I typically do around 120 miles per week just cycling to work and back.

I have some rather steep hills on my commute and all truth be told, there are days when I really don't feel like riding up those hills.

Most days I'm fine with the hills, even though I have to drag not just myself up them, but also my panniers, which typically weigh in at 10kg.

I'm a Strava user, too. Now if you believe all the hype about Strava, you'd be thinking I race everywhere with callous disregard for all other road users. The reality is radically different. While Strava is great, in that it does bring a competitive element to things, the simple truth is if I do race, it is almost only against myself, as I try to improve my times.

Often I find that a potentially good time on a certain segment wouldn't be good, as traffic lights changed in front of me, forcing me to stop. (Shock, horror! Yes, most cyclists actually do stop for red lights!) That's simply the luck of the draw and on other days I may catch them all green.

The segments that matter the most to me are the uphill ones, and yes, sometimes I do race along, trying to beat my own or another cyclist's time. But let me qualify that: on some of these uphills I go at speeds of 7mph, or slower. And that's when I'm "racing"! Hardly what you'd consider a dangerous speed, now is it? Also, virtually all of my Strava times were set while riding with laden panniers.

All of the above have a physical price to pay, as well as physical benefits.

Benefits first: I eat what I like, and as much of it as I please. When you burn an additional 1400 calories per day simply getting to work and back you don't join Weight Watchers! Of course, often, over weekends, I may go for a longer ride, typically burning 3000 or more calories during the ride.

The biggest benefit is my good health. I rarely fall ill, and I have a good level of fitness, though I'd like to increase my fitness. Since taking up cycling I've lost a lot of weight and I feel better for having done so.

The downside is that sometimes I hurt.

Any cyclist that cycles quite a lot will be intimately familiar with that hurt - a constant background ache in your leg muscles and prodding or bumping your legs can really hurt a lot. To speed up recovery, top athletes have sports massage, but that isn't practical (nor affordable on a regular basis) for most "normal" cyclists.

The muscles hurt because of the high workload they're under, and they do need time to recover.

This is why time off the bike is so important - muscles do need a break. Because of this I occasionally don't cycle in to work. Usually this is a once-per-month occurrence, often far less than that, but during the past 3 weeks I've actually had three weekdays off the bike. Additionally, periodically I don't cycle at all over weekends.

Recovery time is good to ease the pain of sore muscles, and importantly, good for helping muscles rebuild to be stronger and fitter than before.