Wow, I have spent a lot of time at Rausch Physical Therapy since my last column. And, even worse I have put more miles on my car than on my bike in that same period of time. My lil’ 6-speed manual Mini is loving life with me ripping around in it and wearing out its shoes, but my electronic Shimano Di2 is completely bored, holding its charge, doing nothing in my garage. So what in the wild, wild world of sports is going on?
I should have known that the last-minute European trip to get a few bonus races in was a bad idea when my bike did not show up. However, I am always one to persevere and find a way. As Tony Dungy says, “No excuses, no explanations,” or as my high school coach ingrained in me, be flexible, adapt, overcome. So I did. I found a bike and raced even though I was going to be stuck in my right pedal unless something or someone physically removed me.
Well, 10k into the Tour of Flanders, while I was standing and waiting for the bikes and bodies in front of me to detangle themselves, I was the final unsuspecting domino of a series, and I somehow ripped out of that pedal I just mentioned. Not good, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. However, things were not right during the remainder of the race or during the next races. I think my brain and body were protecting me by preventing me from powering up with my right leg. A few days later, though, the pain had also presented itself more significantly, and I had to listen. I was done with the Drenthe World Cup only 20 minutes in, and I was actually going to be on the shelf for about three more weeks.
I flew home and got things checked out. An MRI revealed up to a grade-2 strain in two valuable leg muscles, high and tight as the guys say. It was absolutely necessary for me to address the injury immediately and completely… and that required … the dreaded words … FORCED REST … IN-SEASON FORCED REST.
Those words are a part of every sport. We all know them, and I am sure we have all had our battles with them. Thankfully, I have learned from my ways. I have also learned that when FORCED REST is required, there is no getting around it. And, the longer I fight it, put it off, or am just plain miserable being less than 100 percent trying to train or race through it, the longer that FORCED REST period becomes, while the potential for problems down the line increases. Even though our bodies are amazing machines, and I am continually pushing mine to the limit and making it recover on the fly, sometimes, I have to step back and listen to it. Sometimes, I have to say, “ok, ok, OK!! I will do nothing and let you heal.”
It has been a long time since I have had to shut down like this. As I have matured as an athlete, I have learned to listen to my body and not to ignore it when it talks. I am still a driven endurance athlete, and I am not perfect, but I am better. Since I am more willing to listen rather than to deafly block out all noise, I have found that my body actually talks a lot!
“Stretch me, take time to get a massage, drink more, drink less, better recovery nutrition, back off today, etc.” Little whispers. If I listen to the whispers, it is easier to help my body be proactive about staying well. It is also easier for me to differentiate between what is an issue versus what is not a big deal. If I ignore the whispers, my body will speak a little firmer or even shout, and I will pay the price.
Back when I was a runner, I was afraid to listen or I didn’t know how, and the physical bills were often expensive. Those whispers would rarely go away without help. The shouts never did. Forced rest was the only way to solve those problems, and the louder the shout was, the longer the time away from doing what I loved to do.
Thankfully, over the last five years of my cycling career, I have teamed up with some very good people who have helped me stay well. My awesome massage team of Cynthia at WIN Therapy and Kathy at Dynamic Touch have taken great care to make time for me, and to help me be proactive about staying well. (Cynthia actually learned directly from Dr. Travell. She whispers back to my muscles.) Then, there is Kevin at RauschPT who has also been instrumental in getting me well, and I will be taking advantage of his skills to keep me healthy and strong as I move forward. My SpiderTech kinesiology tape has also become a very valuable tool to address various issues either before they have become a problem, or as I move through them. (And my uncle will be very disappointed if I don’t mention his chiropractic help while I am home.) All in all, I am truly blessed to do what I do, and I am extremely thankful to all of these individuals (and of course many others,) who have shared their expertise with me.
I love riding my bike, but I also know that I love to ride it more when I am healthy! I am anxious to get back to training and racing, but I had to rest. There was no way around it. And believe it or not, I am thankful for this forced time to lay down in the green pastures, and the forced time to let my body get some extra recovery and prepare me for the future. I am sad about the re-direction on my racing calendar. I really wanted to race l’Aude with Mara and the USA girls. However, I also know that things happen for a reason, at least with me, and I’ll sit it out this year. I’m in good hands. I know that.
Amber Neben is a former world champion, Olympian, and seasoned international vet in her ninth year of full-time racing. In this column she hopes to give readers a different perspective on cycling, life as a cyclist, and the women’s pro peloton. You can all Amber’s column on VeloNews on her author page, follow her at www.amberneben.com or www.twitter.com/amberneben.