Back on the road

It’s now a month since LEL ended, and at last I’m starting to feel like my body is beginning to recover from the battering it received. Two weeks after the ride I jumped back on the bike and went for a DC team training ride. At first, everything felt good – the bike now nice and light with bags and audax paraphernalia removed. It was a grey, cold and wet day with some rain as we rolled into Paarl. Despite the weather, I wasn’t feeling too bad as we slogged up the 18km long climb of Du Toits kloof pass – a higher climb than anything LEL had thrown at me. I could definitely feel the strength in my legs from all that long distance training, and I’m pretty sure if I compared my time to the top it would be significantly quicker than on last year’s DC training.

All was not 100% though, which I began to realise back down in Paarl as we rolled out from a water and snack stop at the Spa. I wasn’t at all comfortable on the bike. My neck and shoulders were beginning to get sore again, my knees were burning, and I was struggling to even keep up our moderate 23 to 25km/h pace. By this stage we had the sweep vehicle all to ourselves, and every now and then I caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye. It took a mountain of willpower over the last 40km or so not to just dismount and get in. I was hurting, I was cold, and I simply wasn’t enjoying the ride even with good company of my team-mates.

The week after I gave in, and finally went to see the physio as Yoli had been pleading with me to do for several days. I’m extremely stubborn when it comes to pain and doctors, but with the joy of riding stripped from my week something had to be done. It took the physio no time at all to sign me off from any further riding or training involving back and shoulder muscles, and that done she proceeded to prod, poke, pull, and push every conceivable point of pain in my neck that could be found. It was agony, but with every stab something also seemed to release. After some time lying with acupuncture needles stuck in me and a hot pack on my neck, I was sent on my way with a batch of stretching exercises and an appointment for the following week.

With great relief, after diligently working on the stretching, at the next session I was cleared to try two sessions on the bike. The first was a short 45 minute session on the indoor trainer. As well as getting me pedaling again, such a short session had the added benefit of forcing me to pick one of the videos I don’t often train with: Fight Club – a hectic blur or 16 consecutive maximum intensity intervals, 1 minute each with a minute rest in between. By the end my legs were jelly, my heart rate was up around 180, and I was light headed. But the neck was only marginally sore. The second was a 1 hour road ride, and the weather was truly foul – a proper cold and wet Cape Sunday morning. The few of us who turned up gathered around all hoping the others would give up and either get back in their cars or go immediately for coffee. None of us did though, and so our small band of DC team riders headed out., wheels splashing through puddles and spraying up road grit all over our feet, drive chains, and each other.

Despite the miserable weather, I was sad to turn for home early at Stellenbosch. It was fun to be riding again, even more so because Darren who I hadn’t ridden with sicne last year’s DC had made the trip out from Cape Town to join us, and Penny’s husband Jean had also come along, who I’d never ridden with. I’d preferred to have carried on with them against the physio’s instructions, but knew it didn’t make sense to pay for advice and then ignore it. I cheered myself up by ripping the road up all the way home. I might have been limited to just an hour’s riding, but nothing had been said about how much effort I was allowed to put in. I put maximum effort into every hill, and didn’t hold back on the descents. As a result I got back to the car out of breath and sweating, but more importantly I was smiling – there was very little discomfort in my neck. My hands and feet though were still suffering a bit from numbness at the tips, and the cold was not helping with this one bit. I had to remind myself that as this was Spring Day, the weather must surely warm up soon.

It did, on Wednesday for the normal weekday club ride. And after the excellent progress on my two test rides I was given a clean bill of health and cleared to build up to normal training again. Even with that, leaping immediately into a full 100km ride seemed foolish so I limited myself to 50km, and John and Theunis turned back with me. The three of us pushed a decent pace though, keeping the Garmin in the 28 to 30km/h region for long stretches on the way back, alternating turns pulling at the front along the long slog from Gordon’s Bay. John led us to an excellent coffee venue too, Snobs Roastery near the Somerset West Mall – perfect spot to end a good mornings ride.

There was one other thing gone from the DC training a few weeks earlier too – no sore knees. I’d had a hunch my saddle wasn’t right, even though I’d put it back on at the same height as the tape marking it. A couple of things had made me wonder if it was fractionally off straight, even though it looked right – it didn’t “feel” quite right, and I was struggling to balance with no hands on the bars. When Darren also threw this out as a possible cause on the Sunday ride I did a thorough check. It was so close, it was really hard to see, but it did look a millimeter or two out after checking from several angles. Sure enough, on the Wednesday ride, I was sitting balanced and comfortable again, and sitting up with hands off the bars was no issue at all. It’s amazing such a small misalignment could have such a significant effect.

A couple of days on, and perhaps helped by the slow warming of the weather, the fingers and toes are also beginning to feel more normal too. Most importantly though, I’m getting that itching sensation when I spend too long off the bike – the road is out there waiting.

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