By: Heather Nielson
I’ve been injured every season for the last four years of bike racing. I know I’m not alone but the older I get and the closer I get to being competitive at the national level, the less patience I have for putting up with it. The time off the bike, the soreness, the constant re-bandaging, the training through the pain etc. I’ve broken a tailbone, both clavicles, injured my back, sustained a severe concussion, torn my right hamstring, injured both knees, gotten stitches and lots of road rash. It comes with the territory and I’m not complaining but I’ve also learned that there are more parts to crashing that you have control over than you think you do. The last second touch of your brake in a wet corner, the split second overlap of the wheel in front of you as they swiped the other direction. ‘It all happens so fast!’ We all say; as if to absolve us of any responsibility. The better you get at racing, the better you get at not only handling your bike in tight packs and at very fast speeds but also at anticipating what’s going to happen. You get better at reading body language, the race, the energy of the group, the terrain, the weather, your own body & what it is and isn’t capable of doing and when and what could all go wrong and when. You become less reactionary, more calm and you take fewer dumb risks so that you’re in a position to take ‘better’ risks when it counts to WIN.
There are two parts to coming back from injury: the mental and the physical
My own ‘achilles heal’ is braking in wet corners. Two of my worst injuries were sustained going through wet turns on a decent. I had formed a bad habit of playing a ‘movie’ in my head over and over again every time I rode through a wet corner. I had subconsciously laid down the neuro-muscular framework for creating the same problem over and over again. I worked with my mental skills coach Carrie Cheadle to re-write my script. In other words: the neuro-muscular pattern that I have developed had to be overridden and a new one laid down in its’ place. It’s a lot like breaking an old habit, &/or trying to form a new one: it takes time and deliberate practice and patience. Every time you crash, you need to break it down into all of it’s components, just like you would post-race. What happened, when and why. What parts were in your control? You may find that there are more parts in your control than not. You’re not necessarily a victim. Empower yourself with the resources & knowledge necessary to prevent crashing in the future as much as possible. Write all of that down & start to think about all those new pieces of the puzzle every time you ride and race so that new neuro-muscular patterns can be laid down.
The physical part of injury is a very fine line. We suffer as bike racers & learn to embrace the pain. The pain from injury is different from the pain of pedaling past your ‘perceived’ physical limits when someone attacks, or you’re on a climb. Learning to listen to your body to accurately discern between ‘I can and need to keep pushing through this pain’ and ‘riding through this is only going to injure me further’ takes a long time and a lot of self awareness. Never stop working on that piece of the puzzle. Stop ignoring ‘nagging twitches’ that come up after you’ve changed shoes, saddle, fit, cleats etc that could turn into an over-use injury a week later that puts you out for a month or more. Don’t pretend you’re not sick when symptoms start to show up & immediately assess: neck up only: ok to ride. Neck down: off the bike and in bed! Learn to properly care for road rash & make extra rest, protein in your diet & physical therapy higher priorities. Recover just as hard, if not harder than you train.
Skip the warm-up
When the temperatures are at or above 80-90 degrees, there’s really no reason to put in much of a warm up. You’ll probably find that it won’t take long for your muscles to warm up so I would recommend trying to stay cool. Stay in the shade, pour cold water over your head and onto your shorts and jersey. In even more extreme temperatures, I have used ice in my jersey as well as in stockings stuffed down the back of my jersey.
When you’re racing in temperatures over 90 degrees, heat exhaustion is a real health concern that I’ve personally experienced and is not to be taken lightly. If you start to get nauseous, dizzy or foggy/start to black out, then you are past ‘the point of no return’ and you should stop riding immediately and get cooled off as soon as possible. No matter how acclimated one is to the temperature, there is a maximum amount of time in those temperatures one can exhaust themselves in so don’t take temperature extremes for granted under any circumstance.
Part of staying hydrated also has to do with the proper amount of electrolytes in the liquids that you’re ingesting. The hotter it is, the more sweat and electrolytes will be drawn from your body. If you start a ride, whether it’s hot or not, already dehydrated, there is no physically possible way for you to make that up during the ride. Always start any physical activity properly hydrated and again, listen to your body for how often you need to drink.
Sipping more frequently is better than gulping infrequently for several reasons: it’s easier on your system to absorb water and electrolytes if taken in smaller and more spaced out amounts and also if you’re already taxing your body in extreme temperatures, adding another ‘pressure’ of having to deal with GI distress is only going to make your body’s ability to sustain the endurance &/or effort that much harder.
For a complete description of signs, symptoms and preventive measures to take for heat exhaustion, heat stroke and other heat stress conditions the Center for Disease Control has a complete list here
*”Heat Acclimation improves exercises performance” published in the October issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology
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I’m originally from Utah (this is Heather Neilson the new Coach and sales person at Cycle U) where the temperatures swing to more extremes than they do in either Northern California or the Pacific Northwest where I live now. However, riding or racing in higher temperatures than what you are used to can cause anyone to experience negative heat related consequences with a concurrent decrease in performance depending on how acclimated you are.
In other words, it doesn’t have to reach 100 degrees while doing an outdoor activity for you to experience heat related illness. You become acclimated to whatever climate you are living and riding in over a fairly short period of time; and you may find that you struggle riding in temperatures than you previously had very little trouble tolerating if it is new once again.
Photo compliments Erik Cho
The time it will take to acclimate to the heat is individual and you will need to pay attention to your body to decide how to ride that line. As a guide however, there was a study performed by human physiology researchers at the University of Oregon wherein it was discovered that large physiological gains can be achieved in trained cyclists by doing 90 minute easy rides in high heat for 10 days.*
It’s not necessary to ride in the heat every day. The main idea is to acclimate slowly over time in either temperature extreme and learn to listen to your body. So very much like the rest of training, listening to your body is an absolutely necessary skill to have, now get out there and gradually get used to it!
Stay tuned for the next segment, Staying COOOL!
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