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Are You Listening

Back in 2013 I did something crazy. Okay, I’m sure I did more than just ONE crazy thing that year, but one thing in particular stands out. I biked my first century ride (100+ miles).

Training for that ride introduced me to something called The Sufferfest. The Sufferfest is a company that has put together some of the best, and most grueling, bike training videos out there. On top of that, it’s its own mythical land and culture. Sufferlandria. Anyone not part of Sufferlandria is in Couchlandria, and consequently a Couchlandrian.

Couchlandrians sit around all day eating donuts and watching Dr. Phil. And while I love Dr. Phil (I really really do!), I would implore you to not be a Couchlandrian. But I digress. . .

Each February, in the dark and cold depths of winter, there is the Tour of Sufferlandria, the Greatest Grand Tour of a mythical nation. It’s nine days of intense indoor cycling, and I decided to take on that challenge again this year.

The Tour of Sufferlandria is like any other stage race where each day holds new challenges for the rider. It always starts out with hope. And almost always ends in devastating pain and suffering. But of course, for a good cause, as it does raise money for The Davis Phinney Foundation.

I started out all hopeful, and the first few days I felt pretty good, but I have to admit I was questioning the numbers that were showing up on my computer. Something just wasn’t quite right.

I use a powermeter when training on the bike. And I won’t get technical about what that means or how it works, but the bottom line is that it puts a wattage output number to what would otherwise be the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), or how hard I’m working.

Now, I know that I push myself in training. Work hard play hard, as they say. But if there’s one thing I embrace totally and completely, it’s rest days. You have to rest. Period. That’s when all the good stuff happens!

So going into this I definitely had a rest week of stretching and just recovery rides - rides of 30-45 minutes at a very low intensity. My legs were feeling pretty good. So there was definitely more to this “not quite right” feeling.

By the fourth day, when even with the intensity backed down from 100% to 65%, I was still struggling, I was positive something was off. And it turns out that the indoor trainer I was using (which is what my bike is hooked up to so that I can ride it stationary) was throwing my numbers off.

Okay, so I MAY have contributed to the reason those numbers are off. A few months back when I was moving it, I tripped while I was carrying it and then dropped it. Since then it’s been kinda weird, but except for a slight wobble it was fine.

That wobble may have gotten worse. My first clue should have been when the nut that holds the resistance unit in place fell off. But I just kept putting it back on. So my numbers may have been off for awhile.

For the last few rides, I switched to my little travel trainer, which is how I figured out that the numbers were off. Because using that felt much more doable.

In the end, I was exerting far too much effort for what was being asked of me, and my legs and body just couldn’t recover enough in between.

And yet, I knew that something was wrong. I tried to taylor my eating more to get me the energy I would need for the ride, and that didn’t help. I tried to just muscle through it and use mental strength to tell myself I was stronger, but that too probably only worked to my detriment.

How many times has your body tried to tell you something and you pushed it to the side? Maybe you needed to get something done. Maybe life was life-ing, and you HAD to get things done. Or maybe you just weren’t even listening, so when those little signs of something going awry went unnoticed, your body started screaming at you?

In our culture of western medicine, we’ve stopped listening to our bodies. We push signs away and ignore them until they become big huge problems and we are forced to go to the doctor.

For four days, my legs were screaming at me that something was wrong, but I didn’t really listen to them. I just screamed back “Shut up, legs!” as anyone in the cycling world is trained to do.

But our bodies tell us so much! Some dry skin here, a pimple there, an ache or two, bags under the eyes. . . . these are all things that we’ve just accepted happen, and assume they will fix themselves on their own. They aren’t really anything we’d run to the doctor for, nor should we. But these are all signs, and there are many many more signs, that something isn’t quite right.

Bags under the eyes are rather obvious. We just need to get some quality sleep. Or maybe, actually, your kidney function is off, or you’re not digesting effectively.

Dry skin needs more lotion, OR maybe you actually need more Vitamin E in your diet. Pimples, too, could be a Vitamin E problem, or really anything that can help the liver do its job better.

Aches and pains, while we are happy to pop some Advil and ignore, might just be your stomach needs help to function properly.

My example of the last week wasn’t quite as subtle. My legs were very tired, more than they should have been. It was pretty obvious I needed to rest. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me that. My point is that there are so many things we can fix if we just pay attention to the signs and be better listeners to hear what our bodies are saying.

Clearly mine was telling me to go get a massage! Ha ha!

While this blog, for me, falls under my “Fitness” category, it’s unique because it’s not about working out. In fact, it’s about the complete opposite. It’s about resting, relaxing, being still and listening. But that’s still part of Fitness. You have to make time to rest, to check in with yourself and know your body.

What’s your body trying to say to you?