Monday, 3 May 2010

Two words feared by cyclists: illness and injury

After finishing the Cape Epic I was looking forward to spending a week relaxing in South Africa before returning home. However, the day after the race had finished I started to get a sore throat, aches and fatigue. I spent my last few days in S. Africa watching Dave surf and sitting by the pool while he was out riding. I wasn't too disappointed though because I knew that I needed to rest for at least a week afterwards not only to make sure that I was fully recovered before starting to train again, but also because I'd been having a problem with my knee for a few weeks.

I started to get knee pain while I was training in Afan, Wales at the end of February. I took advice from a couple of physiotherapists and decided to stop training during the two weeks running up to the start of the Epic. During the race all seemed to be OK until I used different pedals during Stage 6 - the new pedals didn't seem to give me as much float as my old ones.

When we got home I rested for a few more days before going out and testing my knee, but alas it still wasn't right. I was due to race at the Muc Off 8 hour enduro and I reluctantly had to pull out. I managed to convince Dave to swap roles for a day: I stood in the field handing out bottles and he raced. Never again! He complained the whole day and I got sunburn!

I tested my knee the following week, but again it still didn't feel right. It ached and generally felt uncomfortable inside. If I tried to ride it stiffened up and my kneecap would grate and crack. I decided that I should go for a professional bike fit to check that there wasn't anything wrong with my position on the bike. I spent almost two hours with Jon at Ride Bike. It was reassuring to know that my position was fine; however we did make small adjustments to my cleats.
Bike fit at Ride Bike

I started to get into a vicious cycle of resting, riding for a couple of days, aggravating my knee, resting, riding, aggravating it again, and so on. I was fortunate enough to be able to get an appointment to see a brilliant Doctor in Manchester last week. He diagnosed a patella femoral problem caused by a biomechanical issue. Over time, poor biomechanics have resulted in exceptionally tight and shortened lateral muscles (retinaculum and ITB) which are consequently pulling my patella out of the femoral groove every time I bend and straighten my leg. This explains the disconcerting popping, grating, ache and pain. He gave me footbeds for my shoes to address my overpronation and valgus wedges to go under my cleats to help off load my kneecap. I need to loosen my lateral muscles through stretching and soft tissue massage. He advised me that gentle pain free riding is fine, but that a 100km+ race with more than 3500 metres of climbing was out of the question. We didn't board our flight to Italy and I didn't start the Riva del Garda marathon this weekend :-(

My new Rotwild R2 hard tail :0)

Me being me, I decided that I would go out and test the footbeds and wedges immediately. I managed a couple of zone 2 rides without too much discomfort, so after one day of rest I decided that I would take out my new hard tail and hammer it around some of our local trails in Wareham forest. Two hours later the discomfort and twinges returned. In typical Sally style I denied and ignored for a couple more hours until I was forced to accept that I do still have a problem. After an hour on the phone to the Doctor today I now realise that I have to acknowledge that there is no quick fix and that rehab is going to be gradual and progressive. Where I go from here now has to be guided by my knee and not by my overwhelming desire to just get on my bike and pretend all is fine.

I have now passed the phase of denial and entered a phase characterised by periods of frustration, optimism, anger, pessimism, and despair (not necessarily in that order and sometimes all at once!). We are not boarding our flight to Sicily tomorrow and I won't be on the start line of the Etna marathon.

My two new bikes are taunting me and calling my name, but I do have the power to resist. I DO have the power to resist..........

My new (and unridden) Rotwild R2 full suspension