I crashed pretty badly this weekend. The camera was rolling (literally rolling down the single track in front of me on the top of my boyfriend’s helmet), I was chasing Claire to keep up through the Afan Forest, and I forgot how to steer.
My front wheel slammed into a boulder and I catapulted off the bike, mangling my right arm and shoulder in the rocky trail below. Clutching my arm and praying I could still move it, the shock washed over me as I sat there fighting back the tears.
Two apple sour gummies and some words of sympathy later, I managed to get back on the bike. Only to fall off again just minutes later on a technical section of a climb which I managed with aplomb the previous day. Then the floodgates opened and the tears poured. My breath shortened and I could feel myself hyperventilating as the mist of panic and relief rushed over me for the second time in the space of a quarter hour.
But blessed with good bones and a fickle sense of humour, I managed to get back up and continue at a slower pace for the rest of the ride.
I could feel the bruising coursing up and down my right arm from crash number one, while crash number two pelted insults up my backside with every drop and every stepped descent. I was tired, I was sore, and it got me thinking about recovery.
Any good coach will tell you the rest and recovery you get while training is just as important as the training itself. Some of the best athletes I know don’t actually train very much, but they train really effectively. I think this is because they know how to rest. They’ve learned how to take advantage of rest time during their training (those two minutes ‘active rest’ are really active rest). They don’t over-do it. They know that there’s a big difference between miles and good miles.
My right side (and ego) is still in a world of hurt, so I thought I’d share half-a-doze tips I’ve learnt about recovery…
There’s a time for hot and there’s a time for cold. It’s good to know the difference. Sprains, thrown backs and general swelling = cold. I learned this the hard way and wasted a week putting heat on a sore back. Cramps, muscle tension, and when you’re really, really cold after a ride = heat. Hot baths, hot water bottles, and even deep heat salves can help. When in doubt, ask your osteopath.
2) Sports massage
I’m a dedicated believer in the power of a strong pair of hands. Working most days 10+ hours at a laptop and then trying to bookend that with training, my shoulders, back and hamstrings are in an almost constant state of pain. My favourite sports masseuse is the awesome Nusrat Ceesay at London Osteopath on Old Street. Not only was she British 400m hurdle champion in 2009, she’s got the best hands in the business. She pummels you – but 48 hours later you’re a new woman.
There’s a lot of peer pressure to carb-load and pasta binge in the world of endurance sports, but I won’t touch pasta with a ten-foot pole. It gums up the works. But, in all seriousness, there’s been a lot of research on why carbs are basically the devil. Since this time last year I’ve been a feeble subscriber to the Paleo diet, trying my best to avoid processed foods and starchy carbohydrates like pasta, bread and even white potatoes.
Being a realist, I make concessions, but when training kicks in, I can always feel the difference. In a nutshell, the keys to eating like a caveman are thus: no processed white stuff (sugar, flour, potatoes, pasta, dairy); eat a lot more lean (and ideally wild) meat like venison, game, lean pork, loads of fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, etc) and seafood (crab, shellfish, etc); eat a lot of raw (salads) or lightly steamed/sauteed veg like kale, spinach, broccoli etc; and eat a lot of good fats like eggs, avocados, nuts, seeds, and raw oils.
Other stuff is within reason. But the key is making sure your body gets the right kinds of sugar when it needs it (i.e. high glucose sugars) immediately before, during and after exercise. This is the ONLY time your body needs sugar. Hence all the mid-ride cake. Or at least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself. A great book for anyone interested is the Paleo Diet for Athletes, which explains the science and provides some scrummy recipes for eating like a caveman on a modern endurance athlete’s training plan. Eating this way majorly cuts down on recovery times because your muscles never get a nasty build up of hydrogen (that acid feeling).
Like a lot of cyclists, I’m rubbish when it comes to stretching. I’ll occasionally swing a leg up or touch my toes, but that yoga session pencilled into my Monday training schedule always seems to get ignored. Until recently. I hate group yoga/pilates sessions (that cringe-worthy “Ohm” at the end) and I don’t really know how it’s possible to stretch for 45 minutes on my own, so when I discovered My Yoga Online I was really pleased. It works on a subscription basis and it’s pretty much the only way I can convince myself that my hamstrings are friends. You can choose from thousands of professionally taught yoga videos of varying degrees of difficulty and time. I’d highly recommend Slow Burn Hatha Yoga for an all-round stretch recovery session.
5) Dubious extras
I’d put in this category: Arnica Salve (not really sure what it does, but I still rub it onto bruises); pre-processed recovery shakes (nothing better than an old-fashioned omelette and non-dairy smoothie); smelling salts, incense, and bad witch voodoo like homeopathy, mothers-in-law and Chinese herbs.
6) Necessary extras
Sex: underrated by most athletes mid-season, but it’s cheaper than a sports massage, the bruising is optional and you’ll sleep better; Pets, full-stop; chips with mayo and a really good burger from time to time; another sport to partake in, but not too often.