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Old 10-29-10, 12:47 AM   #1
Southpaws
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Back on the saddle, but riding in circles...

So I started riding again on August 5, after 3.5 years off due to lower back problems (and fear of relapse). I'm actually riding my mountain bike on the street for now to help build up stamina and strength so I won't die of exhaustion on the first dirt track when I hit the hills. I'd rather have a street bike at this point but that'll be a while.

I'm 46, 6'2", 200#, not really over-weight but not fit either. I'm now riding an average of 15 miles per day every other day - usually 2 days on 1 day off - with an avg speed of 14mph on hilly streets. Doesn't sound like much, but it's all I've been able to do so far and still be able to walk at the end. Yesterday (10/27) was the first time I've actually ridden 3 days in a row, after which my legs felt almost as sore and fatigued as they used to after two straight days, so I'm making a little progress. Tomorrow I'll start another set of three.

By 10/31 I'll have ridden only 600 miles in 3 months. I know I can only go so far and so fast with a MTB dragging me down on the street, but I really feel like I should be doing better.

So my question is, is my progress really as slow as I think it is? And what can I do to improve it either riding-style-wise or nutritionally, or both?

Any advice would be very gratefully received!
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Old 10-29-10, 10:23 AM   #2
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From what you are saying, my guess is that you are 'grinding' in higher gears, which is putting big stress on your leg muscles, which is limiting your distance. I think most people would tell you:

A. Don't worry about your speed.
B. Keep your cadence up. Spinning faster in lower gears will improve your conditioning with less strain on your legs. RPM => MPH.
C. Increasing your distance per ride is probably better than riding more often, as the quickest way to improve is the combination of Stress then Rest.

Nutritionally, you don't have to worry about eating on rides the length you are doing. Just eat healthy food, with an emphasis on the protein you need to build muscles.
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Old 10-29-10, 11:34 AM   #3
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Don't worry about speed and the MTB. That's fine. I know people who ride the 200 mile STP on MTBs with knobbies. Just makes it a little more work, but that's not a bad thing.

Try to increase your weekly distance, 10%/week. You'll find that riding more often is the best way to do that, followed by riding further. 5 days/week is good. Make one ride, usually a weekend ride, 2-3 times longer than your usual weekly training ride. That'll really hurt, but so what. That might mean riding shorter midweek, so you'll have the energy for the long ride. That's OK, just don't take more than 2 days in a row off. Keep riding during the week, even though you may have to back the intensity way off to do it and not get too tired. Really, pay no attention to your speed. I never watch it. If you have a cyclometer, keep it showing your cadence. That and time are the only things you need to know.
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Old 10-29-10, 02:13 PM   #4
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The big issue is your back. Whether or not you ride for fitness - if the back goes - you're screwed.

Living in an "all year" ride area, you need to decide if you should always ride more and more, or step back and take a few weeks off.

Keep a log, pay attention to your body, re-read your log, report back in three months.
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Old 10-29-10, 02:48 PM   #5
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RC makes a good point. Let's see - I have lumbar stenosis, thinned discs, and arthritic facets. No ruptured discs. (MRI) I've been rehabbing fairly aggressively since a severe soft tissue injury to my back last winter. So far, biking has helped a lot. In my personal case, working my back until the pain gets pretty severe, then resting it, has been the successful strategy. In my case, "resting it" is a matter of a day or two, just until the serious pain goes away. It still hurts pretty much all the time when I'm not on the bike, but it is getting better and the stresses it will absorb without serious pain are increasing. I have high hopes that I can control the pain through exercise for a long time to come. In any case, not exercising was not a successful strategy for me. YMMV.

I don't know what RC means by your back "going."
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Old 10-29-10, 06:17 PM   #6
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Have a PT or a good trainer develop a back exercise program you can do.
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Old 10-29-10, 10:55 PM   #7
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Thanks everyone for your responses!

@AzTallRider, Yeah I'm starting to get to the point where I'm watching the speedo more than I should, eventually I'll just cover it over and get the data post-ride as usual.

I'm actually not grinding in high gear (much). I pick the most comfortable gear I can ride in without mashing, to keep a steady cadence of 80 or so no matter what the incline. Any more than that and I feel like I'm trying to start a fire in the bottom bracket.

I paid closer attention during today's ride, and I realized that I am forced to keep more tension on the crank since most of my ride is uphill with 2 shorter downhill runs. I've been trying to keep up my average overall speed along with the 80 revs, and it might be what's doing me in. So tomorrow I'll cover up the speedo and just ride a bit more at ease and see what happens.

@Carbonfiberboy - Wish my Fisher was carbon: I could mash my legs into cramping a lot further from home. Seriously, I'll take yours and AzTallRider's advice and increase my distance over any attempt at increasing speed: I think I'm just impatient to have it all at once and that's unrealistic considering my age and skill level.

I'm making progress, but doubling my ride distance would really hurt at this point! I'm sure I'll have to build up to it but I'll start with something significantly longer the following weekend.

@Richard & Carbonfiberboy & late - I actually developed sciatica in my left leg back in '07. It hit me gradually: Nothing popped or banged and there was no causal traumatic experience, just pain and numbness in the top half of my leg and a bunch of other somewhat lesser symptoms.

My problem wasn't serious enough to require surgery, though I'm sure an MRI would be enlightening, if I could afford one. CFBoy, your spine problems sound like what might be afflicting me.

The doctor and PT I saw for this were both mediocre, bored, and more concerned with getting their day over than in helping me get better. In other words they sucked, so I've done research on my own and came up with a battery of stretches and exercises that I do, and I use an inversion table (I call it The Rack) to help stretch my spine out a few minutes a day, hangin' vertical. This is all in no way perfect, but it gets me through. Unfortunately for me, the US is a country without proper - or any - medical care for those who can't afford it, so I do this on my own and I make it work.

By gone I'm sure Richard means "royally screwing up my back to the point where I'd be seriously disabled". Well having to deal with my current problem has certainly opened my eyes. You can't do ANYTHING physical you really want to do with a bad back. Before this thing hit, I was all set to start taking mountain climbing lessons, Jeet Kune Do, and a few other things. Those are future goals now, but for a while I thought they were a an impossible dream. Now we'll see.

I honestly don't think cycling will be a problem for me. I'm actually increasing my stamina, speed, and distance that I can comfortably go. I used to have to stop at 5 or 10 miles and stretch my back a bit, and now I can usually complete the ride without this. I stretch & exercise my lower back before and after each ride, which probably helps make that happen. I have no doubt that I'll be able to improve my riding, as long as I do it a step at a time rather than leaping to it.

Thanks guys! I very much appreciate you taking the time to respond and for the excellent advice. I'll post my progress here as I reach milestones. No doubt those will be somewhat slow in coming, but I'll get there.

^^ Er, sorry about the novel. ^^
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Old 10-29-10, 11:22 PM   #8
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My Route

FWIW, here's my primary daily-ish route. Not much but it'll give a better idea of what I'm doing. It's not all flat.

When I lived in San Francisco, my ride route had more serious hills in the Presidio and took me across the Golden Gate Bridge and on (the Tour of California actually ran along most my route when it hit SF in 2009). I really miss that!


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Old 10-30-10, 01:03 AM   #9
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Hi

Not sure what your back problem is, but I feel like I am on top of my issues now with proper maintenance. I was fully out of action last December with a herniated compressed disk (an old injury) and was not able to get up off the floor for 3 days and was in bed mostly for 3 weeks.

My recovery was with therapy (osteopathy) and was recommended that I should do yoga - and do it at least 3 times per week - as well as continuing with stretching.

I still have poor flexibility but have kept up with the yoga (1 of the sessions is pilates which is also great). Since then (and wondering at the worst of it if I'll ever be fit and healthy again) I have made my health a priority. As I said I have kept the yoga up and built up my miles on the bike. I have also lost over 20kg, dropped from size 40" to size 34" and feel fit and healthy.

I moved from enjoying group rides to racing occasionally to racing as my passion.

If you want to build up on your biking, it still needs to be fun - finding a friend or a local group for group MTB rides could be fun and challenge yourself. Also moving across to a road bike if it is feasible could be good to ride with groups as well. Group riding would allow you to go further and build up your strength, as you could draft to start with and eventually move to the front of the group doing work over time.

Make sure you do any of this under the guidance of your health care provider though - you don't want to go hard or find out something you are doing is exacerbating an existing injury.

Make it fun and the miles and fitness will follow!
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Old 10-30-10, 08:07 PM   #10
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Okay I actually forced myself to take it easier today, and really I felt like I was barely breaking a sweat.

Yesterday I pushed my avg. time to 14.7 mph (fastest so far), today I kept myself in check and only did 13.2 mph. Aside from a stiff back I am feeling much less stiff and sore. No doubt I'll be able to ride further tomorrow at that pace.

Thanks again everyone for your advice!
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Old 11-01-10, 01:28 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tallmantim View Post
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Make it fun and the miles and fitness will follow!
tallmantim, thanks for your insights. Apologies for responding late: It's been a very busy day, with my last ride of the month square in the middle.

Unfortunately for me, many of your good suggestions aren't feasible for me at the moment, but I'm hoping they will be soon. No doubt they will be eventually... In the mean time, I'm going to keep riding: I enjoy challenging and pushing myself on the bike, and I don't think that'll change.

I'm glad to hear you're recovering from such difficult problems. Having experienced serious pain and numbness in my leg from sciatica, I totally understand being disabled from back problems.
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