Injuries suck, but I’m starting to think they are the universe’s way of telling you it’s time to take a break. Since starting bike racing almost 4 years ago, it has felt like I have had one injury after another. This may be a result of learning a lot of technical skills in a short amount of time and not being fully aware of my abilities, but a lot of my injuries were also totally random. I’m beginning to realize that my body may have been trying to get me to deal with a health issue I had been ignoring for quite some time, that issue being relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). This is something that started when I was still ski racing and I’ve always ignored it as I felt normal and if it weren’t for a lack of my period, I would have had no idea.
I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time but I was at an all-time low this fall. I didn’t have the motivation or energy to train and I felt abnormally weak while riding. I was at a very unhealthy body weight and had zero strength in my legs. It took a crash at a cyclocross race to shake me up before realizing the dangerous state I was in. The crash knocked me out, leaving me with another concussion and a very, very sore body. I was barely able to walk which made me feel completely broken. For the first time I felt genuinely scared for my health.
Why did I keep crashing? What would the next crash bring? I started to question whether this whole bike racing thing was for me. Lying in bed a couple days after the crash with an awful headache and no energy to do anything, I decided it was time to change something. Looking myself in the mirror, the reflection looking back at me was nothing but skin and bones with some fresh bruises added to the mix.
Thankfully Keith and Catharine already had a plan to get me back to health. They decided it would be best for me to take a month of complete rest. Not something I was overly excited about but something I knew needed to happen. During this time, I focused on gaining some weight and allowing my body to fully heal.
Taking a break from training is really hard for me and something I rarely do. I had to constantly remind myself that it will only make me stronger. I knew that if I were to continue training I would be digging myself into a deeper hole and my performance would suffer. There were a lot of days of frustration, sadness and worry that I would lose the desire to push myself. I knew I did it to myself but it still felt unfair and I often questioned why this was happening to me. I feel awful admitting this because I know that to many people this is a ridiculous problem to have and I realize that there are way worse problems to have. Living with other athletes and being surrounded by an active community only made my break from training more agonizing.
That month was probably the least active I have been in my entire life and I really missed my time outside. Being outside and being active is part of who I am and taking a break from that almost made me feel like a totally different person.
Now, it wasn’t all bad. I became content (sort of) with the slower pace of life and found joy in doing other things. I was motivated to gain some weight and enjoyed finding new recipes to cook. It was also my busiest semester of school yet which kept me busy and having a bit more time to focus on my classes took a lot of stress off.
The month honestly flew by and soon enough I was able to ride my bike again. I was itching to get back to being active as my energy levels felt more than restored. Getting back to riding was a bit of a shock. I would get so out of breath and my legs would get sore from a 1-hour ride but I felt great. The initial shock of getting back in shape didn’t last too long and soon enough I started to feel a more “normal,” but even better than I had before I took time off. I knew I was out of shape but I still felt way better riding than I can remember feeling in a long time. I was fueling my rides properly and finally actually had the energy and mental clarity to ride and focus on school work.
I’m feeling amazing now. Despite taking all that time off, I feel stronger than I have in a long time and I have more energy than ever. I thought my energy was fine before but I didn’t know I could feel this good!
The process back to total “health” may still take some time and I’m not quite sure how long but I’m confident I’m moving in the right direction.
This whole experience has really helped see how important it is to fuel my training properly and allow my body to rest. The motivation and energy that follows a big rest period is something special and I think big gains can be made from that.
I’m not totally sure what this means for my performance this year but I do know that I am on the right track to improving my overall health which is far more important.
For more on red S visit https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/48/7/491
Relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S) is the result of insufficient caloric intake and/or excessive energy expenditure. Consequences of this low-energy condition can alter many physiological systems, including metabolism, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis, and cardiovascular and psychological health.