The Fear of Inactivity

The neglected trainer
Since mid-November, I’ve been experiencing pain in my lower back. At first, I just shrugged it off as a sore muscle. I theorized on its cause: possibly from overdoing some pre-season ski-prep workouts or due to a recently purchased, posture-enforcing stool. The workouts included a lot of twisting of the core and my core has been severely neglected for a year. The stool, for a quick explanation, has a single, pivoting leg which requires you to keep your core engaged and aligned properly—like a balance ball. Unfortunately, I had trouble positioning the stool in just the right spot in front of my desk to keep me inline with my keyboard and monitor, so without realizing it, I began leaning a bit to compensate, which crimped my hips on one side.

Regardless of the cause though, I thought the pain would eventually work itself out with some stretching and foam rolling, but by Thanksgiving, I had difficulty bending over to tie my shoes. The area between the small of my back and my left glute felt inflamed. The closest thing I had to a diagnosis was something called “back mice”. According to the internet, that is a thing, but I’m settling on that yet. That assessment was made by a masseuse who treated me at a spa down in Zion over Thanksgiving. To his credit, after his 60-minute massage and two 15 minute sessions in the hot tub, I did feel as good as new, but that relief was short lived. The next morning I got out of bed and felt the same discomfort when hinging forward: broad, stinging pain, like someone seared me like a steak.

What makes this ailment unique from other back issues I’ve had is that it isn’t acute pain originating in the spine; instead, it presents more like a broad muscle burn, similar to what I would feel if I was doing too many bicep curls—flames and tingling. Also, the pain really only lasts for a few degrees of movement; everything before and after a certain angle seems fine. Thankfully, that means in spite of all this, I have been able to still comfortably sit on a bike, so through Sunday, I had continued on with normal activity as best I could.

But on Monday, in spite of being able to ride my rides and get in that first day, I had to confront the fact that this problem isn’t getting any better. And more disturbingly, it’s migrating to other parts of my body. It now appears to have moved lower down in my glute. So I decided to take a break and stop all activity for a week, just to see if I can make some progress in recovery.

It’s always a wise decision to listen to your body, and a week of not working out, especially during the holidays doesn’t seem like that big of a sacrifice. However, I just finished week 3 of training, and I really need training right now. My weight in November was the highest it had been in a year. Also, the workouts in my program build on top of each other, so taking even just a week off is more than a pause, its a setback. And if there is one thing I’ve learned while training over the last year and a half is that you can’t “cram” training, it’s a progression.

Maybe I wanted to take a break. Maybe my motivation to train just wasn’t at the level to keep going, but right now, my biggest concern is my overall mobility. I’m just not getting around very well. I think I could get on the bike and ride, but I have no idea if 90 minutes of riding is exacerbating this problem or not. Even as I sit on my couch and write this, I can feel tension running between my ass and upper thigh. That doesn’t seem normal. Instead of being challenged by training, I have to instead find a way to feel good about myself while healing. That’s not easy for me because so much of my happiness is linked to my physical well being. If I cant ski or ride, I’m not a fun person to be around.

A common response to injuries is to feel like the body let you down. That’s a strange approach, metaphysically speaking, to divide yourself into components for the purpose of laying blame. Blame, however, gives us a reason for things, a cause. For a person like me, that “cause” is comforting because it helps me avert problems in the future. All comes back to “learning”, but also “gratitude”. Gratitude for what I can do and what I have done. I genuinely looked at this winter’s BaseCamp training as a lifeline. I was in a state of apathy towards my health, possibly brought on by post-race mental exhaustion. I had been riding towards a goal for over a year, and now that the race was over, I needed a break. Frankly, I think I was already being affected by the fatigue even before the race. So by November, I began to worry about how hard it would be to get out of my funk.

I don’t know when I’ll feel better or how better I have to feel to get back on a bike? Right now I’m just taking a week and I’ll see how things feel after that. My annual checkup is in January, and if this problem is still around then, I’ll be asking my physician for his advice. For now, I’m confronting the limits of my body and my fear of inactivity. Fortunately, that gives me some time, as the year draws to an end and I have days off work, to reflect on the major events of the last year that impacted me and consider how I’ll approach the next.


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