Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Sick


Ninety-nine percent of racing is just not being sick.
—Andy Hampsten

Often your first clue is a swallow. You take a sip of a drink and as the muscle contractions cascade down your throat, you feel a change, that something’s not quite right. Asked to put your finger on it and explain the sense, it can be hard to describe; something’s just wrong. An hour goes by and your soft palette grows sore. Then it’s your body’s turn; muscles that may have been flooded with lactic acid in the morning are, just hours later, aching and unwilling to move. You have the flu.

Cyclists are particularly sensitive to the charms of the virus. When we’re in shape, our lack of body fat makes us an easy target. Fat is our body’s savings account and viruses can overdraw our system faster than identity theft. And that is exactly what it feels like. What is happening to me? Why do I feel this way? What happened to my form? Why can’t I ride hard? Who is this sick person? Not me.

And because we cyclists are usually so in touch with our bodies, so aware of each sensation and each change, an illness is a large-scale change. As we cycle between the sweats and the chills we are reminded what it is to be fragile, rather than the specimen of hard-fought athletic efficiency we know ourselves as.

The trappings of the illness—tissues, blankets, soup, cough medicine, Ibuprofen, an endless parade of DVDs and ancient sweatshirts—are Laurel and Hardy comical, but the simple truth of having the flu is that we feel so wretched that we would eat spackle on moldy bread if it came packaged with the promise of instant recovery. Anything that can ease our suffering is welcomed, and that is the surest sign that something is amiss: When does a cyclist go out of his way to avoid suffering?

Whether you’re a good patient or not, many of us feel utterly alien in our own bodies as the illness moves through it’s progression. There’s the bad attitude, sometimes accompanied by some whining, the TV programs you wouldn’t be caught dead watching with your mate, and the eternal twilight caused by sleeping in two-hour shifts.

One morning you wake and even before you put foot to floor, you know. The flu has passed. You have returned to yourself. The real moment of glory comes in that first post-flu ride. The smells can be alternately fresh and mechanical. The sounds are varied as the horns and buzzes of a Spike Jones routine. You can see for miles and all the colors are Kodachrome. Whether you feel fit or not, there is no surer sign that all is right with the world than when you are back on your bike.

27 comments:

Giles said...

I was there three weeks ago, and you are spot on.

Anonymous said...

Bravissimo and, dare I say, Word! O cruel illness, how you doth thwart us cyclists so.

On a keenly anticipated ride in the mountains a couple weekends ago, I noticed that my legs lacked their usual "oomph."

"Weird," I thought. "I should be killing this mountain." My training had been going well, and I was rested and ready for a long, hard day in the saddle.

As the climbing progressed, my compadres grew inexorably farther away from me. "What's going on?" I wondered, feeling the lactic acid build up with each sluggish turn of the pedals. "I should be pulling away from these guys."

By the time I reached the summit in full lanterne rouge mode, I was drooling and nearly mad with fatigue, sharply zig-zagging across the road in a desperate attempt to ease the gradient -- painfully aware that I was being decidedly un-PRO.

I was embarrassed and gibbered something to the guys about how "this has never happened to me before." My body had betrayed me, and I was feeling confused and melodramatic, telling them this was not the "real" me and to go on without me.

The ride back was no better -- even the flats were punishing, and I had to stop at one point because my legs were destroyed.

That evening, the general fatigue morphed into a big, fat flu. Now, I usually hate getting sick, but this time was different. In fact, I rejoiced when the telltale symptoms of an out-an-out influenza migrated across my body. Now I knew why I sucked so hard on the bike; now I had an excuse.

Fletcher

Anonymous said...

Ride through it, Bill Pruitt.

Anonymous said...

So true, just had my first good ride yesterday after 2 weeks of suffering with no legs.

If felt good to be back on top of things.

Ed

Ari said...

I think Kodachrome is the best film ever made. Maybe eating some Kodachrome 64 mixed with some Gu would knock that flu out quicker.
Ari

Kristin said...

"When we’re in shape, our lack of body fat makes us an easy target. Fat is our body’s savings account and viruses can overdraw our system faster than identity theft."

Ohhh, that must be why I never get sick. :)

Jimbo said...

That was me in early Feb. I was down for a week, horrible sore throat, night sweats, a trip to the ER. The only upside is that I lost 10 pounds. Now that my fitness is back, I can climb like a monkey wearing crampons...

Anonymous said...

"One morning you wake and even before you put foot to floor, you know. The flu has passed."

Ain't that the truth....

-SpokeBreaker

Anonymous said...

shoot p... today was day one. effing hell... it sucks. i'm putting my faith in jerry's deli soup...


noel.

bikesgonewild said...

...ouch...know what yer sayin'...hang in there...

Jason said...

The more I ride and race the more I get in "tune" with how body feels. I mean some days you just wake up and you just KNOW there something not right with the bod. Before you know it your spending and hour in at the pharmacy trying to figure out which cold med will allow you not not be too tired to ride and not kill you if you enjoy a few Sierra Nevadas! UG!

My solution in '08? Gain 5 pounds, eat a ton of oranges and drink more beer.Seems to have worked so far. Although I may have to move up jersey size by April.

Anonymous said...

There are a couple of assertions here that are false. There are also a few myth that needs debunking, the typical racer virus in the pro peloton was also an excellent way of getting yourself out of a bad hemato test... Virus don't attack you because you are fatless but probably because of an lymph imbalance in white blood cells. The fact that you are basically worn out, thus a bad training regime. I have almost no body fat, I don't sleep much, I have four kids, I drink my ass off but managed to not be sick this winter yet. I don't touch people, I wash my hands about every two hours, I get tons of vitamins and most of all, I got a flue shot in the fall.

The picture of the medication you show is also a great way to make things worst, just work through it and make sure its not going to your lungs long term. Cold medication is about as usefull as shaving off 10 grams on a bike because you had to much fast food...

Ben said...

It seems this would be the only place I'd ever have the pleasure of reading thoughts on something as common as the cold we all get, great words. Get well soon.

spokejunky said...

Nothing says flu coma like partaking of the green or red death. Wake up six hours later with cat crap consume in your mouth and wash it down with the O.J. One more swig and go back to the sweet NyQuil sleep of the flu dead.

Boz said...

This crap sucks, but you put it so much more elliquently. Half of my shop is down for the count, I've been fighting it for 2 weeks, now it's bound to set in. Your post was so timely.

Anonymous said...

Timely post for sure. I was in bed for 5 days, with a 102 Fever. Tried to race the following weekend, a 63 mile death march on CX bike, lotta dirt, lotta pave.
The girlfriend beat me.
Worst part is how much of a setback missing that saddle time can be.

Anonymous said...

2 words "FLU Shot"

I know it doesn't work all the time, but...

Ron said...

One way to ease the suffering is to get off the bike. Folks keep riding through sickness as if it'll magically make them healthier.

Anonymous said...

Ugh...I am just getting over a cold and rode today...ugh...

Is that a legal copy of No Country For Old Men? That has not released to DVD yet. That is incriminating evidence. :)

Anonymous said...

FLU shot is a load of crap.

MtMann said...

Every cyclist I know has been down with this crud sometime in the last month. I'm on the upswing. Sleep. Drink. Read. No caffeine/alcohol. Mega-doses of Vitamin C in whatever form you like.

btw - I will never get a shot for a non-lethal illness. I believe in slowing down when your body says to, and illness trains your immune system. Besides, the main marketing incentive for the flu shot is to keep U.S. worker productivity up. Screw that.

Anonymous said...

Despite whatever those who comment here choose to believe, flu vaccines prevent the flu and save thousands of lives each year worldwide. They are no guarantee that you will not get stricken down with something nasty, or get a flu strain that was not in the vaccine, but don't be fooled into thinking that not getting a flu shot is a good idea, and ignore any fool who tells you that flu shots are bad for you. Don't even get me started on the kooks out there who try to convince you to not get your kids vaccinated...

dp said...

yep. couldn't have said it better myself sir.

dp

MtMann said...

Ah, of course. All who question the party line we label "fool." Sheesh. I'm going for a ride.

Anonymous said...

a bit strained and cliched, fletcher (post #2)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, if you think my initial post was strained and cliched, try this on for size:

In my earlier comment, I mentioned how the nascent stages of an illness turned me into my evil twin who couldn't ride a bike to save his life.

The following weekend, even though I still felt somewhat congested, I joined a ride I knew would be tough. I couldn't stand the idea of missing out on what promised to be an epic time.

I put myself at the back of the pack, certain that I would need to do some serious drafting to keep up. But when I realized that I actually had good legs, I became, well, giddy, frisky -- a young Golden Retriever bundled in lycra.

I actually found myself trash talking on the climbs ("Is that all you got?" "I'm gonna box you in, sucka!"). I even emitted what I'm pretty sure were whoops of joy.

I was among friends, my legs felt strong, and the colors were indeed Kodachrome.

Fletcher

Matt said...

Get well!

Nice way to work in a Spike Jones reference, btw.