Jimmy: Can we go for a ride today?
Jimmy’s Right Knee: No, Jimmy.
J: Ok, how about tomorrow?
J: Oh. Well, do you think you’ll be up for it by the weekend?
K: Er, no.
J: But, but, I’ve been taking Ibruprofen for five days!
K: Ha! You’re having a laugh!
J: But the Doctor said…
K: The Doctor is an idiot.
J: Hmff. Well, what about that race next month? The one I’ve been training for?
K: Ahem… Forget it.
…and so on and so forth.
I remember very clearly the first time I felt it, and Strava tells the story just in case I ever forget. It was a 200km+ weekend, starting with 100km with a couple of friends on Saturday, up a bunch of Kent’s most vicious climbs (including Toys Hill and Chalk Pit Lane). That evening, I was stretching my quads when I felt a twinge in my knee, a sort of discomfort. I wrote it off as general aches and pains after 100 hilly kilometres, and set about getting the kit ready for more the same day. ‘12/05/2013 Lovely Lovely Club Run’ is written in the heading for that Sunday ride, the one where my knee decided enough was enough, and training for racing was going to have to stop for a while. Well, for the foreseeable future.
I fought it of course, going straight into a period of denial. Over the next four (yes, four) weeks, my right knee and I had a number of conversations like the one documented above, and each and every time, my knee remained resolute. The pain was not going away. I couldn’t walk up or down stairs without feeling it, and I certainly couldn’t put any power down through the right pedal. I couldn’t quite believe that the week before this 200km weekend, stairs in either direction had been tackled at running pace without so much as a peep. And now… The power had been cut off. I felt like crying. The worst part? I had been planning, training for, and looking forward to a big A-list road race on June 2nd in Kent. The closer it got and the longer I couldn’t ride or train, the quicker the dream slipped away.
Getting injured for the first time was gutting, heart wrenching, miserable. People talk of that empty feeling, like the one you have as you head for the airport after a great two-week holiday, or the day after the world cup final, or most Sunday evenings before work. It’s that same empty feeling you get when you realise, no matter how much you squirm against it, sorry mate, you can’t ride your bike. All that hard-earned fitness starts to pack up and leave your body like campers at the end of a music festival, your legs appear to be shrinking before your very eyes, and meanwhile, the WHOLE REST OF THE WORLD is out riding their bikes. And it was the Summer, just to rub it in a bit more.
These things are sent to try us, and the old proverb that ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ could not have been more true for me in this example. My injury forced me to take a look at myself, my training, and the way I ride. If I thought I knew everything about all of that, well, now I know I don’t. If I thought things like these can be fixed quickly and/or cheaply simply by reading Wikipedia or infinite cycling magazines, well, now I know they can’t. After four weeks (yes, I know), of trying to figure it out for myself, spending hours looking at anatomical diagrams of the knee whilst I should have been working, emailing kindly people for free advice etc etc etc, I finally went to the doctors to see if they could figure out what was wrong.
The doctor, as suggested in the above dialogue, was useless, but I won’t go into that. On the advice of another professional person (Liz Walker, Sports Masseuse), I sought out the services of a high-end physiotherapist. I went along and told them my tale of woe, explaining every detail. Within 10 minutes of poking and pulling me about, I had a diagnosis. Magic!!! But this was just the beginning.
Brad, a knee specialist at Pure Sports Medicine at Canary Wharf, explained I had the symptoms of patello-femural pain. Bascially, my knee cap was having a slight altercation with my thigh bone in the sense that, for some reason, my thigh bone was rubbing away the cartilage from the underside of my knee cap. Nice. Six weeks of Physio was on the cards, but also, crucially, Brad advised me to have a bike fit, sensing that there was something going on there that might go some way in explaining the aforementioned anatomical altercation.
Having the bike fit was undoubtedly the best £225 I have ever spent. Ben from Bespoke Cycling came to Canary Wharf one sunny Wednesday in June and set me up in front of his magic motion capture machine. I was sceptical as to what he was going to do, but along with the notes from Brad, he made some subtle adjustments to my set-up, mainly with the pedal cleats. He then, basically, taught me how to ride my bike. I had to learn how to ride properly, because for the whole year I had owned my racing bike, and indeed, my whole entire life, I had been riding completely wrong, and it had resulted in a ‘slow-burning’ knee injury.
I felt a mixture of liberation and foolishness… but mainly liberation. From that day on, I stopped buying fancy gear for the bike (mainly because my injury had decidedly cleared out my bank account), and resolved rather to invest in the other of the two machines involved in being a great cyclist: My Body. The Physio got me ready for two summer events I had been dreading having to miss out on, the second of which was the 450km London to Paris 24 hour charity ride in early July, which I completed in 22 hours and 13 minutes with not so much of a whimper from my newly restored and properly cared for right knee.
By August, I was just about ready to get back to racing. Oh, how ready I was, as I shall describe in later blogs. This injury really had made me a better cyclist.