Pain is NOT normal; push the limits sensibly

Ouch it hurts, but I was told it is normal. 

I have heard this many a time. From athletes willing to invest in sport and exercise or give it a try for its benefits. These athletes usually set themselves targets because they themselves want to or someone around them suggested it. Some sign up for big events as they want to prove they can or are driven into it because of well marketed events.

All this is great. Yet, after listening to many tales of agony, I am left wondering. While their drive to be fit and exercise helps them get healthy and be more productive, how many of these athletes are causing themselves more damage than good?  

Take, for example, Ram (name changed) who signed up for the Goa IronMan 70.3 scheduled in October this year. He has 10 months to train and signed up with a coach who has done a couple of IronMan events before and mentioned that Triathlon aspirants are his forte.

It has been three years since Ram had an active lifestyle. Life took over then and kept him busy with a desk job. Ram took on this challenge to get back to fitness and have a feasible target while at it.  It was all very exciting until Ram could not stick to the schedule proposed by his coach.

He tried, he was in pain. He gave himself a few days’ break, tried again and pushed himself to get moving and he was in pain again. Even easy workouts were painful. His coach told him pain is normal and he would get better and insisted that he continue.

Ram wanted to find a solution and have his cycling analysed to be sure it was not leading to problems. It was his strongest sport and he still could not complete a workout without agony. We met and I realised during the physical assessment that his body is not ready for the rigour he wished to put it under.

I expressed my concerns as I could tell that he really needed to work on strength to be able to achieve his target. I could see a lot going on and had to tell him he needs to see a sports physiotherapist soon before injury could sabotage his plans. He saw a specialist sports physio who advised him strength training before endurance training. 

Ram is part of a small fraction of athletes who consult specialists and do not neglect niggles, but the majority in India follows what worked for a friend or a friend’s friend. In most cases the person providing advice and suggestions has been on the path and believes he/she knows everything they need to know.

What is usually forgotten is that every human body is unique and has undergone unique experiences that will be highlighted when it is put through overload, theories behind training plans could be generalised but are not a one size fits all.

Athletes with ambition grit their teeth and follow a regimen proposed despite pain because they are led to believe it is normal. Until it is too late and injuries which sometimes take a very long time to heal become their constant companions.

I know from experience, personal and professional, that pain is not normal. The human brain is smarter than we usually give it credit for. Allowing it to distinguish between discomfort from fatigue after a heavy exercise and pain, will go a long way in keeping the body away from trauma.  

If you have a fitness target in mind, please remember the following:

  • You are unique, both your body and you’re circumstances.  
  • Pain is NOT normal, fatigue is different from pain, recognise the difference
  • Set realistic targets, don’t be in a rush
  • What worked for your friend/coach may not work for you, know when it is not and respond accordingly
  • If you are suffering badly, something is wrong, trust your instincts don’t neglect them
  • Consult with a specialist, he/she is cheaper than lost time and expensive medical bills
  • Push your limits, but sensibly. 
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Indian cycling, are we progressing?

Photo in The Times of India, January 30, 2019

There are a lot of Indians who cycle for a living, for fun, for health and or for the sheer joy it brings. There is a huge range of cycles and cyclists in our country. The range and variety available offers cycling a very dynamic ecosystem.

The majority of cyclists in India are those who rely on a cycle for their living like the doodhwalas (milkmen), postmen, farmers etc. There are some who take it upon themselves to cycle all the time, go through a rigorous training regimen and work on the watts and calories and everything else that would make them faster by doing whatever is best known to them and or their coaches.

Obviously, the numbers of the latter bunch are not as much as those who use a cycle to commute or do their chores each day, but they are significant in their own way. These bring pride and glory to the country. 

Cycling Federation of India is the governing body and conducts competitions in various categories on a regular basis. There are affiliated State associations along with independent cycling clubs in some cities to keeping the community active. Some cities in India even have Bicycling Mayors to champion cycling in their cities.

While there is a lot of concern about safety and one becomes aware of accidents and cyclists losing lives every other day, the ‘crazy’ cyclists who commit themselves and give it their all to chase their dreams of medalling at National and international events need a pat on their back. I can hear you say “Of course, they must be getting the accolades they deserve.”

Unfortunately, it may not be entirely true.

To provide a background, each State association, Services and Railways sports boards conduct competitions and only the best cyclists compete in the Nationals. As much as we hope they are all treated like champions, newspapers have reported more than once that the facilities they are provided are far from what they deserve.

Here’s some evidence from today’s newspapers. 

Article in The Times of India, January 30, 2019


Going by the article in today’s newspaper, there is deep concern. Yes, undeniably there is a lot of effort going on to improve the state of affairs in Indian sports. Maybe cycling is not one of the sports in focus? If it is not, I wonder why not.

Here are some reasons why I believe cycling should not be neglected.

If one is to think about health and improving life, cycling has great benefits. I know stories of people who started cycling and hence gave up alcohol and/or smoking, lost weight, lead happy and fulfilling lives and are more positive. Even in terms of economy, cycling is a huge industry.

We know that encouraging cyclists will only help reduce pollution and create safe commutable cities and towns. Cycling can also bring in tourism. No prizes for guessing that if cycling is given its due, it will create more champions in the sport and put us on the international cycling map, where we hardly exist with a few exceptions.  

A recent post in Cycling Federation of India’s Facebook page showcasing international success

Cyclists who reached Jaipur to compete will not complain as they would be risking their careers but isn’t is unfair that they are expected to race and race well given the conditions in which they are made to stay? There is enough and more research that shows the significance of sleep on performance but has that changed the basics that are missed out and messed around with? 

The article also makes me wonder, who is responsible? Is it the organisers at the State-level? The Rajasthan Cycling Association? Or is it the Cycling Federation of India, affiliated to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Indian Olympic Association? Is it the coaches/team managers or the athletes themselves?

The hosts are supposed to provide accommodation for National-level competitions but there seems to be a significant discrepancy. Who can help these athletes find better accommodation so they can get a good night’s sleep before each race? Hearteningly, the Ministry has stepped in to tell the Rajasthan Cycling Association through CFI to improve things. But should it have needed an outrage in the first place?

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Briar MTB Challenge 2018: Tea and Trails

With all the hustling over the last few months, my cameras were starting to collect dust. Reading and assimilating research papers and transitioning back to India had occupied me for weeks. I was missing the energy of racing and photography. Briar MTB Challenge was coming up and I was not going to skip it. I had no idea it was going to be such a visual treat. I heard wonderful things, but the previous edition had a lot of rain, so I did not know what to expect. All I knew was that I would be there because I wanted to be there. 

Continue reading “Briar MTB Challenge 2018: Tea and Trails”

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