Half Man, Half Couch

I never used to get injured. I could ride all day on hardly any water or food, under the Australian sun with nary a squirt of sunscreen, drink four beers directly after and then go and DJ and dance til the wee hours of the next morning without stretching or any form of ‘warming down’. To me, warming up was the modus operandi.

This pattern, while not exactly the norm, got me through to at least my mid 40s. In fact, some of my best form on the bike (and on the dancefloor) occurred in the first five years of my fifth decade. The second half was not as concentrated on racing and consequently any training––and I use that term loosely––I would do would be haphazard in its structure and goals were something I’d see watching the football on the telly. Beer was still the hydrant of choice and the term “I really should start stretching” became a mantra, an of-repeated, more often ignored, horrible, desperate mantra.

Now in my early 50s, the time to put that mantra into service is hard to ignore. Just sitting here, in my ergonomic office chair, at my real proper desk with the keyboard at the right height and everything, my back aches like that of a 50 year old Cyclist. My shoulders are rolled forward and my neck is lost in a shrug that threatens to swallow my head whole. My right arm goes numb every few minutes, which of course elicits the darkest of thoughts; “Is this a heart attack?” “Am I having a stroke?” If so, I wish they’d just hurry up and get it over with.

Curiously, mountain biking seemed to be less painful on my back/arm in the time I’ve had this injury. Leaning over the bars on the road bike means the first twenty minutes are spent trying to stretch the arm, irony of ironies, and dangling it and shaking it to null the numbness. I look like a fucking tool. Something had to give, and two weeks ago I did what no man ever does: I went to the doctor. Thinking the heart attack scenario was the most likely, he quickly shut down that theory with an ECG and some X-Rays. Narrowing of the C6/7 discs and foraminal encroachment was the diagnosis. At least it had a name now, not just “fuck my shoulder hurts/my arm is numb” that I’m sure colleagues were getting sick of.

The upside is I get to go to the chiropractor twice a week. How is that an upside? Well, she’s French for a start. And after only a couple of visits, things are getting better. I haven’t been able to ride for a couple of weeks, compounded by a weekend riding some of the burliest trails in the country and crashing my brains out following a World Cup downhiller down a trail that he built and wasn’t really a trail. Result, a trip over the bars, a hug of a tree and a rack of toasted ribs, which served to take my attention off the arm at least.

While I don’t have the services of a team of masseurs, stretchers, manipulators and fluffers and plain weird dudes grabbing random bits like old mate on the rack in the lead photo, I’m more aware that as one gets on in years, especially these ones that start with a 5, there is a greater need to do the body maintenance that one should have been doing decades ago. Because if there are to be any more decades of riding, it just has to be. And I hear there may be some French women who do yoga…

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64 Replies to “Half Man, Half Couch”

  1. If you have lived your life in athletic sport, you have experienced injury.  Many minor injuries and some much more serious.  I have required surgeries to repair something that has broken or torn, and they have all been painful.  But, for me, the most debilitating of injuries involves the spine.  If you have experienced or lived with spinal nerve pain, you know of what I speak.  My injury occurred while wrestling in college, but it was likely cumulative from years of overuse.  L4 and L5 degenerative and bulging discs.  I’ll spare you the story of MRIs, spinal taps, days lying on the floor, and two years of twice a week PT sessions just to become functional again.  Today, my lower back is generally healthy, but at Christmas time, it went out.  Took five weeks for the spasms to slow and the disc to go back into place.  I began training again two weeks ago and now I am hit with a chest cold.  (I)njury and (I)llness – this is the life of an athlete.  But knowing that the double I’s hover close by, we still pursue our sport because quitting is worse than falling apart.

  2. @Duntov


    A little off topic for this string of old age and full contact sports, but… is it just me, or is everyone else getting a little paranoid about people in the office / home / cafe wondering what the hell kind of website I keep pulling up?

    “No wait! It’s not what it looks like! I can explain!”

    “Yeah, what’s it about then?”

    “This is just one of a whole bunch of articles. Look, this one here from the other day is about shaving your legs. Shit. Wait… hold on. I can explain!”

    Thank You Thank You Thank You!!!!

    I thought I was the only one who had this experience!!!!!

    It’s bad enough explaining the new wheel set leaning on my desk—and lets not mention the time I walked into the office a bit late in my “shorts outfit”——“hey whats that in the back of your shorts”—-(yeah yeah I know ‘kit”— but my colleagues dubbed it a shorts “outfit”)——————— but this!!!!

    Exactly the same thing happened to me yesterday. I clicked on Velominati and the photo at the top of this article popped up. Colleague “What the fuck are you looking at?!”


  3. @Sparty

    If you have lived your life in athletic sport, you have experienced injury.

    My physio says very much the same thing. Unless you do nothing, you’re going to get injured. You just have to philosophical when it happens and also driven to get back to where you were.

    As an aside, I have a sports massage tonight to try and break down an old scar on my hamstring. That’ll be fun. In an agonising pain sort of way.

  4. @Oli


    You know he’s going to laugh at your hair shorts, right? If he’s not trying to avoid barfing, that is.

    I think ‘I’m a cyclist’ is an extremely useful phrase in these situations to pass off any range of strange behaviour.

    I’m sure he’s seen worse. I could be a she, also.

  5. chuckp – I’ll forgive the running. Tennis is awesome and I need to start playing more.

    wiscot – cycling 7 days a week, soccer twice a week. Ages from 30-73. It’s competitive, but a gentleman’s game where there is no hard fouling, hard tackling, and we do the best to at least play creatively. All types of ability levels too. I played non-stop growing up, then got burned out. Didn’t play from age 14-28 at all. Now I love it again. Funny how that can work. Took up cycling in my early 20s after I finished up college sports. No I don’t know what I’d do without the two of them. I have a solid, fulfilling life, but I really can’t imagine it without sports and/or daily exercise. I’d go bonkers.

    So, as much as injuries are not fun, I’ll take them as part of the overall package. Oh…and ice baths are about the worst thing I’ve ever experienced.

  6. @Oli


    “I’m a cyclist” doesn’t cut it until you’ve shaved the lot – stop pussying around, FFS.

    also, if you’re having on old scar broken up via massage, you aren’t going to want any hair on that skin!

  7. @Mikael Liddy


    we both know this, but I sense @RobSandy is looking for a more practical reason to justify moving the deforestation line north.

    Practical … logical … reasonable???  For FUCKS Sake, this is the V site, man!  Dammit, Frank’s a cyclist, not a Vulcan.  Just shave your ENTIRE fucking guns, Mate!  (besides, Oli has spoken so this should be a dead issue)

  8. Great article Brett.  Glad to hear that I’ve got a few more years till I will be forced to consider stretching.  My hip has been bugging me a bit lately but I’m pretty sure if I ignore it it will go away.  At the bike store today the fella helping me asked how flexible I was…

    “not very”, says I.

    “can you touch your toes?”, he says.

    “oh, well yes.  I can do that.”

    “oh, you’re fine then.  Better than most I see.”


  9. Loved the article Brett. I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis a few years back, and took up cycling to keep active. My position on the bike looks terrible, and it used to bother me that I couldn’t adopt a perfect cyclist’s posture (I look like I’m sticking my arse out) but over time I came to realise it was only an issue to me. Nobody has ever said I look “wrong”. Cycling has definitely made me stronger, I rarely have the crippling spasms I suffered at regular intervals. At 49 years old I still see improvements, and it’s good to read of older riders still going strong.

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