What's Cool In Road Cycling

Real Rider Part 3: JC Hung By Heels

You may have been wondering what has been happening with our real rider John Crowley lately. Well, he’s been busy emulating the Euro-pros and coming up with injuries all spring, and sport science guru Stephen Cheung talks us through JC’s various crises…

Just like all of us, JC has been putting in solid training and chomping at the bit to test himself and see how he stacks up in the spring races. Vancouver has an excellent series of training races with a good bit of hard climbing every weekend all through March, and our original plan had been to use those races as a test of JC’s form. We had discussed that these were not priority races, but the goal was to put in some hard efforts on the hills to see the state of his climbing and recovery.

That was the plan anyway. However, JC demonstrated exactly why many pro athletes have clauses in their contracts banning them from dabbling in other sports, coming down with tendonitis in both Achille’s tendons in his heels. He is not sure of the exact cause, but it was probably brought about by playing basketball earlier in the year without adequate warmup. Obviously, this has severely limited his ability to make any hard efforts on the bike and has shot through his early season plans. Getting strep throat and a bronchial infection also has not helped.

Remember, Jan Ullrich’s wild and crazy 2002 season all began to go into the crapper with tendonitis of the knee that never got better the entire year, so this is nothing to take lightly. Just what is tendonitis, how does it come about, and what can be done to rehab it?

Tendonitis 101
Very simply, tendonitis is damage to the connective tissue that attaches muscles to bone, and can range from mild (over-stretching of the tendon), moderate (prolonged inflammation and pain) to the ultimate badness of complete rupture. It can be brought about by a single sharp tear such as John likely experienced playing basketball. For cyclists who spend hours after hours in a single repetitive movement in a very limited range of motion, it usually occurs through either poor positioning or taking a huge jump in volume or intensity, made worse by mashing big gears. The latter was exactly what happened to Ullrich in January 2002, when he decided to “seriously” train through the winter and overloaded his knee.

Rehab and Prevention
When facing tendonitis, the very first thing that you must realize is to remember Jan’s wacky adventures and to TAKE IT SERIOUSLY! Whatever you do, do NOT ignore it or jump the gun during rehab, because things can be made even worse than before or else a lot of hard work in rehab can be thrown out the window by coming back too early or quickly! It is then critical to properly diagnose the likely cause of the injury, because the proper treatment is critically dependant on isolating the cause. For cyclists, you must figure out if positioning, lack of flexibility or training is the primary candidate. This is best done in a coordinated fashion with your coach and doctors (sports medicine and/or orthopedic specialists) and physiotherapists with specific expertise with athletes and ideally with cycling. Treatment can run the gamut from simple rest and ice, flexibility training or joint-strengthening exercises, positioning adjustment, anti-inflammatories (generally not the best long-term solution), through to casting and surgery.

The best plan, of course, is to be pro-active and do your best never to go down this road to begin with. Here are some things to always keep in mind:
• Proper bike positioning is key. If you do make changes to your positioning, it is important to do it in small stages and to build gradually to hard efforts.
• Your knee tracks a figure 8 through the pedal stroke, so pedals with a little bit of float are generally preferable.
• Keep your tights or knee warmers on unless you’re biking in a sauna!
•  NEVER make major jumps in training intensity. It only takes one little bit of over-stretching of the tendon to get the whole snowball of “damage – inflammation – more damage” rolling.
• Work on your hamstrings to counteract your hammer-man quads and maintain balance in your knee joint.
• Get into the habit of stretching!

Next article, we’ll hopefully see JC back on track and discuss how we’ll refocus his season and plot his training comeback. Keep the comments coming!

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About Stephen:
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. He has been an avid roadie since beginning university in the mid-eighties, and still has non-indexed downtube shifters on his winter bike and wool jerseys hanging in his closet. He can be reached for advice or comments at [email protected]

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