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Sick and tired of being sick and tired: when being ill stifles your cycling

VecchioJo has never tested positive, but just isn't feeling up to it...

I’m so tired.

I miss being tired.

We’ve all got tired by riding our bikes a bit too far, or a little too fast, or an idiot mixture of both and in an eskimos describing snow way cyclists can be a thousand types of tired.

There’s the general last few miles home tired.

The one eye closing slightly nearly there tired.

The knowing when your mate is starting to fade tired, as his head kinks faintly to the left and you know the last sprint is yours tired.

The sit down for a couple of minutes, fumble about in your rear pocket for a snack, glug the last vapours of water from your bottle, puff your cheeks and consider your life choices before heading off again tired.

The stop somewhere and buy all the food you can tired.

The falling asleep in a motorway services on the drive back from a ride tired.

The nodding off whilst pedalling and almost falling into a ditch tired.

The wobble off the turbo tired.

The fall asleep sat against a church wall in the sun tired.

The stare at your stem tired.

The stare at your feet on the kerb of a petrol station tired.

The one more hill home tired.

The two more hills home tired.

The what do you mean we’re only halfway tired.

The emergency chips tired.

The legs going round but nothing actually happening tired.

The hallucinating tired.

The headwind tired.

The pushing the lever to see if there’s one more gear left in there tired.

The immediately pushing the lever again to see if there’s maybe one more gear left in there tired.

The pins and needles face tired.

The that ditch looks comfy tired.

The is there a train station nearby tired.

The tired you can even see through the most heavily iridium shaded sunglasses tired.

The stare at the rear wheel right in front of you with the deepest understanding that if you let it slip more than a foot ahead then the elastic’s going to snap and you’ll never make it home tired.

The falling asleep on the sofa and waking up at 3 a.m. tired.

The falling asleep on the floor and waking up at 3 a.m. tired.

The tired from the day before tired, and the day before that tired.

The climbing tired.

The just one more alp and it will be over tired.

The false summit tired.

The heavy legs sinking deep into the mattress tired.

The head bent into sideways rain for the last nine miles tired.

The is falling asleep at the table only waking up when you’re halfway towards faceplanting a plate of curry tired.

The slow creeping tiredness that only seems to happen after races that sneaks up on you over the course of the evening to make stairs hard tired.

The "I don’t want to do this any more" tired.

I love being 'cycling tired', and actively embrace the feeling of a body being well used. I have a habit of deliberately seeking out rides that guarantee significant levels of tiredness, because sometimes pushing a body beyond the usual tired to a different place that might tickle the edges of exhaustion can be a worthwhile transformative moment, and greater belief in your own ability. But that doesn’t have to happen every day. I enjoy the gentle bit of thigh ache from a ride well done, and simply flopping into the hug of a pillow and falling asleep in an instant.

But all of these tireds have an over and done with; there is being able to sit down, there are naps, there is food, there is sleep, there are restored energy levels and reset. The tired I am within in now seems to show no real desire to come to an end.

I’m ill, I don’t like being ill. I especially don’t like being 'ill tired'.

I am enduring some low-level of something that’s lethargically circling insidiously around my system, plainly refusing to leave. It’s not a cold or a sniffle, although there are days when it’s a bit gluey in the top u-bend of the nose.

There’s no sneezing, coughing or sore throat, I can taste everything and am currently craving liquorice. It’s a debilitating nothing, mostly just a general seeping ache in the bones, an acidic simmer in the muscles and a tedious meandering undercurrent of fatigue.

Even in its languid circumnavigation of its host, it’s successfully managed to evade detection by all those that have had a comprehensive prod and poke, nothing has raised its head above any testing parapet and these tedious days and years that’s a definite positive. If there was something to be found I could plot and plan against it, I’m quite competitive like that, but it’s hard to fight a shadow so all I have to swipe blindly in the vagueness is a damp tea towel of belligerent hope. I’d happily swap whatever this is for three days of being laid flat out lifeless grey shivering under the covers with a plastic washing up bowl by the side just in case and for it to be all done. So still it rotates in a listless spiral that some days swivels down in loops, others it very much climbs in a series of tight hairpins that pin me to the sofa mid afternoon when lying there in a post ride post tea and buns recovery nap is far more preferential and much missed. Merely walking to the shops and back can be enough, riding a bike can make my body want to eat itself. All that I have to cling to is the flotsam that I’ve been stuck in this place of monotonous fatigue before and it took a long long while to sticky treacle wade out and feel the sheer joy of simply being not tired and so I know that just taking care and embracing fortitude will eventually ride it out, even if that way is a long, slow and gradual gradient. Each day is counted past with constantly monitoring the situation, I wake up every morning and do a systems check and wonder if maybe today…

On top of these doldrums there is the added malaise of tiredness that comes with inactivity. I am used to moving around a lot and being mainly static has folded a sticky mucoid swirl of sloth between the layers and the two tirednesses twirl and knit with each other to knead me into a doughy combination of ill tired and stodgy tired. I don’t do being ill very well, I am bored, I am bored of being tired, and my brain is missing the calming flow of air and without the thump through of hilltop blood is turning to a lukewarm runny but with lumps gruel.

I can’t wait to get back on a bike and be tired again.

Proper tired.

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

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Jimmy Ray Will | 2 years ago
1 like

The takeaways from my experience (many years ago) are as follows;

 - aim to get to a point where you are relatively confident there is nothing overtly sinister going on.

 - Once there, just give in to the process. A doctor friend gave me some great advice... stop thinking about the day to day, instead focus on the fact that you will not feel like this forever, that in six months you'll likely feel a lot better, and in a year, you'll look back and remember when you were ill

 - the anxiety about the malaise is as debilitating / damaging as the malaise itself, so anything you can do to reduce that anxiety is really important

 - focus on what you can do now, and put aside any plans based around things you can't. Start a new hobby that doesn't strain compromised systems 

 - keep moving. Not strenuous exercise, but certainly walking, gardening etc. whatever you can manage. 

 - at some point the loss of fitness caused by the sustained period of inactivity will be more debilitating than any residual fatigue. Be aware of this switch over, and when it happens, its important to get back up and exercising, accepting that you are going to feel crap for a few weeks as you rebuild fitness. 

I think that as cyclists, we can be well acclimatised with battering ourselves, certainly more than a sedentary person might be. Unfortunately this acclimatisation can spill over to some poor management of health, especially around illness. This in turn can mean that fairly innocuous viruses get an opportunity to get more bedded in to our system and take longer to fully overcome. It also doesn't help that we will be more aware of what feeling physically 'good' feels like, so when we are not so good, that 'bad' feeling can easily be exaggerated.

Personally speaking I believe that covid and long covid will bring on medical understanding around post viral fatigue no end. I am sure that covid isn't the first virus to have a potential hangover, and it won't be the last. 

JuditSz | 2 years ago
1 like

After three months of feeling rubbish, unable to train or even walk around the block at a pace of a pensioner on a walking stick I got diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I've never tested positive for Covid either, I just felt like I had no energy to do anything. I had various other niggles, nothing too worrying in itself but everything was a sign that my thyroid stopped functioning properly. 
I made crazy cycling plans for the year and refuse to give up on them especially as I have a long cycling holiday booked in Mallorca. 
While I only just started treatment and I'm still under medical investigation for high levels of calcium, I feel significantly better after a week. I am not sure if I am strong enough for the whole 312, but I will still give it a good go. 
There's hope. Ladies AND Gentlemen (!) as you know your body don't delay seeking help when you think something is wrong. It's not always Covid, overtraining, getting old, bad diet, etc. or general tiredness after winter.


wtjs | 2 years ago

Topics like this bring out the 1-or-minimal post ME/ CFS crowd who prowl the internet like anti-vaxxers looking for conflict and who are prone to vitriolic abuse of anyone not completely sympathetic. GP surgeries are a not uncommon refuge of the 'tired all the time' industry and the assessment of the fraction of these who are simply nutters is a difficult task probably best left to experts- especially in the present climate of 'not enough resources have been put into mental illness' and 'anyway, if you think you're ill, you are ill'. Many of us in the not-quite-so-sympathetic group may well just have been lucky in not suffering this way ourselves, just like being lucky in not getting Covid. Fortunately for all concerned, I don't have to deal with the assessment so am free to put myself slightly into the 'kick up the arse' camp while recognising that at least some Long Covid must be genuine 'physical illness' (oh dear- that could cause trouble like that vented on people who doubted a specific virus was the cause of CFS a few years ago) and, therefore, at least some CFS must be too. However, the fact that much of CFS 'treatment' involves 'talking therapies' and 'sleep management' is significant, too.

mdavidford replied to wtjs | 2 years ago

Kind of sounds like you're the one looking for conflict here.

Rendel Harris replied to wtjs | 2 years ago

Yeah...I was part of the "tired all the time industry" and would doubtless have been classified as one of the "simply nutters" by you, certainly it was suggested that my tiredness must have a psychological cause and  I was asked if I wanted to see a psychiatrist...before I was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer and simultaneous life-threatening autoimmune disease. Many autoimmune disorders can take years, sometimes even decades, to diagnose. You seem to be somehow proud of being unsympathetic, why is that? 

still16 | 2 years ago

You are not alone. My heart goes out to you too! Let's look forward to that day when the gloom of fatigue lifts and the satisfaction and sunny wamth of physical tiredness returns!

Zazz53 | 2 years ago

This really struck a chord.  Cycling tired brings with it the memories of the sights, sounds and smells of the ride,  The tiredness of inactivity brings no solace.  You have spurred me on to get out today even if I don't feel like it,  Here's to Type 2 fun.

TheBillder | 2 years ago

Beautifully written, as usual - thank you.

This reminds me very much of two close relatives. One has chronic fatigue, aka ME, the other depression. They have similar effects on life, making formerly active people, with a range of interests, almost prisoners - stuck inside the boundaries of what mind and body currently allow them to do. Medical interventions help at the margins but there's no defined pathway, no project plan, not even a "do this, it'll be really difficult but will fix it" option.

"Bored of being tired" really resonates. Tired of being bored too, knowing how helpful activity can be but also knowing the price to be paid for it, often to be bed-bound for days afterwards.

All we can hope is that the passage of time, some talking therapies and struggling on, trying not to let the journey of life become completely halted, will eventually see them to the edge of the lake of treacle.

Jo, I hope you are able to keep writing about this - it may help you and it's helping me, even though I'm only on the periphery.

More than that, I hope you are able to get back to riding soon: it's the best therapy I've ever known for the mental side of tiredness.

Cocovelo replied to TheBillder | 2 years ago
1 like

Agreed, it does sound suspiciously post-viral. I was there for ~8 months after having covid in March 2020. Took a while to shrug it off and lots and lots of resting was needed, but it did eventually pass. The worst thing you can do is try to fight it or beat it.

RoubaixCube | 2 years ago

The 15mile commute home on tired and dead legs and 18mph headwind... Tired.



zeeridesbikes replied to RoubaixCube | 2 years ago
1 like

That's the one! I got so sick of it I cheated and got an ebike for my commute. Means I still look forward to my ride home when I'm knackered from work. 

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