But as dire as my current situation seems, it’s one we’ll all be in at some point. Injuries, illness, unforeseen circumstances—no matter your level of discipline, sooner or later you’ll be sidelined for a stretch of time that will seem interminable, even if it only lasts a few weeks. So how do you maintain baseline sanity when your favorite activities—and winter coping mechanisms—are off-limits?
Clinical and sports psychologist Kristin Keim, who regularly deals with professional and recreational athletes in similar predicaments, has a lot of comforting and helpful advice. First off, she says, recognize that time off can be good for you both physically and mentally. Whether due to illness, injury, or race recovery, treat your downtime not as a setback but as a transition period that could help you come back as a stronger cyclist.
“Any roadblock in our lives can lead to something good,” Keim says. “Recent research has shown that physical or mental struggle an actually be good for us because we don’t grow psychologically without going through some trauma. If you think about the training adaptation—every time we’re riding our bike, we’re doing trauma to ourselves to get stronger.”
Taking time off to recover can be like hitting the reset button, she says. Not only do we get the chance to reflect on the causes of injury or illness—whether it was overdoing it or something completely out of our control—but we can also lay out a plan for health and healing, which may involve physical therapy, acupuncture, and other medical treatments.
But what about the mental frustrations of being sidelined? If you’re anything like me, you’ve formed some level of addiction to endorphins and serotonin. Without a regular dose of that woozy, high feeling that hits after an hour or two of running or riding, I get stir-crazy and start looking for loopholes in my doctor’s orders—like turning a casual, therapeutic stroll around the block into tryouts for the Olympic power-walking team.
Keim says depression is common in athletes forced to slow down, but methods of coping with it should be individual-specific. It helps to recognize in advance that some anxiety and depression will be inevitable, so you’re ready to identify and deal with it when it arises.
“Figure out what works for you,” she says. “Make sure you stay on a schedule, keep going to work, and keep active to avoid falling into a depression. Anyone who’s raced and had a transition period will go into a funk. But if you look at it like, ‘Okay, this is inevitable, I know this is going to happen,’ your symptoms won’t be as severe.”
Keim also recommends maintaining a regular sleep schedule and healthy diet, keeping up with social interactions, and exploring other potential sports you can still participate in for cross-training, like swimming or weight lifting. Just don’t feed into anything that could cause more anxiety and depression-like symptoms, she says—like being hard on yourself or expecting to stage a comeback too soon.
The most important elements for preparing yourself to get back on the bike are patience and time. Try to be mindful of why you ride, and when you’re finally able to saddle up again, ease in and try slow, coffee shop rides—not the five-hour hammerfests you use to know and love.
Keim recommends creating a fluid timeline for recovery with input from your doctor and coach so you feel in control and like you have a system. She also suggests having a fun event or race planned on the horizon to help your mind and body work as one during the healing process. And in the meantime, go easy on yourself, because anxiety will only hinder your progress.
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“A lot of athletes forget that,” she says. “It’s all about ‘physical, physical, physical’ for them, but if you’re stressed out and in a bad place mentally, it’s going to take two more weeks of healing.”
So, that’s my prescription now. To maintain my usual schedule, to not stress out, to plan a little bikepacking trip for when I’m back on two wheels, and to not avoid all my friends at the bar while they endlessly recount a week’s worth of rides I wasn’t on.
And last, to look into one of Keim’s preventative measures for resisting depression during downtime: finding more balance in life—and outside interests—so my entire identity isn’t just wrapped up in running and riding. That should be easy for someone who works at a bike magazine, right?"