A few weeks ago, I went out for a thirty-plus-mile bike ride. It was a beautiful day, mostly clear with only a slight north wind. Before I headed out, I started drinking a sports mix that claims it would prevent cramping and dehydration. I also mixed up a batch and poured it into my hydration pack. I kept taking sips periodically throughout my ride through the Walnut River Valley and then through the Flint Hills. By the time I’d ridden twenty-six miles or so, my thighs had started to cramp lightly. When I headed up the last incline less than a mile from our house, I decided to stand up for extra power and leverage on the hill. Bad move. That particular line of force triggered an instant cramp in each thigh.
So, I sat back on the seat, down-shifted and pedaled on up the slope. Back at home, I followed up the hydration mix with a special “recovery drink” mix. Next morning, out of bed with zero significant soreness. Definitely impressed with both of the concoctions.
Yesterday, on another chilly but beautiful day in south central Kansas, I headed out on the same route but reversed the direction. Instead of taking the special hydration mix, I put plain ole tap water in the Camel Bak hydration pack. In spite of my taking regular drinks throughout the ride, my thighs started cramping by the time I’d pedaled halfway. I’d get off every few miles and walk around a bit but that didn’t seem to help much. By the time I hit sixteen miles, my back was also hurting.
The middle ten miles of the ride were uncomfortable. The last ten miles were downright painful.
I was reminded, that even “painful” has degrees. On a scale of 1-10, the last five miles were at a “6.” Three miles from home, I headed up another hill and decided to retry that standing up to pedal experiment.
As soon as I pushed down with my right foot, my right thigh spasmed so hard that it locked my leg as if it was in a brace. Pushing down with the left foot triggered the same effect in that leg. That caused the bike to jerk to the left at what seemed like a right angle. Instinctively, I twitched the handlebars back to the right and somehow avoided falling down. A rapid series of downshifts and I continued pedaling. While seated.
The pain from the cramps was at least an eight-point-five and made me more than slightly nauseous. Once I got to the top of that hill there was another short upward slope and then a mile of downhill pedaling.
I was never more relieved to be home and off the bike. Even when I did an eleven-mile Tough Mudder back in 2013, I had never experienced muscle cramps that severe and extensive. My legs and back felt as if they might go into total lockdown at any moment. The recovery drink and thirty minutes soaking in a tub of hot water brought significant relief. Until I started to stand up to get out of the tub. I grabbed the edge of the tub and the faucet to keep from falling and pulled myself up. I leaned against the tile until the nausea subsided. Within thirty minutes, I was feeling better again.
On my next long ride, I plan to go back to the special hydration mix. Pushing myself to those limits without taking advantage of the electrolytes and amino acids was not a good choice. Probably would not be an exaggeration to say it was stupid. I grossly over-estimated my physical conditioning and under-estimated the difference a specially formulated product can make when used for its proper purpose.
I was reminded of how exhausting it is to try to face trials and endure testings when we rely on our own strength. We find ourselves weakened and ineffective. Pain drains our energy and we quickly feel defeated. What an amazing difference when we rely upon the Heavenly Comforter and truly understand and believe that we can do all things through Jesus Christ who gives us strength!
As an ancient tentmaker once observed, God’s strength is perfected in our weakness. His power is never exhausted, no matter how many miles and how many hills.