Race recovery for cyclists and trail runners in Summit County
The art of the foam roller
Foam rollers are everywhere these days. But do you know how to use one? A few pointers from the pros.
Stay flat: Foam rollers are made for flat surfaces, so allow plenty of room to stretch in every direction.
Roll on every plane: For leg-dominant athletes like skiers and cyclists, Physical therapist Joe Reitan suggests stretches every part of the leg with a roller. Begin with your quads, then move to your hamstrings, IT bands and calves.
Give both sides equal love: Like all stretching, foam rollers are most useful if you stretch evenly. Do the same stretches and reps on your right and left side.
Pamper your back: Foam rollers aren’t just for legs. Reitan also uses them for hard-to-reach areas like the lower and upper back.
Stop if it hurts: Many athletes use foam rollers to relieve pain after a race, but, if the roller causes more pain than a deep stretch, stop immediately. It can aggravate bruises, strains and bone fractures.
Erik Dorf can hardly wait for September, when he finally heads out on the trail for no other reason than pure, unadulterated mountain biking.
Dorf, an orthopedic surgeon by profession and endurance mountain biker by hobby, spends the majority of summer training and racing on a relentless loop. It has paid off in high-profile finishes at the nation’s toughest events — the 45-year-old took second in his division at this year’s Leadville 100 MTB race with a time of 7:08:40 — but, when race season draws to a close, he’s itching to ride solo.
“This is a good time to just enjoy being outside,” said Dorf, a surgeon with Vail Summit Orthopedics. “Head out without jumping through the hoops of a training program. By now, you have the legs under you and you feel good, so it’s time to enjoy all the hard work you did during the middle of summer.”
For amateur athletes like Dorf, finding time to train, race and simply enjoy a summer sport can be a full-time gig. But, Dorf and other sports-medicine experts believe the shoulder season of September and October shouldn’t be ignored, especially if you want to stay strong and injury-free for first chair in November.
“September really is the nicest month to ride a bike in Colorado, so I wouldn’t recommend anyone start recovering just yet,” Dorf said. “But, you do need to think about taking a little time off.”
Take a mental health month
Dorf likens September cycling to spring skiing: The weather is changing, the season is nearly over and it’s time to give your body — and brain — a reward for hard work. Enjoy a beer with friends after a ride, he says, or explore the aspen-lined trails on Boreas Pass and Pennsylvania Gulch.
And, athletes at every level in every outdoor sport share this “back to the basics” mentality. Joe Reitan competes in several Iron Man and Olympic triathlons every summer. Like Dorf, his training regimen is intense: He’s in the pool at 6 a.m. for an hour of swim intervals, then heads to work as a physical therapist for Avalanche Physical Therapy before hitting the trail around 5 p.m. for an hour and a half of biking or running. After that, it’s dinner with his wife, then sleep, then back to the pool at 6 a.m.
“That was pretty typical for 8 to 10 months,” said Reitan, who always takes at least one or two months away from structured training. “My ultimate goal is to let the body recover and get back to real life, just enjoy it. My mind eventually goes crazy enough that I have to get back into the sport, but I like to have that rest period.”
Step away from structure
Reitan never abandons fitness, even at the end of a long, strenuous season. It’s just not in his blood. Instead, he steers clear of a rigid regimen — and all the gadgets that entails.
“Mental rest is more or less not keeping data for me,” Reitan said. “I was a Garmin fanatic for the lonest time, plugging into the computer and analyzing the data after every time on the bike. Now, I just go out and ride. I don’t pay attention to my cadence or watch my intervals. I can actually look around and enjoy the scenery, give myself a mental break from the data.”
Along with gadgets, a mental break can also mean stepping away from your sport of choice. Dorf is an avid cyclist, but he often begins cross-training with his children when they start dryland training with Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy. That includes box jumps, core workouts and mobility stretching, all of which are key for race recovery.
“Cyclists tend to get stiff hip flexors and have back issues,” Dorf said. “You’re in a crunched-over position all summer, so when you wind down on the bike program, incorporate stretching or another sport that diversifies your fitness.”
Dorf and Reitan occasionally head indoors during the shoulder season — sometimes Mother Nature just won’t cooperate — but both encourage outdoor athletes like cyclists and trail runners to, well, stay outside. Part of it is mental recovery, and part of it is variation.
Look at cyclists: Sitting on a bike all summer automatically builds certain muscles while nearly overlooking others. Your cardio and quads are at their peak, but your calves, ankles, back and core muscles have just along for the ride.
“I don’t think of cycling as a particularly athletic sport,” Dorf said. “That’s not to say it isn’t difficult or challenging, but it doesn’t require a lot of hand-eye coordination. You’re always moving in a straight line. Now is a good time to start trail running and get into other lateral motion exercises.”
But, not everyone enjoys running (it’s probably the reason you buy bike cleats instead of Vibrams). Dorf suggests calisthenics like lunges, dips and squat jumps — all can be done with no equipment in a living room — while Reitan enjoys cardio-heavy sports like Nordic skiing and snowshoeing in the early winter.
Through it all, don’t forget to stretch. It’s a must for any athlete, particularly cyclists, runners, skiers and anyone else who favors legs over arms.
“Anything out of the saddle can help strengthen those muscle pathways that have been dormant all summer,” Dorf said. “You’re looking at different muscle groups, different coordination, different effort — everything that makes you think more about what you’re doing than just pedaling one foot in front of the other.”
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