During this year’s Tour de France, Team Sky’s Geriant Thomas amazed spectators by finishing a stage after being knocked off his bike and flying into a ditch, hitting a telegraph pole with his head mid-air. I have looked to Tour de France cyclists as giants of men, capable of withstanding great pain and still keeping their rankings on the Grand Tour leader board… Until this weekend when I realised that their heroism is merely being able to climb a 15% gradient faster than I can walk – they actually feel very little pain, telegraph pole or not!
I know this now because this weekend I had a cycling accident 7 miles into the ride, got up and chose to cycle another 15 miles before the pain kicked in at home. I was blasting down a country lane when I saw a runner in the middle of the road, running the same direction as I was with his back to me. I shouted for him to stay right and moved left myself. Instead, the hapless runner moved left. I jammed on my brakes, yelled a warning and locked up before both of us hit the deck on the verge – me landing hard on my elbow. He got up and ran off without a word despite my asking him if he was OK, and I thought I’d bruised my elbow so put the chain back on my bike and pedalled on. Around 5 hours later I went to the A&E to discovered my cycle injury – I’d broken my elbow.
I’m no hero when it comes to pain but obviously a similar biological reaction happened within me as it did Geriant Thomas… Honestly, codeine doesn’t touch the sides of the pain three days later, and if I could have a dose of what my body gave me in order to finish my ride I’d happily have some!!!
Why no pain?
It has been observed through the ages that in high stress situations your body can do amazing feats in order to survive. Soldiers take bullets in their shoulder and carry on shooting. Mothers lift cars to get their children from underneath. Cyclists hit telegraph poles mid-air and still finish the Tour de France stage!
It isn’t fully understood what exactly happens to the body in this situation. It is known that the body releases opioids, that aren’t unlike morphine. The difference is that morphine makes you really dozy yet the chemical that your body hits you with enables you to fight on.
According to CNN, “Researchers say a stress hormone, noradrenaline, also known as norepinephrine, which floods the bloodstream during stressful events, numbs the brain’s pain-processing pathway.”
We all know however that high levels of stress for protracted periods of time can cause physical problems such as heart disease and mental health issues. As such leaving the patient jumped up on adrenaline could be the wrong thing to do – I’ve been advised that my bone won’t heal properly until at least mid September. Leaving me amped up for that amount of time could really screw me up!
Probably not good to get an injection of the stuff then?
Where in short term stress events the body can fight off pain – and may even be able to resist illnesses such as flu, long term it can grind you down and make you MORE susceptible to illness and injury.
Again, the CNN article suggests, “If you’re a busy mom, and you’re in the PTA, and you do community service, this can actually make you less susceptible to colds. Sometimes, things such as work deadlines and exams can boost your immune system as well. It works by triggering hormones that prepare the immune system for danger, helping the body fight off infections.”
My current (high) stress levels seem to be keeping me going – however if I pay heed to the doc and not go cycling for six weeks I might go under due to the long term effects of stress. CNN again: “But chronic stress can make you sicker — especially people who may be caring for a sick relative, or are unhappy at work, or are in bad marriages. It can weaken the immune system and lead to diseases.”
A ride a day keeps the doctor away
Cycling however, may keep me away from the mental or physical hospital! The CNN article said, “The key to avoiding stress is exercise. Research has shown it’s one of the best ways of relieving stress. Any activity that gets your heart pumping will get those endorphins flowing and make you feel better.”
So there you go – cycling can be dangerous. However if you hurt yourself while going on a hard ride you may only feel pain when you are able to get help, and long term it could keep you free of illness and mental health issues. Overall? Though some accidents can’t be avoided the benefits are far greater than the risks.