As an avid mountain bike rider, I usually ride four days a week, at least one of those is at a shuttle serviced bike park. When I am not riding park, I am training for enduro and riding the rocky and steep trails that make up the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Around here, if you want to race, you have to be good at climbing, and you have to love rocks—there is no way around it. In order to help maintain physical and mental balance, I would routinely practice Yoga 15, most often twice a day. Without fail, you’ll find me practicing “Mobilise the Joints” seven days a week, well before the sun comes up. That’s been my pre-breakfast routine for almost two years. I’d usually do an evening session as well, following whatever program I was on, primarily to aid with physical recovery.
For almost six months, I had some nagging pain in my left foot. I would dismiss it, ignore it, as most endurance athletes do. At times, especially when pedaling hard, my foot would go numb, and my toes would tingle. In August of 2022, I sought the advice of an Orthopedic Surgeon at the University of Virginia. I had a couple of stress fractures and a small break. He recommended surgery but said I could keep riding my heart out until the procedure. We picked November 21st as the date for the operation as it was the day after the bike park closed for the year and I wanted to maximize my time on the bike, pain and all.
In an instant, I went from an average of two yoga sessions per day, and four bike sessions per week, to being completely immobile. I couldn’t walk, and the first week, was “couch only”. Reality quickly sank in that my wife would have to take care of our young daughter and two dogs alone. I couldn’t take out the trash, clean up or cook and at the same time, I was struggling to keep weight off, given my inactivity. Needless to say, it was not a great time.
YOGA TO THE RESCUE
As I began my physical therapy six weeks after surgery, I reached out to Abi and received several non-weight-bearing yoga sessions to practice. I was still in a walking boot, and severely limited for safety reasons and due to lack of flexibility. However, I could do planks and work on my back, neck and shoulders. It was amazing how just the tiniest bit of yoga, combined with an increasingly rigorous physio plan, helped. I also started to make progress in some areas of mobility and could help at home with the dishes, folding clothes, and cooking. Mentally, these were huge wins!
At three months post-surgery, I went to see the surgeon. He was accompanied by several resident orthopedic doctors. At one point, the surgeon said “you are outpacing the recovery timeline. What are you doing for mobility?” I mentioned Yoga 15 and he, along with half the residents, took out a pen and paper and wrote it down. I have since heard that a few of the surgeons are recommending it to their patients. Furthermore, my physical therapist, who also holds a doctorate degree, kept commenting on how I was recovering very fast, specifically in the areas of balance, core and hip stability. All things that are critical when you are essentially building a foot up from scratch.
A NEW WAY FORWARD
As I write this, I am five months post-surgery. I still have six weeks until I am 100%. However, I have started to ride my road bike (no MTB for another few weeks). While my cardio did take a hit, I am without a doubt, more balanced and physically stronger in my stabilizers, hips, and ankles. I have been doing hill repeats at least twice a week, a gravel ride, and a regular tempo ride weekly. I have never climbed better or felt more stable on a bike. My surgical side is as strong as my non-surgical (and dominant) side. Simply, everything is more efficient in my pedal stroke. It is amazing how much better you can feel when the left and right side actually work together!
One other massive bonus has come out of this and that is a gain in mental concentration and focus. My ability to listen to my body, balance, and ignore distractions has never been greater. Airplane pose? 100% mental. Tree pose? No problem. Those body scans that Abi has us do? This is where they payoff. The ability to drown out distractions has really helped my yoga practice, and my time on the bike.
As I look forward to rock gardens, dirt jumps and full sends, I know that I am better prepared now than I ever was. My enhanced balance, strength in my left foot, proprioception and body-awareness are without a doubt going to play a huge role in my riding from now on, and I am going to continue with my twice a day Yoga 15 sessions. Hats off to Yoga 15 and Abi.