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Achilles tendon - adventure grinds to a halt

When the TransAm Bike Race popped up on my radar, I thought: That's my kind of race. A solo, unsupported race across 4,200miles of the USA, taking in around 50,000m of climbing. In what would turn out to be a years project of researching kit, testing it and putting in a few training blocks using the kit, I felt ready to tackle this huge challenge of an adventure.

Apart from a fundamental error in one of my training rides where I put my back out for a few weeks, nothing gave me any trouble and I was knocking out 200km plus rides comfortably, so felt up to the challenge. What faced me along the road is nothing I've ever experienced in all my years of racing bikes or playing sports.

Bikepacking races involve kitting out your bike with minimalist bags with the bare essentials and racing non-stop, solo and unsupported over vast distances. Fending for yourself on sourcing food, bike repairs and any spare parts you think you should carry with you. A loaded bike could weight around 17kg in comparison to your normal 7kgs. The weight difference is big and as I discovered can play havoc with fascial tissue. 

Why fascial tissue per se? Unlike muscle which build fairly quickly, fascia takes longer to lay down more collagen which adds to the strength, fasica runs throughout the body but we think of it as tendons, ligaments and the ever troublesome ITB. One of the reasons it takes so long to building up running distances is you need to load your fascia incrementally to allow it to lay down more collagen and to get stronger so you can load it more heavily and for longer.

This is a huge lesson I've learnt with bikepacking, if you're not riding fully loaded for a good while pre-race, the Achilles can flare up. As mind did on day two of a 3 week race. For me that was race over, I've rehabed Achilles for long enough to respect it when it complains. Whilst I only did some damage for 4 days to the tendon, it took 4 months to become pain free, even though I could keep doing easy riding, it would not allow me to go at it very hard.

Listening to your body when it complains is a good idea and I took a large amount of time to tweak my bikeset up to make sure that Achilles stays injury free. I am off to Race Route66 in October 2016, so lets see how that fares and whether my advice holds good. Tough to be fair I've been off the bike twice this year in hospital with two fractures, so I'm a little less fit and completely unprepared this time round, but mentally I'm there for making it all the way across America.

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