DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is a term I don’t recall having heard before recently reading a reference to it in the latest issue of Bicycling Magazine. That article was about whether or not compression clothing is doing any good at helping recovery.
I’m not going to go into the merits of compression (though I think there are some) but rather discuss how I came to my self-diagnosis.
Last Saturday I went for my third in a series of interval rides designed to improve my overall speed on race days. These have been more than just rides with specific segments for pushing hard and then recovering. This is heart-rate based recovery so as my HR came back down, I was ready for the next set. It has also been a good opportunity to start doing more riding in aero position—something I’ve largely neglected on the trainer during the off-season.
The course I rode was fairly flat and straight allowing me to ramp up my speed to over 22mph between rests except when I was riding back into the wind. I don’t have a power meter to confirm this, but I suspect I was putting in just as much if not more effort on those into-the-wind sets but obviously, speed suffers, even when I’m in good position.
The upshot of all of this is that I came back home feeling spent like I always do at the end of a hard work-out, but not totally wrung-out either. I certainly felt much stronger than after the 56 mile ride I had done three weeks earlier. That was good because the next day I had plans for a 10 mile long run as part of my preparation for the Horsetooth Half Marathon which is now less than two weeks away.
On Sunday morning, I found myself sore and very tired. I had planned to get up around 8:00 and go bang out the run and come back to have Easter brunch. But I felt so tired that I turned off the alarm and did not wake up for another 90 minutes! I’m no stranger to sleeping in, but that’s very late for me. When I got up, my legs hurt. Not a sharp pain like you might experience with a muscle pull or a bruise from a contact injury, but more of a dull, tired feeling. Knowing clearly that I’d probably do more harm than good from a ten-miler, I called it off and just rested.
Unfortunately, the problem persisted into Monday so that’s when I did a little research. I found a good article in Running Times online. Like a lot of people, my gut instinct told me the issue was lactic acid. However, intuitively, I knew that could not be right because lactate dissipates within an hour or so of the completion of exercise. DOMS is actually related to micro-tears or, to be more accurate, trauma to the muscle cell membrane. In other words, it’s more physical than chemical. This description from the article is an apt one:
“This micro trauma creates tiny micro tears in the muscle fibers, which leads to inflammation, and thus soreness, fatigue, stiffness and reduced range of motion.”
Soreness and fatigue. I definitely felt both. So the next question was what to do about it. One suggestion is to apply the R.I.C.E. method (also known as P.R.I.C.E.) which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. (The P refers to protection but I think that applies more to an acute injury like a sprain).
The R was taken care of taking both Sunday and Monday as rest days. The Ice in this case actually refers to an ice bath. We’re not talking about a sore knee but general soreness in the quads, hamstrings and glutes. Might do some good, but the evidence is anecdotal at best. And finally there is elevation. Same issue as the ice and no, I’m not going to stand on my head to keep both legs completely elevated.
One other way to treat DOMS is in the prevention. I feel like I do a fairly good job of warming up before doing a hard work-out, but it’s possible I was still a little cool on the Saturday ride. The temperature was in the low 60’s, but the wind made that feel colder. I probably needed some more spinning before that first set. I’ll have to be more cognizant of warming up on future work outs.
My real hope is that the R in the R.I.C.E. method will return the greatest results and that my legs will be feeling fresh and stronger soon. I’ll post how it all worked out when I know.