Pedalling with Parkinson’s
‘How does Parkinson’s Disease affect me and my cycling?’ I am often asked.
Parkinson’s affects my balance, co-ordination, stamina, reaction time, concentration, ability to multi-task, right-sided movements, fine movements and sleep to name a few things. Parkinson’s also causes pain, stiffness, slowness, rigidity, shaking, fatigue and poor temperature control. I have each of these symptoms some of the time, some of the symptoms all of the time but thankfully don’t experience all of the symptoms all of the time! Symptoms are complex, completely unpredictable, vary from day to day and sometimes hour to hour.
The variability and unpredictable nature of the symptoms and my response to medication makes planning a cycle take on a whole new dimension.
How much medication to take before, during and after a cycle? This depends on how far we are going, how fast we are going, how many hills are involved, how much protein I have eaten, how well I have slept in recent days, how much exercise I have done recently, what time of day we are cycling and even what time of the month we are cycling!
When it all falls into place, I can power up the hills, maintain a good pace and occasionally challenge the others to keep up with me. When it doesn’t quite fall into place, I’m slower, fatigue sets in much earlier and everything is much harder work. When it falls apart, ‘my shutters come down’ and suddenly it’s like wading through treacle.
In endurance sports, particularly cycling, ‘bonking’ describes a condition where glycogen stores in the body are depleted, affecting the function of the body and the brain. Symptoms include fatigue, loss of energy, shaking and sweating. This is how I feel when ‘my shutters come down’. This is when my dopamine stores are depleted and this affects my body and my brain.
My thinking slows down, my reaction times are slow and I even struggle to work out which way is up or down for my gears. I feel unbalanced and my posture becomes poor. I have to concentrate to stay upright and can no longer chat while I cycle. In fact, I can’t cycle alongside anyone when I feel like this as it throws me off balance. Cycling at the same pace as before is impossible and I slow down, I can only tackle hills at snails pace. I’m not cardiovascularly tired. I don’t get more breathless. It’s a different feeling. I am fatigued. My legs have no power, I have no power, my brain has no power. My battery is flat!
My fingers on my right hand stiffen up and take longer to respond to my need to change gear or they simply freeze and don’t move at all. I feel cold and shaky. It’s hard to come back from this state and it usually it lasts until I stop cycling, replenish my dopamine supplies, warm up and rest.
I am working hard to find a strategy to avoid reaching this state in the first place in the hope that I can cycle the 75 mile average each day of our 14 day LEJOG without bonking!
I’m not the only one who needs to ensure I don’t bonk……….we are all adopting training, nutritional and hydration strategies to cope with the challenge ahead.
Before and After The Bonk!