Rest+Flying = Instant pain on return (DOMS/Rhabdomyolysis?)

I’m a master’s racer (40s) that has been racing for 13yrs. I’ve been trying to figure this thing out over the past few years, and figured it’s worth posting here.

It seems that the combination of a few days off (3-5 days) in which I also fly somewhere almost always results in extreme pain in my quads minutes into an easy ride the day after flying. After that first day I’m usually fine.

This last time was the worst. I was entering a “down week” after 3 hard specialty weeks. Unfortunately, I started the week off with 2 5hr flights in the span of 3 days coupled with excess caffeine and less water /sleep during a work trip. The day after (5 days after the last hard workout) I went for an easy spin expecting some pain. However, it started 1min from the door and became bad enough that I stopped 6 times in 10 miles to try to stretch it out. Both legs, but more on one side. Soon I could only get my left leg over the top of the pedal rotation if I was standing as I tried to get home. I’ve felt the onset of similar pain at the end-of and following a ramp test if performed after a few days off.

This last time it took me all afternoon before I could walk without feeling pain or that my leg muscles might give out. I went to the ER that evening at the encouragement of family for fear of it being Deep Vein Thrombosis. However, they quickly ruled that out as the top of my quads where the pain originated is nowhere near a vein where DVT would normally occur. They called it a severe muscle strain and spasm and suggested muscle rollers, epsom salt baths, hydration and more vitamin B, magnesium, etc. I did all that and decided light spins would be needed to free up the muscles. The next day an easy spin brought on pain after 15min, the following day pain after 1.5hrs, the day after that an easy spin was fine, and then I could hit hard workouts again without issue.

This is the closest thing I could find to others with similar problems:

So I suppose it’s either…

  1. A condition where my muscles were storing too much glycogen, were closed up upon returning to ride in a dehydrated state, and were actively tearing during the spin, or most likely
  2. It’s some level of Rhabdomyolysis or extreme DOMS, where the intense training blocks tore down the muscles and the dehydration effect of flying and other factors prevented proper clearing and repair processes. However, I felt like I was urinating regularly and it was light/clear prior to that first ride.

Welcome thoughts on cause, prevention, and training adjustments that should be made after an episode like this.

If it was rhabdo, you would definitely notice a change in kidney function and urine color; it’s unmistakable, so I very much doubt it’s that. As for DOMS, maybe but that would be strange because the symptoms came after flying.

The advice of the ER staff indicates the cause as a severe muscle strain but if it will bring you peace, then I would encourage you to get with your primary care physician.

Thanks, the trip to the ER to rule out DVT gave me the peace of mind I needed that it wasn’t something truly serious. So it’s more a question of root cause, prevention, and any training plan adjustments needed if this occurs. (Plus hoping to help anyone else that may experience this)