Last year was a hard one for me on the bike. Or more accurately, injuring myself off the bike. I still had plenty of good rides & accomplished my top goal, finishing the Dirty Kanza 200. Looking back it was a year of 2 seasons, everything leading up to the Dirty Kanza, and my falling apart afterward. I kept trying to make something of wounded form, but at some point one has to say enough.
This time last year I was looking at mounds of snow & wondering how I was going to get in shape for the Kanza. I was fortunate that I was healthy, the prior two years I had injuries & illness that curtailed my training. But an above average snow year meant the skiing was good until April and the cycling, not so much. I could just build endurance in 6-7 weeks but I also wanted power too.
A few races before the Kanza would help up my power. So I raced the Rasputitsa for training & hanging out. The weather leading up to race day had me question bringing a cyclocross bike. I decided to run my 29er hardtail with 1.9" tires. Mistake #1, never bring a machete to a knife fight. The 29er was not only heavier, but it didn't roll as fast on hard pack dirt roads as the cyclocross bikes. The 3 mile hike a bike on Cyberia was "special" too. Still the NECX bike party in Burke afterward that is not to be missed. I also raced Krank the Kanc again, as part of a team time trial, again. And we came in 3rd, again.
But no amount of fitness could prepare anyone for the conditions at the Dirty Kanza last year. The mud was a soul crushing bike destroying monster. Although the un-rideable stretches totaled 6 miles, they made race much much harder. Everyone was slowed by a couple of hours. I avoided the hamstring cramps that plagued me in the past, but my tender left knee ached on the heavy muddy terrain. Still, I finished, and in not too poor of a placing. I was thrilled just to be one of the finishers.
With all the fitness & mental fortitude I built for the Kanza I was excited for mtb racing the rest of the summer & a great cyclocross season. But the best laid plans...
|happy just to have finished DK200|
The rest of the summer was a contest of patience. I patiently iced & elevated my ankle. I patiently stretched & slowly strengthened my healing ligaments. I carefully applied physio tape on my ankle before each ride, then just before hard rides, then only before races. I reminded myself to wear compression socks every day to further reduce the swelling. I patiently waited for the chiropractor to finish dry needling my left leg to further the healing.
My results began to show my slow progress. I had good races at Hanover CX & Keene to finish a few spots off the podium. I was only a minute behind where I wanted to be. Everything seemed to be coming together when I Putney I was able to finish 5th in a stacked masters 45+ group. I was feeling at the level of fitness I had hoped for coming into November. Then on my warm up "hot lap" before day 1 at Northampton CX near the top of the run up I felt a sharp pop in my left calf. I yelled as if I had been hit by a fist sized rock. I could barely limp off course. I had torn my calf muscle. Since it was my left leg, I couldn't remount my bike easily. Season over, thanks for playing.
|finding my groove at last Putney CX|
Why keep at it? Why work to put myself back together each year just to race bikes at a more compromised level? I know plenty of cyclists who've retired from racing after fewer or lesser injuries. Or have transitioned to other sports after a difficult recovery from injury. I certainly have asked myself whether I can continue to race with the accumulated nagging aches. Yet each winter I plot out another year of training focused on the bike racing season ahead.
The simple answer is that my life is better with bike racing than without it. My time & energy are better focused when I have a goal to train for and a plan to train. I'm certain I could "ride for fun" but I'd then spend much more time sitting on the couch & drinking beer, which would make riding less fun.
The other factor is that my falling apart body is part of life. Most everyone accumulates knocks that no longer heal perfectly as we age. Our grace is defined by how we deal with those new challenges, how we learn to work with them, how we take better care of ourselves than we needed to in younger years. While I may injure myself more regularly by racing bikes, I also keep myself strong & limber to avoid other possible injuries. I race bikes not so much to "stay young" as to age (& live) better. SO here is to the next 25 years of bike racing (God willing)