Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Bike Season is Dead! Long Live the Bike Season!

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
Exactly two weeks after the Kanza I took my son & his mtb buddies for a long ride on the local trails. The big attraction was a new flow trail in Fox Park. After a couple of hours of riding the old familiar single track they were ready & amped to hit the berms on the new trail. We got to the top of the flow trail & the kids hollered as they started off. As excited as they were, I hopped to mount up on my bike, and stepped into a 4" deep hole covered with freshly raked off loam. I fell full weight over my turned ankle & crumpled to the ground. By the time I soft pedaled to the parking lot my ankle was the size of a grapefruit. A few days later 4 toes on that foot were purple. I have suffered ankle sprains before, I played soccer through college, but never as bad as this one.

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.
Slowly I was able to ride tempo again, then race a little, then sprint once a ride. Yet I could feel the imbalance in my pedal stroke due to the lingering pain in my left ankle. I raced the Boston Rebellion XC, for pride if nothing else. I limped for 3 days afterward. My plans of racing for the summer were scrapped. I enjoyed some big rides including the IRR & Overland GP, but with clear limits on my form. By August I could jog short distances, but not really run with out an ankle brace. How was I going to race cyclocross at all? My chiropractor (whose 3 daughter's college tuition are covered on my appointments alone) encouraged me to stay patient, keep doing the hard work of building my strength back gradually, let my body heal at it's pace.

The first few weeks of the cyclocross season were as hard psychologically as physically. I carefully taped my ankle before every race. I was able to compete without limping (too much), but my level was not where it was a year before. I was racing at 90% at most. I had to adjust my goals for October, race for fun, & keep rebuilding my fitness. Still I would rather race at some level than sit on the couch and mope. Each week I felt like I was getting a little closer to fit.
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
This was not the first injury that ended my cyclocross season early. Ironically it was a huge hematoma on my other calf (from being run over in a sand pit) that ended my season the year before. In 2014 my season was over before it started due to a severe hamstring pull. Then there was the year that I dislocated my left knee at the second cyclocross race of the year. Three years later I pulled the plug at Putney Westhill since the chronic pain in that knee meant cortisone no longer worked and it was time for surgery. When it comes to managing injuries this was not my first rodeo.

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)

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