Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Don't Be a Martyr"

Well, it seems so much has happened since my last blog post, even though its been a short time. The sleepy, dog days of winter are now over and racing season is now here and everything has been put into overdrive as all things cycling begin to pick up.

(My cross bike set up on a training ride before the first race of the year. Taking a little break at a Methodist church which is my denomination. "Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection." ->>)

First off, I had another appt with Dr Porter (DAP) last Wed and got the stitches removed from my latest surgery. The incision looks great as does the stability from the reconstruction in December. Despite the fact that he feels my foot and ankle is extremely stiff and a long way from the flexibility that he would like to see, he feels confident that I can begin racing again at this point! That was a load off for sure and now I can finally make some definite plans for what my spring races will entail. Otherwise, I still have a major nerve issue, and my first mtb of the year I confirmed that rough terrain vibrates the foot a lot and that this is going to be more of a problem than I expected. Time will tell and I'm praying that this won't entail yet another surgery to take care of the problem. I would like to think it will work itself out and everyone will live happily ever after. Aside from that, I have my work cut out for me with some PT to gain the ROM back that I have lost over the last 1.5 years. DAP ended the appt with a discussion with driving home the point that I need to not be a martyr in these early months of recovery and training and racing. I laughed it off... me a martyr. No way!

Second, as I stated above, I did my first mtb of the year! I actually did it the same day that DAP cleared me to do it and I had to do about 80 mph back from Indy in order to hit the trails before dark. It was pure bliss! Not only did I get the pleasure of riding my new Sworks 29er built by Terry T. that Dave Coar had fit me on the previous day, I also got to ride the new XX components. The mtb and the riding will have to have their own post in the days that come. I felt very blessed to be able to ride my mtb, which I love, only 55 days after being out of a cast.

In bigger news: the racing season is officially here for me, which I also feel blessed to say! Yesterday, marked the start to a crazy season that will not end until December. Here I go!
I decided to have the season kick off with a race near Grand Rapids called Barry Roubaix. I headed out with Mike Benedek and Josh Johnson to get the craziness going. It was slated as a "killer gravel road race" and the name did not disappoint. I signed up for the 65 mile race in the elite class. It was probably a little ambitious to race this distance so fresh off of surgery, but I didn't want to be a sandbagger based on my experience, plus, if anything, the distance would be good training for me. I consider myself a 45 minute specialist, and a 2.5 hour max racer. This would prove to be a much longer time than I'm skilled at, surgery or not.

All in all the two 35 mile laps took me 4 hours 18 minutes. I thought during the race that it was the hardest race I had ever done, and 24 hrs later, I am still putting it up there in the top 3 of the hardest races I've ever done. This was for several reasons, of which some were the relentless climbing that was done on sandy, rocky inclines, the cold weather, the nasty crashes, the wind, dust, and constant braking bump vibrations. It was tough. I've never been so uncomfortable on the bike.

The first lap started off nice as teammate Josh Johnson and I rolled out with the elite group. After the neutral, the racing picked up fast, and the second we hit the gravel and dirt Josh and I
found ourselves dodging bodies and bikes flying across the road. We made it out clear, but a couple gals made the group ahead of me, and I had some work to do quick. Well, I did make up some time, but given that we hit another rough section quick, I found myself behind more and more crashes. That's racing. Wrong place, wrong time. Anyway, the first whole lap was pinned to the limit. Fast speeds, high heart rates, and lots of climbing. I started to slow my pace in the last 7 miles knowing I had a long way to go. At the lap turn off, the large group withered down big time. Of the 700+ riders, only about 70 did 65 miles. That being said, I ended up riding the last 30 miles solo. Its a lonely battle to ride such a tough terrain in your own silence. I just did what I could and reminded myself how lucky I was to even be riding my bike at all, let alone racing in such a beautiful area. God has been good to me, I kept reminding myself.

At this point, the ankle was doing a number on me though. It was huge, and totally numb. I took a couple stops to unclip, sit down, and try to get some edema moving, but it didn't help much. I seriously thought about dropping out several times, but refused to let myself give into the pain that I have been trying to fight for so long. Not a martyr, huh?
In the end, I finished 4th of 9 girls. I was about 10 minutes off 3rd (my goal). This gal was lucky to have at least 4 guys pulling her the whole race. Really, it didn't matter where I finished. Normally, I would never say that, but I've learned to not gauge my victories against others. It was a victory for me just to be out there.

Its funny where your mind wanders in racing. That last 30 miles I debated the discussion with DAP I had earlier in the week. "Do what you can, but don't be a martyr." Well, I thought he was way off. I'm wouldn't suffer such a great amount for cycling. No way.
At mile 50 of the race I ended my debate when I decided to put my head down and keep going to the finish. Drool was hanging from my dust covered face and I could barely clasp the brakes, and I didn't even think my left ankle was connected to my body anymore. It was then I decided that I think all serious cyclist are a little bit of martyrs in some way. Think about it. We go through some serious sacrifices to accomplish true bliss.

"Of coarse being labeled a martyr is all relative depending on who you ask" said DAP.

Well, if you ask me now, I will give you an honest answer. After all, I had 4 hours and 18 minutes to debate it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Testing, testing...

Being an injured athlete has no shortage of metal tests. I think we have all had instances where we have had a bad crash and had to suck it up and get back on the bike again before we felt physically able. Mostly, we know we have to get back up and keep riding again before the reality of the forces of gravity and riding your bicycle at fast speeds set in. Racing your bike Will result in crashing and it Will hurt. We all know the payoff is worth that fact. Getting back up and going again is a mental trick really. It helps to keep you from thinking about what just happened and can happen again. I have no mental tricks to play after surgery, just mental tests. Every type of ride after a long break becomes a series of mental test that you pass or fail. Everything that was a simple ride before is now an accomplishment of overcoming the test of fear of having my tender ankle rip to shreds. First it was the first trainer ride with the cast, then first ride in the splint, riding outside, standing up and pedaling, doing a ride over an hour, finally applying force to the left pedal, riding up a hill, riding with Anne, riding in a group of people, and so forth. So far I have passed all these tests and aside from having pain from the most recent surgery when I ride, I don't think too much about just how fragile my ankle is right now. I've passed the test of fear at least while road riding. I still haven't been cleared to ride the mountain bike, and I'm sure that will present some new tests and I will overcome them also with time.

Given that I have planned some tentative races in the near future, Don scheduled my first field test of the year this week. This is vital to help him guide my training based on my power zones. Given that I still have some stitches in from surgery and that I have only been out of the cast for 9 weeks for the first surgery and and four days for this past surgery, I wasn't expecting very good results. Did you ever have one of those tests in school where you didn't study at all and you ended up acing the test? Me too. Well, I'm not saying I broke any records, but I passed the test. I'm not gonna reveal my numbers, but I broke all my previous spring test numbers and wasn't too far off from my best test last season. Knowing how much I've been through over the last 3 months, I was stoked! And kinda dumbfounded.

But getting to this point has been a huge test. Getting up everyday knowing I face pushing myself through the pain of PT 3 times a day and dragging into the gym to do the boring elliptical to increase range of motion has been a test in itself. But just like anything in life - hard work pays off!

(Healing up nicely! Dr P has me use this Spidertech tape that really helps with pain and swelling)

I'm really excited to see that hard work pay off and I plan on only continuing it from here and can't wait to see how I am doing in a few more months when I get back to 100% with 2 legs.

My next test will be hitting Brown County hills this weekend. Standing and climbing over a longer ride should be a good test on the recovery and the legs. Anne and I are heading down Saturday to enjoy the area on our bikes for about 4 hours of riding and I'm drinking a little BC winery to get in the zone or that!

Next test after that will be a follow-up appt with Dr P on the 24th to remove the stitches and see how I am progressing with the rehab process. Being that I have 2 new S-works sitting at Summit City Bicycles, I really am hoping to get the clearance to hit the singletrack and try them out. My other test will be to see if he clears me to do some racing. I'm hoping on doing a classics type race on the 27th in MI. I think I'm ready, but I will do what Dr P says in these matters. He has helped me get this far, so if he wants me to jump off a cliff, I'm there!

Always some sort of test. Passing each one feels great, no matter how small.
I take nothing for granted anymore.
But I plan on passing some pretty big test this season,
so I'm studying hard!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I only have 10 fingers...

...and I've now had a total of 10 surgeries in my life. So, I figure since I've run out of fingers to count my surgery list on, that this has to be the last surgery in my life! Seriously, I don't think I can mentally handle another surgery for a long, long time! I love to work in surgery, but I really, really hate having it. Being a expert in having surgery isn't the type of expert I want to be. I'll leave that to Travis Pastrana.

(checking out this Thank You picture to Dr Porter's in his office from some football player)

As some of you may know I have been having excruciating shooting nerve pain going down the medial side of my ankle bone for about 10 weeks now.
Along with this "mass" poking out of my skin. Dr thought this was the result of a reaction to an internal suture knot being inflammed and that the swelling was irritating the nerve. We hoped the knot would absorb eventually and the nerve would settle back down. So after "watching" this for several weeks, it was getting worse. So after communicating with Dr Porter, he was kind enough to see me in his off hours to take another look at it. Long story short... the appointment ended in a trip to surgery Friday.

(getting an ankle block before surgery... yes that needle went into my ankle)
As it turns out the mass that was forming was not a suture knot but rather an abscess/ granuloma from where the previous surgeon had placed the old tendon graft up against the nerve. So Dr Porter cut all that bad mojo out and put me back together again. Not anywhere near as major as the other surgeries, but it will require a little recovery time and me "taking it easy." Basically, I have a incision line in the bend of my ankle and that puts it at high risk for ripping open if I am not careful. As a precaution I am back in the cast for 10 days so it can heal up nicely and I can move on.

The best news is that I can continue to ride in this time. Just not as long as I would like. Fortunately, when a pedal stroke is done correctly, it doesn't require too much flexing and extending of the foot, so that means low stress on the sutures. Bonus! Except that the position is vertical and causes swelling, inflammation and all that bad stuff. Oh my!

And not to mention a fair amount of pain again. My weekend of riding has me understanding the consequence of getting anxious to ride in the nice weather on a freshly cut ankle. It does hurt, and I do think I get stupider at times. Every little vibration and bump felt like a knife cutting me open. Why do it? Well, because I refuse to let this totalfrackingshietsandwhich slow me down!

The other good news is that Don has me scheduled for a "rest week" this week with only 7 hours of training, so the timing fell as good as could be expected.

I'm really, really trying hard to find some good points about what's been happening to me physically here. I have to say, I really try to keep positive about this, but at this point I've just about had it and I would have to think something would have to start going my way. I mean seriously? Please make it stop!

(Look. More dressing change pictures! How many stitches is that now? I really don't count anymore.)

As my Dad was coming home with me from surgery on Friday; he asked me if my body ever told me it was tired of being cut on....

Frack yes! Good thing I didn't loss any fingers though, I need them to count the amount of times my body told me it was tired of it.

Make that 10 to be exact!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Solo Sport? A shout out to my homies.

Behind every great champion is several great people.Cycling at my level is pretty much a solo sport. I don't really do road races where I depend on team tactics, nor do does a team factor into my cyclocross or mountain bike races. Being part of a "team" is great, but the outcome of my race doesn't depend on it like Pro Tour racers do. However, not having 6 people around me to chase and pull me around in a crit doesn't mean I complete solo. My solo cycling sport is very much a "team" effort.

The now finished Olympics got me thinking about this. A friend made a comment about how Apollo was a great solo athlete. For me, when I look at Apollo, I see a athlete who has formed a great team of people around him. I firmly believe that good solo athletes gather the best resources they can find and put the information they are given to action.

I have a very busy and sometimes unpredictable job. I have spent the last 2-3 years maximizing the experts around me to help me make the best out of the time I have to help me focus on being a good athlete. By doing that I would like to think that I have made some huge gains in my cycling abilities. My training and equipment prep really has no time for error. I'm no Apollo but for me, I narrow down my team to a couple hands full of people (in no particular order):

1. My biggest step was getting a cycling coach. For anyone who can afford a coach, I think it is a huge advantage if you have a limited amount of time to devote to training. Drt writes my cycling plans and changes them as I change. 'Nuff said.

2. Darrel Carr, my strength and core coach. May be my biggest secret weapon right now! Darrel handles it all except stuff I do directly on the bike. He is there for nutrition, supplements, core, stretching, lifting, and has a general understanding of the body in a different light than most people could even imagine. He has also worked countless hours on focusing on my injuries and how to come back strong from them.

3. Anne Young, my new teammate and long time riding buddy. Anne spent the weekend dragging me around on my windy rides and did the same thing last year after my surgery to help me get back in shape. Anne travels and takes off on adventures with me, listens to my crazy ideas, and keeps me motivated. She may not be someone people know much of in the historical cycling ring, but Anne is vital to my success. She just doesn't really know it. I liken Anne and I to College and Lance Armstrong, or a good sparring partner to a top MMA fighter.

4. Joey H., my massage therapist. Joe and I spent every Monday in cross season together working out the kinks and knots of racing and traveling for 14 weeks straight. Joe is a progressive therapist and can find a trigger point like a heat seeking missile. Now I see him about every 2 weeks, but I can't state how vital a massage is to keeping a healthy system. He is a great massage therapist and would be good enough to hit the pro tour teams if he wanted. Get a massage!

5. Summit City Bikes/ Terry T/ Barry M and the gang: They are a bike dealer, but they also deal with me. Deal with my multiple bikes, requests, and keep the machines running as I need them to personally (and I have lots of personal preferences). On average, I have about 3 bikes of my 7 or 8 that I need to be running race ready at any given moment. That means fitted to me with their fit system, running smoothly, getting parts ordered, and not letting me get to out of control with the "bling" of the industry. They are my pit crew and anyone knows that has ever watched a race car race, that without a pit crew; your shit doesn't move!

6. My family. Yep, they put up with a lot. I won't even get started in all they do for me because it would take up pages and still not do them justice. They are every bit of a cyclist that I am- they just don't do the pedaling.

7. Great Lakes Anesthesia, co-workers, and surgical family. The people I work with are my family in many ways. We experience people's life's in ways that most people can never even fathom. We have some tough times and some very rewarding times that can't be replicated in an office type setting. Work effects your riding and that can't be denied and my peeps at work know all about my riding, they have to listen to me ramble about it all day long!

(My Great Lakes Family: Anesthesia at its best!)

8. Eby, aka Black Kitty. Should a common house cat make the list? Heck yeah! She offers peace and joy every time I come home. She watches me ride the trainer and curls up to keep me warm after a cold ride. That is priceless!
(Black Kitty, striking a pose)

That's just a few that help make my wheels go 'round. Success never happens alone and I'm very thankful for the people who have stuck by me and believed in me over the years. I'm getting to a point where I am in need of a fair amount more industry and equipment support, but at least I know who will be by my side no matter what. Thanks Homies- you help me look good solo.