Race crashing

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Yesterday I finally pinned on a number and raced again. My number said 224, but the real number was 364: it was that many days since breaking my femur. One day shy of the anniversary.

After the race quite a few people asked, “how did you feel”? They didn’t ask about the result. They knew: the result wasn’t important.

So, how did I feel? At first it felt as though I’d crashed a party that’s been going on without me for a year. It was a very strange feeling — like I didn’t belong. That’s one of the things about bike racing. You could show up to run in the local 5k after not doing so for a year, and no one would notice. But in bike racing, you race with the same people week after week, ride shoulder-to-shoulder and put a large amount of trust in them.

It didn’t take too long to get over that though. And then the breakaway went up the road, containing my former teammate, Tris. And then it felt like ‘old times’ again.

But I think the people asking how I felt were really asking how my leg felt. And the answer to that is not as good as I’d hoped, but better than I had feared. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish the race.

A couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to race, period. I give my new physical therapist most of the credit for getting me to this point.

I’m not assuming that I’m back on the “race 2x per week” plan. But it’s a start.

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Waiting game


It feels very strange: sitting at home on the first Saturday morning in April, drinking coffee, listening to music, and putting off doing my taxes. As opposed to being in the car, loaded with bike gear, on the way to a race. Which is what I’ve done on the previous 20 first-Saturdays-in-April (with one exception: the broken-collarbone-year).

Drinking coffee and listening to music isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not what I’d choose this morning, given the choice. Since people have been asking: I want to be racing. I just can’t yet.

I gave it a little test, out in Arizona, which didn’t go too well.

It comes down to: I can’t go hard enough without it hurting. Go too hard then I end up having trouble walking up/down stairs. Or it hurts to walk, period

There’s an ironic aspect to this: getting on the bike and doing a bunch of miles has really helped — both mentally and physically. But so many miles on the bike I think has reinforced the imbalances that we cyclists tend to have. Strong in very specific areas, but weak in others.

It occurred to me that I haven’t walked more than 10 minutes straight for several months. It’s been all bike. When I walk, it’s still a bit crooked. I can’t stand one-legged on the repaired leg. So my operating hypothesis at the moment is that I need to do some more PT to strengthen those other areas.

We’ll see. The goal is that you see me with a number pinned on my jersey, before too long.

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Cycling Terroir

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Wine people have this concept called terroir that they use when discussing qualities of wine that are due to local conditions. Wikipedia says it pretty well:

Terroir can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had [...]

Having ridden my bike in a bunch of different places, I’ve decided that terroir applies to cycling, too. This became apparent while riding in Tucson, then Phoenix, then back in Tucson again.

Adam Myerson (Team SmartStop) speaks to some of this, here.

Tucson and Phoenix are barely 2 hours apart by car, but couldn’t feel more different when riding.

After unpacking and assembling my bike in Tucson I rode out to meet Shawn, who was waiting at a coffee shop. I had a bike lane the entire way. A few minutes later we were on a path, then off, then were climbing up Gates Pass.

It went that way the next few days: ride on some city roads with bike lanes, then within 15-20 minutes be out in the desert or climbing up mountains. Coffee shops and gas stations that are cool with cyclists filling bottles. Traffic, yes, but mostly tolerant.

Up in Phoenix a few days later, I rode out from my hotel looking over my shoulder every few seconds to check the traffic bearing down on me. Zig-zag down a maze of side streets to get to something more rideable, 45 minutes later. Look back and see the expanse of concrete.

That’s not meant to be completely down on Phoenix. There are some nice places to ride: from Scottsdale out to Fountain Hills, then north. Or up through Carefree to Bartlett Lake. But riding there feels more like a battle to get to those nice places.

I’ve previously written about “feeling like a local” when I get on the bike somewhere else (and interestingly enough, the last time I wrote about that was from Phoenix).

“Feeling like a local” and terroir seem to come together. I’ve long felt that you can more readily get a sense of place being on the bike. Certainly more so than driving in a car, and as much or even more so than walking.

All these different places become “my place” for a while, even Phoenix, even if it means I am primarily looking to survive on the roads.

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Arizona by the numbers

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Shawn and Aaron have their summaries here and here.

Here’s mine:
Cities visited: 2 (Tucson and Phoenix)
Number of unpack/repack cycles: 6
Days riding: 12
Miles ridden: 820
Feet climbed: 38,000
Farthest day: 101 miles (Madera Canyon)
Longest day: 99.8 miles, ~7 hrs (Lemmon)
Minutes riding in circles trying to find my hotel: 40
Times passed by hipster on fixie: 3
Times seeing hipster on fixie not able to stop: 3
Flats: 0 (Continental Gatorskins!)
Saddle sores: 2 (one on each side)
Visits to chiropractor: 3
Lost credit card: 1
Snickers bars eaten: 8
Best coffee: Le Buzz (Tucson, bottom of Mt Lemmon)
2nd best coffee: made with my Aeropress
Best lunch: Epic Cafe (Tucson)
Best dinner: Cup Cafe (Tucson)
Best pizza: Il Bosco (Phoenix)
Favorite stretch of road: Picture Rocks Rd, Saguaro National Park (see photo)
Favorite climb: Mount Lemmon
Least favorite climb: Mount Lemmon
Least favorite road: Most anything in Phoenix
Seemed like a good idea at the time: following Shawn, Aaron, and Sam on the dirt

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Mount Lemmon, on top

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The day after arriving in Tucson I tried riding up Mount Lemmon with Shawn. It did not go well. By mile 13 I was feeling pretty horrible. Trying to climb another 14 held no appeal. “I’m ready to go back down”, I said.

As with many things these days (so it seems), I needed to go back and conquer that demon.

This time I rode it more sensibly, at a pace that would let me enjoy the view rather than one that made me suffer.

At mile 13 it occurred to me that I should be grateful — and happy — just to be able to ride like this. 10 months ago I wouldn’t have imagined doing such a climb. It’s not that Lemmon is brutally steep. It’s just so darn long: you keep going up and up and up.

Actually it’s the perfect climb for where I am right now: it requires patience.

I made it to the part where most people stop — at the Cookie Cabin — then made the right turn on Ski Run to go up the final pitch to the “tippy top”. That is also the steep part of the climb, the part that you can’t really fake.

25 miles of patience allowed me to to finish those last 2, out of the saddle most of the way in the 39×26. I was on top of the world, any way you want to interpret that.
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Back to Double-A

After last week’s bad experience doing the Shootout ride, I didn’t really want to do it again. But on the other hand I was feeling like I needed to do it.

I happened to be reading about MLB spring training going on out here in Arizona, and about guys doing rehab assignments in the minor leagues.

There was my solution: I would do the “old guys” ride, which leaves 10 minutes before the (real) Shootout. That wasn’t what my ego really wanted, but it was the solution that made sense.

I hooked up with the group about 15 minutes into the ride. The group was pretty big — 60-70 riders, and not many of them “old guys”. 10 minutes later they passed the “Game On” starting point.

Whereas last week I was doing all I could do to just hang on, this week I was actually riding at the front and going with attacks — a familiar, yet at this time very strange sensation. It’s been 10 months since I last felt that.

When we finished the hard part, I stopped and waiting for Shawn and Aaron who were coming up with the Big Boys. We rode up Madera Canyon, and I knew that had been the right decision. Had I done the fast(er) ride, pretty sure I would have been limping home (again).

I also had the voice of Jim Behrens in my head, telling me that I’d done the right thing. (thanks, Jim)

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Dr. Feelgood


I often have the (misguided) tendency to look at the human body — my body — as if it were a car: something is wrong, you take it in to the mechanic and get it fixed.

That’s been one source of frustration over the last 10 months. Between seeing the ortho-, physio-, masso-, chiro- … I’ve very badly wanted to ‘get fixed’. Unfortunately none of them can order a new part, open the toolbox, and simply replace it.

But the thing is: they’ve all helped, each in their own way, and so I’ve learned to allow them to help.

From the moment I got off the plane in Phoenix last week, my leg didn’t feel right. Apparently sitting on a plane for 5 hours was enough to do … something. Add a walk through the airport schlepping luggage and a 2 hour drive to Tucson, and it’s even worse

I was hoping that riding would work it out, but it didn’t. Maybe easy riding would have, but it’s hard not to take advantage of 80-degree sunshine. 4 days later I was limping noticeably.

How do you deal with that, 2000 miles from home? Sit around and rest? Not really an option.

Through the magic of the Internet, I was able to find a ‘mechanic’ just a couple of miles from where I’m staying: a chiropractor who does Active Release Technique. I called at 5pm and they got me in by 5:30. It wasn’t pleasant. He found some tender spots that had me sweating and brought tears to my eyes.

But it helped. A second visit, no less unpleasant, had me out doing an easy 2 hour ride, which made the unpleasantness worth it. Now I just need it to help enough to get me through 5 days of riding back in Tucson.

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