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After the Race

December 17, 2014

The crumpled bed is covered with my belongings:

Macro bars, Skratch Labs electrolytes, Carbo Pro liquid carbohydrate, Osmo recovery drink, protein tablets and chamois butter. Shoes, helmet, glasses, gloves, arm warmers, rain jacket, a damp undershirt and a sweat soaked kit, two unused tubes, an extra tire, a set of allen wrenches, lube, Simple Green, a dirty rag, tire irons and needle nose pliers, four wet but empty water bottles, sun tan lotion, arnica gel, a half empty tube of bio freeze, pajamas, toiletry kit, compression tights, flip flops and some worn street clothes, my racing license, extra safety pins, a wrinkled course map, an elastic hairband and face wipes.

It is the same list, the same bag, the same ritual each time I pack for a race and each time I pack to go home.

A half-eaten yogurt, a banana peel and the crumbs from a grilled cheese sandwich are scattered across the nightstand.  A pile of wet towels cover the floor under the sink in the bathroom.  My bike leans against the chest of drawers stripped of its pedals and Garmin, waiting to be picked up and put on the truck to send home.

The room still holds the scent of anticipation, fear, nervousness and the excitement that I felt early this morning. I open the door now to let the sun and warm air crowd in.  It’s time to go.

On the table beside the window my mobile phone lies next to a room key card and the check; the check with my name on it; the check that was handed to me when I stood on the podium.  The check I received for winning.

206 Miles, One Bike, One Day

October 27, 2014

It took me two years to get there….but in September of 2012 I finally raced The Lotoja Classic.  I placed 9th. An account of the day was published by Realize Magazine.  Here is a link the piece:

http://www.realizemagazine.com/content/206-miles-one-bike-one-day

 Finish line small

It’s been two more years since that race but in 2015 I plan to return once again to Logan for this epic adventure.

The Real Win: It’s More than the Medal

June 7, 2012

The last time I came in first place was 40 years ago when I won a ski race in Quebec.  So needless to say after all these years it came as a bit of shock when two weeks ago I won a bike race.  Then even more surprisingly last weekend I came in third place in yet another bike race.

I’m not saying that I have not had moments when I dreamed of winning something or that Idon’t show up for the things that matter to me with the intention of doing the best that I can (work, art contests, spelling bees). I have worked hard at a lot of things, it’s just that after all this time, I no longer expected to get a prize for it.  And frankly, I’m just fine with that.  I’d just like to do better than the last time I did something and these days, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.

I would not consider myself a winner in the conventional sense.  My kids have more medals for showing up to AYSO than I could ever hope for in a lifetime.  Though there was that one time at the beginning of senior year in college when we drew straws to see who would get first choice of the bedrooms in the house.  I won that draw and took the large single room, overlooking the lake with the en suite bathroom.  It was certainly first prize that day, but that wasn’t because of hard work, it was plain good luck.

Glencoe Grand Prix

So my recent trips to the cycling podiums to receive medals have been a bit of a dream. It is especially the case given where I was only seven months ago after a serious accident that knocked me unconscious, hospitalized and left me with a gash in my head and post-concussion syndrome for months.

Five months ago I could not have imagined that I would experience what I have the last few weekends.

Starting back in November (3 months after my accident) my coach put me back on the bike, on a trainer in my basement.  My power test results indicated that I had lost about 25% of my strength after the accident.  With most of the concussion symptoms gone (except my memory which continued to improve), he put me on a plan to re-built my strength and endurance.  He started me training at 5 hours a week and increased that to 8 or more by the New Year.  In addition to adding gym work, more sleep, and more food to my days, he sent me simulated training rides (which I loaded onto a lap top that connected to my trainer).  These varied from one to four hours long.

I have come to the conclusion that if you can sustain four hours on a trainer in a basement on a dark winter day and not fall over in boredom, there must be something very wrong with you.  Maybe there are some benefits from concussion after all.  It was the recorded episodes of “In the Middle” and the on-demand movies that got me through.  Not to mention the extended playlist I put together of all my favorite 1980 songs which I listened to over and over again.

Pedaling to The Pretenders (Back in the Chain Gang), the weeks flew by.  Some were easy and slow-building, some were so hard they left me weeping over my handlebars until I collapsed in exhaustion into a puddle of self-pity.  But what drove me to keep going was the desire to be back to where I had been before.  I did not want that accident to re-define who I was or what I could do.

When my coach re-tested me in late January, I was nervous.  What is after all that hard work, we had made no progress?  But he knew better.  He knew exactly what he was doing.  When the test was done I like to think even he was surprised.  I had regained my strength and power. I felt like I had won.

The big question remained – I might have my strength back, but would I have the mental confidence to ride in a group again.   Since the crash my fear of riding close to others was unmanageable.  Alone I was calm, but when I got in a group my heart raced, my mouth dried, my neck tensed and my head hurt.

My first road race was in April.  It was a 28 mile hilly course just north of St. Louis.  It is called the Hillsboro Rubaix because the last mile is on cobblestones, similar to the Paris-Rubaix.  Race day brought torrential rain and thunderstorms.  It could not have been worse.  My husband was willing to pack me up and take me home even though we had driven 5 hours the night before to get here.  All I had to do was say the word.

Hillsboro-Rubaix

But I didn’t.

Like getting back on the horse after a fall, I was going to get back on this one.  I changed my objective from winning to just finishing well and whole.  I would not be too aggressive and back off if I felt the others riders were unsafe.  It did not come to that fortunately, but as the wall of rain washed over our bodies and mud splashed on our faces, I hung on as tightly as I could. When after the first few miles one of my fellow racers slid and crashed down on a hill, I did not flinch.  She had braked too hard.  I saw that.  After an hour the final few miles presented us with a nice steep climb, happily I set myself free.  It was wonderful but it was not enough.  Cautiously I took the cobblestones alone and finished the race in 7th place out of 33.  It was another private win for me: I had faced down my fear.

The irony is not lost on me that my last two races tested the limits of my fear.  Unlike the road races I am used to which are long and mountainous and spread out, these races were criteriums (or crits) and take place on a short course that goes around many times in the company of a pack of others.  It is fast, very technical and short lived.  Because the racers are so close, if one goes down, so do many more.  I could not imagine anything more horrifying.  But I felt I needed to gain experience with one because most Stage Races (the multiple race events I enjoy) include a criterium in the line-up.  I didn’t need to win a crit, I just needed to know how they worked so I could stay in the game.

Fox River Grove Podium – 1st place

I prepared for these races.  I practiced the courses alone.  I figured out the parts I loved and the parts that challenged.  On race day I raced carefully, I raced hard. And I raced as much against the course as I did against the other racers.

I still remember how I felt when I won that ski race so many years ago.  I was surprised to get a trophy for doing something l loved.  It is a moment of my life captured and frozen in that gold skier on top of a wood block.  Not long ago, I found it again, dusty and cramped in a box in the attic. As I held it, heavy and cold I felt the thrill again, the hug from my parents and the image of the snowy descent as I raced through the gates and crossed the finish.

So it is with my medals from the bike races.  The heavy round golden of the First place disk already carries the memory of 7 steep climbs and 7 glorious descents and the shout of victory as I crossed the line.  I feel the thrill of the win, the hug from my husband the cheering of my coach who earned it right along with me.

But this time the trophy means a lot more than first place.  This is the prize for coming back, for not giving up, for embracing the things that scare me and for accomplishing something I never thought would be possible for me to do again.

Glencoe Grand Prix Podium – 3rd place

Off Season: The Big “Time Out”

December 7, 2011

When they were young my two boys spent many hours on the stairs in our house serving “Time Outs.” They most often found their way there after losing complete control of themselves, breaking into tears and succumbing to the full mind and body melt downs after too much stimulation or inconsolable exhaustion.

I remember thinking at the time that this little trick of parenting was a brilliant approach for disciplining little people. But eventually I came to regard it as a gift to us older people as well. Adult Time-Outs are those special moments when after we’ve worked too hard or for too long we decide to take a vacation, sit on the couch with a remote control in our hand, sleep in or go out for dinner with friends. It is what we look forward to when what we do has consumed too much of us. We take Time Outs to think about something else, do something different and reflect. If we succeed we come back refreshed and ready to take it all on again.

Time-Outs, no matter at what age, are important for mental and physical health. It is a shame that we are often too busy to take them or think they are just for kids.

In cycling we have a special word for a Time Out. We call it Off Season. 11 months is a long time to do anything without a break and being on a bike is no exception. I think “Off Season” has a nice ring to it. The words conjure up images for me of sitting next to a fire in fuzzy slippers while snow falls softly outside. After a long season of pedaling it is time to stop and read a book that has nothing to do with cycling, revisit my other hobbies and get projects done which have been neglected during race season. It is a time to calm down, decompress and regroup. My Bicycling magazines are put away, my training log is filed, I clean up my bike clothing drawer, fold away my bike stand and store my energy drink powders and gels for next season. It’s a nice feeling.

My plan this year was to begin Off Season at the beginning of October and then start base training a month later. Base training involves easy rides on the bike at a low heart rate. It is pretty stress free and immensely enjoyable even though it is usually done in the basement on a bike trainer. It is a critical part of building the foundation for cardiovascular endurance before the serious stuff like interval training and threshold work (ie. biking as hard as you can) starts to be piled on in the new year.

By the second week in September I thought I had everything under control to wind down the old season and take my Time Out. But I had not planned for the longer term surprise that my late August crash still had in store for me.

When I finished my Lotoja Classic adventure on September 10th I felt pretty good. I even felt strong enough to do a couple of rides in Jackson Hole before I packed up my bike and headed home. I was a bit tired, but that was to be expected given the altitude and my still weakened condition. When I arrived home however, instead of feeling better, my symptoms got suddenly worse. The headaches came back and they were more frequent than before. They were low grade, not intense, but they were constant. The nausea and fatigue attacked me full force. Suddenly I could not stay awake past 2:00 in the afternoon. So anything that needed to get done in the day had to be accomplished in the morning hours. In the afternoon I was back in bed exhausted. My short term memory had deteriorated as well. I made lists for everything I had to do only to forget that I had made the list in the first place. I couldn’t work. The only think I could do ironically, was ride my bike.

Not long after I got home I was scheduled to do a fitness test on my indoor trainer. It is typical at different points in the season to take these tests to see how your training is progressing. Mine involves riding a 10 mile course as fast as I can. When I am done, we calculate how fast I went, how high my heart rate was and what kind of power (measured in watts) I exerted. The results are then compared to other times I have done the same test. Half way through the course however I began to feel dizzy and sick to my stomach. I just couldn’t sustain the effort and within minutes I was off the bike and lying on the floor so I wouldn’t pass out.

I was still suffering from the concussion. Mark, my coach told me to stop training right away and start resting. He was adamant. He said we would begin “Off Season” earlier than planned and would extend it as long as it took for me to get better. Now I was worried.

For the next week I did as Mark said and did nothing. This was not the lovely Off Season as I had envisioned. It was too soon for fires in the fireplace and fuzzy slippers and I was too fatigued to read any books or do projects anyway. After being on the move constantly for almost a year, staying still was tough especially as I was not sure how long this problem of mine would last. So I used the time to research Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS) which loosely describes the effect of concussion lasting longer than a few weeks. I was surprised to find very little on the subject that was conclusive.

One study that made sense was done at University of Buffalo on a series of professional athletes with concussions. They had discovered that if a patient suffering from head trauma continues moderate activity the circulation of blood eventually reaches the damaged area of the brain and helps recovery. The brain, like any muscle in the body needs blood flow to heal while at the same time too much exertion can do more damage.

I decided to give this approach a try and started with the odd yoga class, long walk and easy bike ride (ten minutes to and from the grocery store or my office). The yoga classes produced the best results, though I had to lie in the corpse pose several times during class when my head began to hurt or the healing gash in my scalp started to throb. Nevertheless, the slow deliberate poses kept my circulation flowing and I was able to visualize the blood and energy making its way to my concussed brain. Every week I returned to the studio I felt a little better.

The worst activity I discovered was running. Not only did it raise my heart rate too high, but more seriously I could feel my brain being knocked around inside my skull. In the beginning my head would start hurting after a ten minute run. Gradually as the month progressed I worked up to 40 minutes without pain.

In spite of increasing my running time and making it further through yoga classes, I was not making a lot of progress. I worried I would be in this state perpetually. I read about accident victims who never recover. What if I was one of those?

The final discouraging blow came when my nausea turned into full blown gastritis (an inflammation of the stomach), which the doctor said was a delayed response to the trauma of the accident. I experienced sharp pains any time I ate fried foods, citrus, spices, wine, nuts, cheese, tomato sauce, chocolate and so on. What was there left to eat that would not launch another attack? Averse to pill-taking I researched on line for alternative solutions. I modified my diet; made sure I was keeping well hydrated and discovered the medicinal properties of hot water with lemon. It seemed to help.

Then one day, almost as suddenly as the accident had happened, my symptoms all disappeared. It was two days of no symptoms (no fatigue, no nausea, no headaches) before I realize at last I had turned the corner. I had in fact recovered. A good friend who had also suffered from a severe concussion a few years ago had warned me that this might happen. It was an unexpected turn of events.

Two weeks later I was ready to end my Time Out. We chose my first day back on the bike to test me and see if exerting at my upper limit brought on any of the concussion symptoms. I was nervous as I warmed up and when I started the 10 mile course my heart rate spiked before it settled down. But I finished the course. The biggest surprise: I had no symptoms. Not even the whisper of headache. I was ecstatic! The bad news was that the results showed I had lost most of my strength. My performance was so poor I thought the program may have malfunctioned. But it hadn’t. The accident and time to recover had devastated all the hard work I had put in for 45 weeks. I was weaker than I had been when I started training a year ago. How was I ever going to compete in the Killington Stage Race in May or the Lotoja Classic again?

But my coach, always the voice of reason, calmly re-assures me that my muscles are a lot smarter than I give them credit for. Muscle memory will be my friend in the coming months. I will be strong again, he says.

I’m not so sure.

But I know there is only one way to find out.

The Lotoja Classic 2011: An Unexpected Ride

September 18, 2011

It was dark and cold at 5:30 a.m in Logan, Utah as we waited to start the Lotoja Classic but my shivering was due less to the weather than to nerves. It was as if some unknown force was at work ensuring that I had no last minute illusions of making 206 miles (as if the doctor’s and my coach’s instructions were not enough), for I had awaken a couple of hours earlier with a full blown cold, headache and runny nose (both my husband and eldest son had been suffering from it the week before). But in spite of it all, I was still excited. I had made it this far and only a week before I was pretty sure even this would not be possible.

We made our last minute preparations: packing 3 water bottles (2 on the bike, 1 in my back pocket), 2 gel bottles, 2 energy bars, 3 packs of gummy cliff blockers, arm warmers and long fingered gloves. I stashed my sun glasses on my back for later and put a bike light on my handlebars. From the side, I looked like a pack horse saddled up for a long trip. In a way, that is exactly what I was. I then gave my head lamp back to my husband (a decision I would regret later). We snapped a few group photos of riders and their support crews (I was too nervous to smile) and four of us nosed our way into the starting pack. The spot lights from the start gate shone in our eyes as we inched forward, the sound of the cheering crowd and the broadcasted voice of the race starter filled my ears.

waiting at the start


5-4-3-2-1 and we were off through the gate. Within minutes we were plunged into darkness as the warm light of the starting block faded behind us. For the first twenty miles I rode tentatively in the dark. In retrospect, it was perhaps the worst stretch of cycling I have ever experienced. The crowd of cyclists was thick this early in the ride and the visibility was no more than a foot in front of the bike. I could not see the condition of the road and I just prayed that I would not hit a pot hole and go down. I could not risk another head injury. My buddies stayed close to me as they could tell I was struggling, yet they also gave me the space I needed to get comfortable. Well-formed groups of riders passed us and I looked on at them with frustration, wishing I was not so afraid and that I could have jumped on their tail and ride well above 21 miles per hour into Preston (out first feed zone). But I had promised myself and my coach, that I would not push this ride and that I would ride safe. So I did.

About ten or so miles into the darkness, we came upon a couple of vehicles pulled over to the side, their lights brightening the shoulders of the road. A man in a yellow jacket waving a flashlight at us yelled for us to be careful of the hole in the road. Then we saw the rider, he had hit a dreaded pothole and gone down. They were calling an ambulance for him.

We continued on until the dawn began to dimply light the sky in a purple hue. Gradually it changed to a warm pink and then a pale orange. A pack of five women passed us at a moderate speed and feeling new confidence with the impending light I and my buddies jumped on the back of their pace line and followed. At this point we started to make better time. We were travelling at a very comfortable 20-21 miles per hour. My heart rate had calmed down from the early anxiety and I settled into the rhythm. Oddly, this group of women were happy to have us on board but declined our offer to pull our weight. They had a system down. So every time the leader of the line peeled off and dropped back, we’d open up a spot for her in front of us and let her in. It was a very good arrangement.

After a little over 30 miles we rolled into the first feed stop. There were lines of people waiting for riders, arms outstretched with food and water. In a few minutes we were off the bike, using the port ‘o John, grabbing some water and then were on our way again. Back on the road the team of women we had been following earlier caught up to us. We hopped on their pace line again. I had no shame, I would take all the help I could get because I knew what was coming was the first of three climbs: the 20 mile route up to the top of Strawberry Pass.

There are some cyclists who dread the steep graded hills (like the ones I had got used to in Vermont), and there are other cyclists like me who can’t stand the long gradual grinds. The road up to Strawberry Pass is beautiful and in the early morning hours it is also magical. The sun glows off the sandy sloped and the sage colored shrubs and warms your cold cheeks. But it is my least favorite of the three climbs in Lotoja because it is angled enough so that riding it really tires you out, but not steep enough where you can honestly attack it and make a difference in your time. In fact the real challenge with Strawberry Pass is that you NOT attack it because if you do, you will have nothing left for later (ie. the remaining 140 miles). Yet even if you behave yourself and take the climb easily, you don’t save yourself much energy.

In spite of this as I settled into a climbing rhythm, my gloomy mood lifted. I forgot about the anxiety of the dark morning and smiled to myself as I reconnected with my favorite part of cycling: hill climbing. I thought that if I could do this for the rest of the day, I would be fine.

After several miles a pace car came alongside while the driver told us to move over and make room on the road. A race pack would be coming through shortly. I and the other cyclists around me were “Fun” riders. We were not here today to race. But there were many people who were and I knew the first group to come through would be the Pro Men (the fastest and strongest group).

I could hear them before I saw them. The crisp click of well-tuned drive trains, the dull echo of the carbon frames torqueing under their riders’ weight and mixed with the vibrations from the roads, then whirring of $2,000+ wheels and the breathing. I love those sounds. I could feel the energy even before I saw the riders. Though I was not a racer this day, I felt their excitement. It filled me with a charge of adrenaline. I knew I was grinning as they passed close enough to brush my arm. Then they were gone. I watched them ride ahead, dropping stragglers off the back. Memories of the Killington Stage Race came back to me then.

I still had a long way to climb. After awhile I forgot the racers and began to feel the fatigue set in. My neurologist had warned me about this, but I had not expected it so soon. By the time I had reached the second feed zone at about 60 miles and 1 mile short of the summit, I was ready to call my husband and go home.

I made the decision at that point to get off my bike and take a slightly longer break to recover. I ate a cliff bar and refilled my water bottles. I stretched a bit and walked around. I probably stayed too long, but I reminded myself that I was supposed to take the whole thing at an easy pace. While I waited for some of my buddies to get ready, I noted the race groups coming through. I stayed alert for the women racers. They had been one of the later groups to start. Eventually I saw the leaders come in for water. I knew I was sizing them up, wondering what it would be like to race with them someday.

 

Taking the downhill after Strawberry Pass

The 16 miles from the second feed zone to the town of Montpelier (or feed zone 3) is a long downhill followed by rolling hills. I was ready at this point for some speed. Back on the bike, it wasn’t long before there was no need to pedal anymore. My little green Guru took off like Secretariat. I can’t explain why nor can anyone else but I think it is something in its custom design, some magic tweak my coach made when he fitted me for this bike. For that little bilious green two wheeler loves going fast downhill. I have to hold back sometimes so as not to overtake and pass everyone (big or small). Thankfully I have little fear of downhills (unless there are tight hairpin turns and then I change strategies) and I believe that makes me more stable. I am relaxed as opposed to tense and nervous (I save my nerves for riding in groups in the dark).

Half way down the hill I realized two people were on my tail and drafting. It would have been nice to shake them, but instead I pretended they weren’t there. However at the bottom of the mountain they proved to be invaluable. Ready to repay the favor of the draft, they asked me to hop on their pace line. I was looked at them and smiled and said “thanks anyway”. I was not ready yet for groups. But after following them closely for a couple of miles, they asked again and I finally agreed. It was the right decision. They were experienced and stable riders and it was the perfect opportunity for me to begin overcoming my post-crash paranoia of other cyclists.

At Feed Zone 3, 80 miles in

I rolled into Montpelier looking for my husband. We had agreed that this would be the first feed zone where he would meet me. When I saw him waving at me, I started to cry.

Someone once asked me what I think about when I compete or do endurance events. Most of the time I am working to overcome something – whether the performance of other racers, my own self-doubt, unexpected mishaps, muscle pain or in the case of this day extreme fatigue and fear due to the crash – and as a result I am acutely focused on the simple tasks of breathing, moving my body and controlling my mind. I don’t think about much else. But it is also in those moments that everything superficial about me falls away. It no longer matters where I live, what college I went to or that I have a graduate degree. Those don’t help me. It does not matter what car I drive or what other people think of me. None of it qualifies me for what I have to do next. What matters is whether I have the mental toughness and persistence to overcome the huge obstacles in front of me. It is in these moments that I feel most connected to who I am and who the others are around me. It is as if we are stripped of everything frivolous and material. And it is when I feel the pureness of this that I cry. I know now I don’t cry because I am happy or scared or sad. I am crying just because I feel.

Not knowing this however and most likely thinking something was wrong, my husband hugged me and asked if I was alright and had I had enough for the day.

I shook my head and said, “I’m going to 125. I will get off the bike in Afton.”

After refueling, eating a Nutella sandwich (something I would only do on a long bike ride) and exchanging my empty water bottles for ones that my husband had filled. I grabbed my “pack and go” bag of goodies that I had put together the night before with a label reading “Montpelier food zone” and took off with one of my buddies. The temperature had been climbing while I had been descending from Strawberry Pass and the route ahead was going to be harsh. We had two mountain passes to climb in the next 46 miles and only one stop for water.

climbing Geneva Summit. Mountain Pass #2

The first climb was about 10 miles long and took us up 1,000 feet. It was relatively easy until the last mile to the top but we were cycling into headwinds which wore us down. With the sun beating on us and the mid-day heat continuing to rise. I was starting to falter. My fellow rider, sensing he might be losing me, pulled in front and broke the wind for me. It helped. When we reached the summit of 6,900 feet we got off our bikes and accepted a water bottle from one of the race organizers. Then we were on the downhill again. It wasn’t long before we passed a sign welcoming us to Wyoming. It had been early in the morning when we left Utah and entered Idaho, but as we passed into the third state of the day I hooted out loud. I had made it through 3 states afterall.

The last big climb of the day was over Salt Pass. The elevation is 7,600 feet of which the last mile to the summit is a timed segment. In other words, each of us is timed from the bottom to the top. I did not realize this however and about half way up when my husband passed us in the car asking if I needed any more water, I told him I’d like to stop to get rid of some clothes. I had been suffering with an undershirt under my bike jersey that I had been sporting since early in the morning. I was now overheated and exhausted (my Garmin GPS later indicated that the temp had reached 102 degrees). So with no thought to modesty I pulled over and began stripping my shirts off. Thankfully I wear a sports bra that looks like half a shirt, so I did not shock too many people riding by. I like to think it may have distracted them form the pain of the climb for a minute or two. I got comments like “good job” from a few of them. After my strip tease I felt a millions times better and sprinted to the top of the pass. Needless to say in spite of the sprint, my time on that segment was not impressive.

The last downhill was a bit more difficult than the first two. There were a few tight turns and I had to use my brakes. But once we got to the bottom it was a fast ride at 25 miles per hour on a gradual decline all the way to the town of Afton.

As I rolled into the feed zone, I saw my husband waiting for me and waving. I got off my bike and with a big grin said: “I’m done!”

It was the right decision not to ride the whole 206 miles that day. In retrospect; I don’t think I could have done it without doing real damage to myself (my stitches had started to throb a few miles before Afton). It was also the right decision to push beyond what my doctors had recommended and set my own goal (not theirs). In the end I had hoped I was capable of finishing 125 miles, three mountain passes and three states in one day but I wasn’t sure.

I thought later how odd it was that I could feel so fulfilled meeting a goal that I had set myself which quantitatively fell short of the event goal I had been working all year towards. But it was something about overcoming all the demons (both physical and mental) and prevailing in spite of them that gave me great joy. 206 miles was someone else’s number that day, 125 miles was mine. That was my Everest Summit. And the fact that I had had to modify that given the mishap of the crash made it no less of an accomplishment. I had surprised even myself by doing it.

Perhaps afterall it is the goals that we honestly set for ourselves that we achieve that matter the most, not the ones that other people set for us. It sure felt that way.

That being said, I have now set a new goal for myself for next year. I am going back to Utah and on September 8th , 2012 I will race 206 miles from Logan to Jackson, Wyoming. I can’t wait to do it, but more importantly I can’t wait to begin training for it after a month or so of rest.

*********

It has been a wonderful year of learning and in so many ways it has been An Unexpected Ride. As I think any cyclist would agree, though we may be the only one sitting on our bike, we don’t ride alone. I could not have made it through this year without the support of many friends, family and especially my husband and my coach. Without them it would have been impossible and without their encouragement to go forward from this point I would not be setting out again excited for whatever the road ahead has in store.


The Night Before – Getting Ready for Lotoja

September 9, 2011

I don’t think I will ever be able to shake the phenomena of pre-race jitters, even when the event I am about to undertake is not technically a race. If something matters to me, I can’t help but focus and prepare well in advance. I also get nervous. I used to think nerves were a bad thing, a weakness, but now I see them as a gift of intense energy and endorphins and if applied positively it can be a great tool. Tonight, the eve of the Lotoja Classic, I am experiencing all of this.

Preparing the food for the ride

Sitting in my hotel room this afternoon I realize I have done everything I can to prepare for this. I have trained hard for almost a year, I have studied the route in detail, I have planned out my stops and guessed at how long it will take me to go between them (given recent events I have adjusted that timing significantly). I have bought the food and made sandwiches for the stops where my husband will meet me. I have filled my gel bottles and packed energy bars and other treats and created little goodie bags for my husband to give to me to “pack and go” at each stop. Only the real life experience will tell me if my plan is worthy of repeating in the future.

My jersey is on the chair in the room, “race” number pinned to the back. We are starting in the bitter cold, so I have arm and leg warmers laid out and a jacket and undershirt. I like this ritual. It happens before every cycling event and doing it calms me down. It also allows me to relish looking forward to getting on my bike again.

Four days ago I arrived in Utah still unclear as to if and how I would undertake this 206 mile ride tomorrow. Before I left home I rode my bike on the road three times. One of those rides was 3 hours long. Each time on the bike I felt more confident and a bit stronger. Just before I left home I took one final spin past the crash site and made the same fateful turn I did almost 3 weeks ago. It was a sunny day, little traffic, no other cyclists. I stopped briefly to look at the faded blood stain still on the road and then turned and continued on my way. I have left it behind.

Since arriving here I have done 2 training rides to help get used to the altitude of 6,000-7,000 feet. The first was 30 miles up and down Big Cottonwood Canyon. The “Up”was steep climb, averaging about 7% for 14 miles. The next day we had a nice easy hour long ride through the valley near Park City. I was tired after both. But I wondered if it was as much altitude as it was the long term effect of bed rest.

At 8,700 feet. The top of our trainng ride. Isaac and Rob led the way.

 

Who knows if I would have the stamina to complete the ride tomorrow. I have been advised against it. So I have decided to set myself a new goal: complete 125 miles of the 206. At that point in the ride if I make it, I will have climbed 3 mountains and passed through 3 states. It will still be the longest ride I have done in my life. I will just have to wait and experience the last 81 next year when I am feeling better. My second goal will be to study the course and test my fueling plan on the three long climbs. This will certainly help me next time. Lastly, it is supposed to be a beautiful sunny day and my friends will be riding with me, so my third goal is to enjoy myself and take in the scenery. That is a luxury a bike racer rarely gets in an event. So I am looking forward to it.

Tomorrow begins at 5 am. I am ready now for whatever the day has in store. But the first thing I will do is give thanks that I have been able to make it to the starting line.

My friends from home who will all be riding the Lotoja Classic tomorrow. 206 miles, 3 states, 1 day

The Road to Recovery Leads to a Different Route

September 1, 2011

It’s now 12 days after the crash. The road to recovery has been slow, but I remain optimistic as it keeps moving in the right direction. The first few days after coming home from the hospital are a blur. I slept 8-9 hours a night. Each morning presented itself to me as a cloudy and tight headache. As each day wore on my head became clearer until too much concentration or conversation drove me back to bed to nap. Under normal circumstances this existence would have driven me crazy but the benefit of bumping your brain is that the very thing that usually drives you to get things done is damaged and thus for once leaves you at peace. As a result I was blissfully unbothered by my slug-like existence, inability to work, think, do things and train.

I read up on concussions and discovered that this is quite typical and as such one must be diligent in managing recovery. Fortunately my cycling training and my coach have taught me the value of rest and how to approach it as seriously as top-end training. But I wonder about all the people who don’t have the benefit of that perspective and return to normal activities right away. ( My doctor says they take much longer to get better.)

A few days after the crash I was able to wash my hair and was shocked to discover that the matted mass on the back of my neck which I thought was hair clumped with dried blood, was actually the big patch that had been cut off to make room for my stitches. It was cemented together with clotted blood. Once washed, I combed it out in huge clumps. Fortunately I have a lot of hair, so with quick work I figured out a creative “comb over” to cover my shaved head.

What surprised me most was that it took until 5 days after the crash for me to even consider the idea of biking again. (most likely my damaged brain played a role in that too – another clue as to how expert it is at self-preservation). That same day I felt strong enough to go to a friend’s house for dinner and managed to hold up my end of the conversation for bit before sinking into silent exhaustion.

My two biking buddies had been noticing that I wasn’t finishing sentences and I had been forgetting words and some conversations. I expected this and was not alarmed. I knew that it took time for the brain to function properly again. But among the many prayers of thanks I have said, most have been for the friends and family who have gathered around to look out for me these past two weeks. Without them, I could not have recovered as well as I have.

8 days after the crash. First time back on the bike

Eight days after the crash I felt strong enough to get back on the bike, but not on the road. My front wheel had been damaged in the crash and so it was going to be awhile before I could use it. I borrowed my husband’s wheel and mounted my bike on a trainer in my driveway and changed into old biking shorts. Mark, my coach, said I could get on the bike again if I was ready, but only for 20 minutes and at a very low effort. (For someone who races 3-4 hour long routes and has no problem with a 6-7 hour ride, 20 minutes is significant in its purpose). My friend Mitch came and kept me company. He brought his bike and tinkered with it while keeping an eye on me to make sure I did not lose balance and fall over.

After 20 minutes I had had enough. I was tired, but I was happy. The feeling of being on my bike again restored my spirit. I have always loved cycling and getting back to it made me feel alive again. I knew I had a long way to go before I was my old self, but I was excited to be out of bed and in the saddle again.

The next day I was allowed to get back on my bike again. This time I decided that I would wear the kit (jersey and shorts) in which I had crashed. The blood had long been washed off but the awful memory had not. I had been looking at the kit in my drawer for a week and each time I saw it, it brought back the horror. I knew I needed to put it back on and ride in it to get past the memory, just as I needed to go back and see the crash site and the blood stain on the road with my husband the day I came home from the hospital.

9 days after the crash, wearing the kit I crashed in and my new Volt helmet


I also decided to use this particular ride to try my new helmet – a Bell Volt (the helmet worn by Cadel Evans when he won the Tour de France). My new helmet covers a much larger part of my head now and there are no big plastic pieces that can cut me. My old light weight high end race helmet will not be replaced – I am done with those models. My cycling friends showed up again to keep an eye on me as I got back on the bike and managed to take this picture of me faking race position. (I look a lot stronger than I felt). The ride was a dream though. It was only 25 minutes, but I felt stronger than the day before.

Each day brings better news and more strength. A visit to a Neurologist on day 11 confirmed that my discipline and diligence in recovery has made all the difference. He was very encouraged at how well I was doing and told me I was ready to ride on the road again, albeit slowly at first. He said I could even consider riding Lotoja, but he was quite clear that I would not be strong enough to finish all 206 miles. The trauma from the accident and the effect it has had on my body since then has greatly diminished my strength. He said I would discover fatigue unlike any I have experienced. He assured that it is normal but it will preclude me from completing an endurance event such as the Lotoja Classic.

If you can emotionally accept that you will neither finish this ride, nor give into racing it when others pass you, then you may do it. If you cannot, and I know how hard it will be for you, you may just have to support your friends this year instead,” he said.

Though I had been considering all the possible outcomes for my Lotoja ride since the accident, it was not until I spent well over an hour with this very wise doctor, that I realized that the goal I have been working for now for 12 months of my life was vaporizing. The disappointment is painful and deflating, but if there is one lesson I have learned this year, it is that things never turn out the way you expect and as such you must quickly move one.

Killington Stage 3 Race taught me that when your mishaps torch your goals, you have to adjust and set new ones.

I know now that sometimes those new ones are more meaningful than the original.

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