Time to pack up and go home.
FORT 4 FITNESS CRITERIUM(S)
As is the well worn out story, one year ago on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend I ventured East from Chicago to do some bike races that had character, classic downtown courses with vibrant energy lined by pubs and eateries with live fans not associated with bike racing other than to take it all in. I did race, raced well and my back blew up.
I’ve spent that past year rehabbing, taking therapy, receiving treatment and trying to regain strength from a nerve damaging lumbar disc rupture that shut down muscle function in my right quadriceps and still to some extent does to this day. There are days where I have hope and barely notice and there are days where my leg is largely numb. It’s really up to the amount of inflammation I’m experiencing which is not something I control. But at best, my right leg is 10% the lesser of its mate on the left. The non dominant leg is 10% stronger. In other words, I have a Lickspittle right leg and a Cat 1 left leg.
Yet, it was with high hopes that I drove over to Fort Wayne last Saturday. I really like the course, the vibe and the money is good. Shane Mills puts together a well run event during a down town Festival so there are a lot of folks from Indiana’s second largest city milling about, dining al fresco around the course and enjoying the party. I cannot for the life of me understand why more people don’t show up to race here.
Example: I registered for the 40+ and 50+ races which are run concurrently with 10 minutes between each race. There were 14 riders present at the line to start the 40+ and 15 to start the 50+. Considering the fact that the flyer listed the prize list at $1200 this is pathetic. What’s wrong with people? I guess guys would rather do an industrial park crit with no crowd and no prize list. As a result of the low registration, the prize list was lowered to $700 paid to the top 7 in each race. Still, that beats the hell out of every masters prize list I’ve raced for this season by a LOT.
He just kept pummeling the field with attacks until we surrendered.
I was mentally envisioning a triumphant return. I was harboring hopes of standing on the podium at the end of the races – maybe even winning and being able to get some mental peace that I am not trapped in a permanent state of flail.
Before the first race, guys were milling about waiting for the end of the race ahead of ours and joking about sitting on my wheel and discussing Lickspittles and generally welcoming me back to action, especially at Fort Wayne.
The 40+ race had some strong riders in the field, Jason Swiatlowski from Grand Rapids and Bissell, Court Maple of MOB in Indianapolis, Suitcase Schmitz from Indy and Angie’s List. The race was aggressive and hard from the start. C. Maple was riding hard from the gun and the race averaged 27 mph which for a small field means a really tough race because there is nowhere to hide. We were all attacking and chasing. There wasn’t a slow lap it seemed. Eventually C. Maple rode away from everyone and won 15 seconds ahead solo and Schmitz took 2nd, J. Swiatlowski 3rd. Good for them.
I’d gotten to the race venue early with ample time to warm up. The weather was a perfect 65 degrees, sunny with low wind. I felt really normal in my warm up just as I had the prior weekend at Elgin. But, as I’ve learned some times the sensations warming up just don’t translate to the race. I’d describe how I felt as “adequate” I was strong but just completely unable to sustain power when I had a gap. As the race ended, I was 10th of the 14. Not good.
Immediately following, I lined up for the race with the 50+ guys. Suitcase was the rider of the day and ended up winning with a great last lap surge from half a lap out that distanced him from the rest of the field.
Again, in this race I was completely unable to build on any gap in this race. Contrary to the 40+ race, the field was not what I’d describe as good. You had Suitcase, a former national caliber 400m runner so you know he’s got some genetics and The Conscience of Cycling who is having a good year and has won more races this season than I’ve known him to win the entire 15 years I’ve known him but other than that – well, it shouldn’t have been as hard as it was but then again, I’m not the rider I once was. I’m having trouble adjusting to the new paradigm.
The paradigm I’m used to is when I put myself into the hurt locker, I’m riding away. The new paradigm is that when I’m putting myself into the hurt locker, I look under my arm and I see a field of bowling balls and hairy legged Cat 4 geriatric wobbledonks chasing me down. It’s more than a bit humbling – it’s downright humiliating.
I have to admit, when I was launching repeated attacks only to get chased down by tubby wobbledonks and hairy legged geezers with past records of mediocrity the thought crossed my mind that the Testosterone Replacement Therapy business must be thriving in Indiana. Perhaps it was just the frustration talking. Or so I hope. Fact is, those guys haven’t gotten better, I’ve simply gone bad.
I finished the 15 rider 50+ race in 9thwith a left leg cramping badly under the load of having over compensated for its weaker mate for an hour and a half of racing. At this point, there was nothing to be hopeful or optimistic about with respect to being a bike racer. I went to the wheel pit to collect my spares and drove home.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Good question. The day after Ft Wayne I woke up for the first time in I don’t know how long without feeling like my glutes and right quad were blocked. It was remarkable. I went out for a hard 100k ride and I was putting out some legit power. Monday – Memorial Day, I took off, took it easy with TLK and the day after my day off, I woke Tuesday with a numb right leg and it’s just gotten progressively worse as the week has gone on.
This upcoming weekend is my favorite race of the season. The Glencoe Grand Prix is held in a great atmosphere on the best criterium course in the country. I’m bailing. There is no reason for me to show up with a leg and ¾. I can’t be of any use to my team mates and I’m surely only to be an embarrassment to my wife and my pets if I race. The weekend after that is the Galena Stage Race held in the Ardennes Region of Illinois. I’ve booked a hotel room in the hopes of being able to be competitive there as well, but I’m going to pull the plug on that notion as well. I need to reassess, recover and rethink the course of treatment.
I’ve raced a lot this year. I’ve been purposefully testing how my new body reacts and I do not like what I’m seeing. My race power numbers have been progressively getting lower each week and my recovery periods have been getting longer.
Maybe now I’m just one of those guys who can only show up to race once a month. Maybe I’m now one of those guys who don’t race but will sign up for time trials and Grand Fondos. Maybe, surgery would solve the nerve block and give me the opportunity to fully rehab and re strengthen the muscles that remain less than fully functional, maybe not. Perhaps it would make things worse. Is it worth the risk just to be able to ride faster at the age of 50? These are my uncertainties.
What is certain is that I won’t continue to show up to races in the condition I find myself. This forces me to examine why it is I’ve raced all these years. This also forces me to examine what it is that will finally make me walk away. I’ve always said I ride and train because I love being on my bike. I’ve never said that about racing. I’ve never thought I’d stop racing when it was no longer “fun”. I’ve never raced for “fun”. I ride for fun. I race to win or to challenge for the win or to help a team mate to win. And by win I don’t mean “doing my best”. I mean crossing the finish line first.
If a realistic possibility that winning or challenging for the win is gone, I honestly have no interest in racing. Since my life and body have been changed by neuro muscular problems, racing has given both wins and “fun” in smaller and smaller doses and depression and frustration in increasingly growing doses. Riding my bike is great therapy and I feel healthy and positive when I ride, whether fast or slow.
Racing on the other hand seems more and more like returning to an abusive partner who promises “I’ve changed, I’ll treat you right and we’ll be happy”. So I go back expecting fulfillment only to get my teeth kicked in again because I didn’t fold the towels correctly. I need an intervention. What form that intervention takes is TBD.
To be continued…