In the (Feed)Zone - Final Thoughts on the Lucky '13 or Age 50 Really Does Suck

By: Mark Swartzendruber
Posted: Oct 1, 2013

About a week after I pulled the plug on my racing season when I embarrassed myself during the Prairie State Cycling Series in July I decided to double down on regaining lost leg strength and getting my core strong enough to stabilize the spondylolisthesis that has put paid to my status as a national caliber Masters racer.  I hired a personal trainer who is a physiologist with specific understanding of the muscle groups in which I’ve lost strength and started very isolated and rigorouss sessions with her and they’ve been quite successful.  I’ve spent more time on gym mats than I have on the bike it seems since then and it’s been working.

Left leg 57cm vs.Right leg 52cm

 Progress:  I’ve regained 5 of the lost 6 cm in circumference around my withered leg and more importantly, I’m able to move equal amounts of weight with the right leg (weak) as with the left (strong).  Things are looking up.  In fact I had a follow up consult with the Rock Star Neurosurgeon who fixed some of the most famous athletes in the world when they were broken.  Last time we met, he was leaning toward me being a candidate for a pretty serious surgery to repair my condition.  When we met on the 24th, after reviewing progress, the Rock Star Neurosurgeon looked at me and said “Given where you are now, I would not perform surgery on you as the odds of surgery making you better than you are now aren’t as strong as the odds it would make you worse.  Keep up the good work and we’re here if you need us.”

YAY!  I’ve gotten myself back to a point of strength and condition that I’m back in control.  It ain’t easy, but it beats the alternative.  Now, I can get on with the work of regaining bike fitness.  I went home, did a nice but short bike ride on a beautiful fall day and then did a strenuous strengthening work out.

The next morning I woke up and was sort of full body sore.  I passed it off to the work out.  Next day I was full body sore and had a cough and a mild fever.  I went back to bed at noon.  By the time TLK came home I had a 102 fever.  Next day was worse and the fever spiked to 104.  TLK drove me to the ER where it was determined that I’d contracted bacterial pneumonia.  F-me!  Can a guy catch a break around here?!  So, as I write this, I’m on the mend with a strong dose of antibiotics, meds to keep the temp down and on a strict regimen of no activity allowed.

I blame all this on the number 50.  When I was still 49 I turned race age 50.  My back blew up.  When I turned chronological age 50 my back condition threatened my overall health and I end the year with fucking pneumonia.  I’ve had more physical malady hit me once the number 50 was introduced into my life that in all of the previous 49.  Literally – I was that kid who had perfect attendance from middle school through high school.  I never got sick.  I had a knee injury that required surgery in 2003 but bounced pretty quickly back from that to have one of my best racing seasons ever.  The past two years have been craptastic.  I look forward to 12/31/2013 when the number 50 will no longer be on my racing license or my chronological age.  13 and 50 are both unlucky numbers as far as I’m concerned and they can both burn in hell.



I’ve continued to do time trials.  My problems don’t preclude me from putting down sustained power for less than an hour so, when the leg numbness hasn’t been flaring I’ve been able to do okay against guys my age (locally) in events that don’t require repeated, sudden accelerations.  Some days are better than other but even on the good days, I’m no were near where I was before all this started.  I won the IL TT again this year in my age group and even had the fastest IL time of the day but by contrast I was looking back over the USAC results I’ve had.  This is the best 40k speed I’ve ever recorded.  I was race age 45.  2008 Masters Natz, Louisville, KY.

Thurlow is an Olympian and multiple Masters World Champion of course and Kevin has since gone on to win a couple of Masters and World Natz and set the Masters National record for a 40k at 48 minutes and some change.  That’s the company that I used to roll with.  So, it’s still hard for me to accept the congratulations of my fellow competitors when they compliment me for my “awesome time” after I’ve won some local event or state championship with a 55’ish minute time.  I’m still getting adjusted to the new normal.

The team has been doing well.  Stone Pony won the 45+ State Criterium Championship again in St Charles, IL.  Ottomobile, went out to Bend and took 7th at Masters Natz time trial.  He’s in the really tough 45-49 group where to earn a spot on the podium you had to average 29 per…

Our Legend Lobdell and the Women’s team earned some silver and bronze medals at Masters Track Natz in Indy.

We’ve added a couple of new riders to the SFR roster. One is Dan Dodson who won the Cat 3 IL State TT and is a pretty strong dude, former boy of summer just as I was.  He’ll be a good source of power for lead outs for our sprinters Hard Cory and Mongo and the other is a newby.  We don’t take many 20 year old Cat 4s but when that 20 year old Cat 4 does training rides that average wattage numbers in the 300’s we suspect there might be some SFR worthy talent there.  Daniel Mackey is that rider.  His first two rides as an SFR member were in the Fall Fling on 9/28 and 9/29.  On 9/28 he rode away from the Cat 4 field solo for a convincing win and talked the officials into upgrading him and based on his dominance, they allowed him to race the 1,2 race on 9/29 (it’s ABR after all) and guess what.  Dude fucking won that race too!  Last guy I know who won his first 1,2 race was me.  I’m looking forward to meeting the kid.  Moso-Man recruited him and we suspect he won’t be a USAC Cat 4 for long.  He’s already an ABR 2.

Moso-Man won his 4th consecutive 1,2 division at the ABD Fall Fling this past weekend.  Hollywood Sills entered two of the 50+ crits and won them both.  Doughty took a 1st and a 2nd in the two 55+ crits he did and Moso-Woman won the women’s race she did.

JBo, our CX team has been tearing it up and playing some good games on the ‘cross fields around the area.  He won the masters 40+ and then took second in Open division at Patriot Cross in Rantoul and we’re very proud of him even if we don’t understand quite exactly what it is he’s doing.



A couple of weeks ago Doughty, Hard Cory, Mongo and I hosted new team rider Dan Dodson (we’re working out Lt. Dan as his team moniker but it isn’t yet established) on a “Valley Ride”.  Valley rides are when the team gets together and basically listens to Doughty tell stories about bike racing with Lemond and the Stetina brothers in between burps and farts by Mongo who’s sucking flat Mountain Dew through grape flavored licorice straws all of which is being cross-chattered with non stop blue streak cursing by Hard Cory.  These rides last for generally 4-5 hours.  I only speak when providing directions.  This particular ride was no different.  It last about 4.5 hours.  3.5 of which were spent riding.  1 hour was spent fixing flat tires.

Exactly 30 minutes into the ride, after encountering unexpected road repairs being done on a road that didn’t really require repair we were picking our way across clay and packed gravel when Hard Cory rode up beside me “Awww, shit Druber #%$& man! Your back @&$*ing tire is #%$^in’ going flat, dude.”  As we rolled to a stop, Dodson also got a flat.  I put my spare tube in, hooked up the CO2 and gave it a couple of shots. Nothing.  My spare tube had a flat.  Mongo inserted a fancy latex tube and started it off with a hand pump then some CO2 and the latex tube blew up inside the tire.  Meanwhile, Dodson’s tube wasn’t taking air either.  Hard Cory was riding tubeless so he didn’t have a back up but had some goo with him.  Doughty had one tube and gave that up for me.  That spare worked and Dodson finally got some are in his tire with his pump which was good because we were now down to no spare tubes and no CO2 between the five of us.  With a mile of gravel left between us and hard road again, we needed some luck.

Once we got back on to good road we all settled in again.  Mongo sucking the Bavarian Cream center out of Chocolate iced Bismarcks  through Red Vines, Hard Cory shouting expletives and Doughy mumbling about the Tour of Argentina or some other race me speaking only when we needed to change directions and Lt. Dan wondering what the fuck he’d gotten himself in to.

Half an hour later on the most pristine piece of black top road you’ve ever laid eyes on, Doughty’s tubeless tire sprung a leak.  Tubeless tire sealant started spraying Mongo in the face. He was licking it off from around his mouth and quickly as he could but eventually he lost the battle and he had to let Doughty know about his puncture.  Hard Cory stepped up and squirted some of his Stanz stop leak stuff into Doughty’s wounded tire while Mongo was commenting on the flavor combo of Red Vines, Mt. Dew and tire sealant.

We got ourselves back to rolling again and were cruising along nicely enough to kill off some of the local Stava KOM’s without really even trying.  On the cruise back home Lt. Dan was taking some long and strong pulls as he was on his first ride and trying to impress us.  We appreciated the effort – well I did anyway as with all the time off the bike getting myself strong enough to get back on the bike, I’m really out of shape.

10 miles from base camp, we were bombing down and back up a short little river valley crossing and Lt. Dan got his second flat of the ride when he T-Boned a 6” diameter boulder in the middle of the road.  We were out of tubes.  We were out of CO2.  I had saved one of my previous 2 flat tubes, but Lt. Dan, in an effort to impress us had shown up for the ride with his deep rim carbon clinchers and I was on Zipp 30 AL clinchers.  Valve stem issues.  Lt. Dan also saved his prior flat tube with a proper valve stem but it had a gash as opposed to a puncture.  Tire sealant wouldn’t have a chance.  I was about to call Uber to see if we couldn’t get a delivery van to come pick us all up when Mongo came up with a genius solution.  It went like this.

Mongo inspecting gashed tube.

I’m going to isolate the gash in the tube.  I’m going to scrape some of the gooey residue from the pack of red vines I just ate from between my teeth and molars, combine it with the chocolate icing and Bavarian Cream off the roof of my mouth and spread that across the gash.  Then, I’m going to tie a really tight knot in the tube to seal off the gooey gash.  We’re going to put the tube back in the tire, we’re gonna take some of Hard Cory’s tubless sealant and jam that into the tube inflate it and hope like hell it works. Otherwise, Druber has Uber on the line.

Like Most Thrill Seeking Manics Hard Cory can hits the snooze switch at moments notice.

Well it worked and we were able to pack a little over 3 hours of riding into 4.5 hours and no one got hit by a car or truck. 



Listen…I’ve spent the better part of two seasons carping about my health here in the Feed(Zone).  Trust me, I’m frustrated but what you may not realize due to the emphasis on the hurts is that I’m keeping this stuff in perspective.

I’m 50 years old.  I’ve lost the very top 5-10% of my ability due to my physical condition.  I’m not able to compete with Brendan Sulluvan or Kevin Metcalf or Thurlow on equal footing anymore.  That’s a shame, but I still posted the best time of IL riders at the State TT on August 31.

I went out with my son and played golf for the first time in over two years on a fairly tough course about 2 weeks ago.  I shot 86 and my back didn’t bother me at all.  I’m becoming stronger.  I’ll never get back to what 100% used to be for me.  But I have a new 100% and I’m itching to find out where that is.  I know I’m not there right now but I will be.

TLK and I have a friend who used to work with her.  Spectacularly talented kid who’s been successful enough that he and his beautiful wife were able to save enough money for them to take a year off and travel the world going to all the spectacular parts of the world most of us will never see.  Central and South America, South East Asia, Central Asia, Europe…About 5 weeks ago they rented a house on a lake in WI for his birthday weekend.  On his birthday he dove into the lake and hit a shallow sand bar.  The accident shattered vertebrae C-7.  He’s currently immobile from the chest down.  31 years old.

Several years ago I went out for a beer with a young lady in Champaign who worked out at the health club at which I was teaching cycling classes. She was 6’0” tall, beautiful and really sharp.  Masters in Social Work, very witty and compassionate.  After the session of typical “interview” questions we didn’t date any because she was younger than I thought and I was older than she thought and I had kids the same age as her younger sister.  We remained friendly and spoke often.  She eventually got back together with her ex boyfriend got married etc.  I heard she had a baby and gotten breast cancer when she turned 30.  I didn’t hear much else except she’d been named one of the “Central IL Business 40 under 40” for her work at Parkland College in Champaign and was doing well.  I sent her a congratulatory note and she seemed to be doing well.  On Thursday while I was suffering with my high fever, I received a text from my daughter Faith telling me that the young lady had died from the cancer.  My daughter sent me a link to her blog and as I read the accounts of how she had suffered for 4 years after her relapse into terminal metastatic breast cancer.  It had spread to her spine, liver, her lungs…she had ports implanted in order to manually siphon fluid from her lungs when they became too full for her to breathe.  She had written two books about living with terminal cancer been part of as many clinical trials as she could be in, fighting to stay alive in order to continue being a mother to her son and enduring pain I can’t even imagine. I just started crying.

This will be the last you’ll read of me and my back unless I need surgery.  If you see me at a race and ask me how my back or leg is I will respond “it is what it is”.  That’s all.

Up next time:  product reviews of the Zipp 30 Aluminum Clincher wheel set and the Quarq Elsa Power Meter crank set.

Enjoy your good fortune.