Saturday, June 16, 2012

Motivation and morale, and a big ol' nasty crash

I've been planning on catching up with race reports for quite a while now, and now that I have some serious time on my hands to kill, I will. But first, we're going to skip ahead to the present. And to do that, we must go back, even before the point that I last left off. Confused yet?

My base training period this past winter was more miles than I've ever done before, at a faster pace than before. For the first time, I did 3 straight 5-hour, 100 mile days. I thought that was impressive. I went to team camp in February well prepared, and it's a good thing. In the 9 days before my PCH crash, I completed the biggest, most-intense block of my life of 600+ miles. My recovery after camp was a double-recovery: recovery from training, and recovery from the crash.

The next block was Merco--4 days of racing (including another crash) followed by a hard 3-day block of Tour of California recon. I'd never done 7 straight days of intensity before. Another personal best.

Next was Redlands, which is a hard race to begin with, and my short bout of food sickness on day 2 didn't help.

After Redlands, I got the first stamp on my passport when I traveled to Uruguay for a 10-day stage race covering 1000 miles. The racing started 4 days after Redlands--that's 14 days of racing in 18 days. My previous longest race was 5 days. I made it through 6 days before the floor disappeared from under me. I had been sick for a day early on, and then day 8 marked the beginning of 5 days of toilet destruction. So my return to America was another double-recovery: recovery from sickness, and recovery from the biggest block of racing I'd ever undertaken.

Once healthy again, it was time for the Joe Martin-Gila double: 9 days of racing in 11 days. I had a couple of good days, but I really struggled with the heat at Gila, and I could tell my top-end fitness had been sliding since Uruguay.

After two days in Fort Collins, I was off to Guatemala for an 8-day race, ranging from the stifling heat at sea-level to the cold, thin air at 10,000 feet. I had a couple of good days, but some really bad days as well. I got sick with just 2 days left in the trip, a chest cough with oodles of mucus.

So after racing 17 days out of 25 (I think my number of race days for the year was almost 50 by this point), I again went back to Fort Collins to recover from both stage racing and sickness. I was improving slowly--the question was whether I'd be healthy in time for USPRO championships the next weekend. The answer was a resounding 'no'. It's the most pathetic I've ever been on a bike. The best power I could manage on Paris Mountain in the road race (after withdrawing from the TT two days earlier) is a far cry from what I was doing as a cat-2.

So I went back to try this recovery thing again. 7 days completely off the bike. 5-day course of antibiotics to get healthy again. Another 7 days of easy riding, with a little effort thrown in to test the legs. Things were looking up. I knew I wasn't where I used to be fitness-wise, but I could tell that I was fresh for the first time in months and that the legs would come around quickly. Tour de Beauce would be a tough race, but I would get stronger as the race went on.

Stages 1 and 2 went as expected: strong at the beginning, and fading towards the end of the tough courses. That is, until everything went pear-shaped with just 20km remaining in stage 2.

The final KOM of the day was a very steep pitch that saw us crawling along in the 28, and after finally making it to the descent our group was only 20 seconds or so behind the lead group. We were doing a hard rotation down the hill to try and slingshot back on when they hit the next riser, going 40+ mph.

Crashes are always weird. Everything goes into slow motion at the time, but all you take away from it is a series of snapshots.

The rider directly in front of me was out of the saddle when a weird series of bumps he didn't expect threw him forward onto the bars. He swerved violently multiple times, back and forth, over the next fraction of a second. I had just enough time to think, "Please save it" before he lay sprawled and tumbling on the ground in front of me. I was trapped on the right side of the road, at the edge of the gravel shoulder. The snapshot in time when it finally went wrong is not one that I brought back with me.

I remember being above Craig, and then the next shot is the pavement right in front my face, chest smashing into the ground--not hard enough to knock the wind from me, but enough to force an "ooooof" out. Somehow I kept my face off the ground. I was completely stretched out, the entire front of my body contacting the ground at once.

The next series of shots includes my arms shielding my face and head as I tumbled repeatedly on my side. I remember wondering if I would ever stop rolling over, thinking--while still in motion--man, we were going really fast.

It finally stopped. I was sitting up, facing backwards in the shoulder, and my bike had come to rest in my lap. For a brief second, I thought I was okay. Then I saw the hole in my knee looking back at me. The sinking disappointment and fear I felt at that moment could only be expressed with one word.

"Fuuuuuudddddgggge," I breathed out slowly. Only I didn't say 'fudge'. I said the word, the mother of all curse words. The 'F, dash, dash, dash' word. (Sorry, I just had to include that little monologue there.)

Now would be a good time to set the stage for you, and rewind a couple hundred meters. Whenever families hear the race is passing by their house, they often come out to watch us fly by. This particular family was standing in their driveway, next to their mailbox when Craig and I took flight.

Craig came to a stop face-down, unconscious, in their driveway at their feet. I was 50 feet further down.

During my self-assessment, I took notice of the fact that Craig wasn't moving, and he was on his face. Finally he came to and started moving. He rolled over and started wailing and moaning, just as the ambulance that was following the race pulled up. The EMTs checked that I wasn't seriously injured and then went to work stabilizing Craig.

During that time, my leg was not actually mine. Suddenly it was this cadaver leg attached to me, and I was morbidly fascinated with the big hole beneath my kneecap, and the whiteness that could only be bone at the bottom of it. I picked out the rocks that I saw.

Eventually Craig and I left for the hospital in the ambulance, and we had the same conversation 4 times. He'd hit his head, then slid on his face for a while and had road rash all over his body. After a bit of waiting at the hospital, they got me fixed up and on my way.

Here I am, 3 days later, and my knee looks like a grapefruit that a zombie attacked. I can bend it a little bit, and can hobble to meals alright. I could have jumped on an early flight back, but flying would be suffering, and I'd just be headed back to a life filled with stairs and smoke and food that I pay for, so no rush there.

So it looks like I've finally got some serious rest on my hands.

It's been a roller coaster year so far for sure. A building year. I don't wish for a second that I hadn't done all those races. I'm sure that I'll reap those rewards later this year, and definitely next year. It's just been a tough year. I've pushed my body to limits it's never before known, then told it to recover while sick and injured multiple times. I've never ridden in the gruppetto before, and this year I've become familiar with it. Mulitple DNFs. Every one sucks. And yet I've still had good results in there, and learned how to be the best teammate possible when my own form is lacking. And I've done it all while traveling the country, continent, and world. And yet I've been disappointed at meeting my own goals for the season, and missing outright my target races of TOC and USPRO TT. I've got a lot of making up to do in the next 4 months.

Rest assured, I will finally get this knee better. I will be very well rested. And I'm going to attack the second half of this season with a vengeance. Mediocrity is not acceptable.