Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Lots and nothing at once

Looking back, it has been a dog's age since I've last posted to this blog, and in the intervening time a lot has happened. Mostly, that 'lots' that has been happening has caused kind of nothing to happen from the perspective of a a largely cycling oriented blog, and there I probably tip my hand as to what that 'lots' will mean.

So the last post prior to this one was a write up of Paris-Brest-Paris 2015. In spite of the episode of hives taking away some of the luster of the last kilometers of that ride, or rather shortly after getting that all of out my system (head included) I came back to California and continued to ride and by the end of the year I hit my annual mileage goal of 10,000 miles. 2016 began well with good rides on the early season brevets in January, in particular a pretty good time on the Napa 200 for a day that was rainy for most of the day and especially on the San Francisco Randonneurs' (SFR) Pierce Point 200km. That ride has always been tough for me. It has 8,500' of elevation gain even though there are no monster climbs that stretch for miles which means you are climbing frequently. Death by a thousand cuts? For that route I had seldom finished under 9 hours (one time I finished in 8:55). In January of 2016 I managed to finish in exactly 8 hours, feeling really great so 2016 was off to a really great start. Or so one would think.

The day after riding the Pierce Point 200km, I had one day left to get my highest January mileage. At that time, it was (and remains) 938 miles in the month of Janaury. I needed a nice recovery ride, and I had Sunday afternoon, the 31st, free so I took off to ride in the Berkeley/Oakland Hills on a really nice, warm winter day. My route was up to The Steam Trains, and a bit beyond. I was trying to get 25 miles in. On the way down from The Steam Trains there is a section of swoopy S-curves. On my way around the first big bend just as the roadway temporarily straightens out there is a dirt section on the verge where a number of motorists have pulled off the road way over the years. I still had some speed going, but I was riding the brakes out of caution. As I arrived at that spot, a truck is off the road and perpendicular to the pavement and in the next instant the driver guns it and begins to cross the road. I assume he had looked my way (his left) and then looked to the right and then pulled out but by that time I had cleared the curve. He stopped short, blocking the entire roadway and I had two options: go down on the pavement and hope I stop before hitting the truck, or, well, hit the truck. I hit my brakes, and I recall working to control the rear wheel trying to squirm away, and I tried to steer to my left at the only spot that might get me around. It did not work and it really had no chance. I slammed into the drivers side door, busting off the entire mirror and leaving a Rob sized dent in the door panel.

My bike was wrecked, my knees were in agony, my chest hurt from the impact of the mirror, and I was having trouble assessing if I had more injuries than those which were making themselves most known right then. Turns out everything I noted then would be ok in a *relatively* short time frame, and only the next day did I realize my right wrist was damaged and feeling worse. X-rays the next day showed nothing broken but an MRI several months later revealed fraying of the tendons with an increase in 'noise' on the imaging of that area, and to this day I still have some periods of pain in that wrist, but mostly I can manage things ok. I rode much of the rest of the year with a brace on my wrist til the point came when the brace was actually holding the strengthening back.

Even with the brace on my wrist, I had some good rides through the spring and summer including my first sub 28 hours 600km and first sub 12 hour 300km. Through August of 2016 I had continued my R-streak and had gotten up to 92 consecutive months. That September I had a four day weekend show up on my calendar so I convinced two friends to join me in going up to Yosemite to ride Tioga Road on the weekend after Labor Day weekend (when our guess was that there would be much less traffic, but still some good weather. We were right.) The ride up from Hogdgon Meadow to Crane Flat and then out and back to Tioga Pass via Tuolomne Meadows was fantastic. So was the hike the next day. What wasn't fantastic was that on the drive home I developed excruciating pain in my right heel. There had maybe been some warning signs with stiffness in the heel in the mornings before hand, but the ride folowed by the hike followed by sitting in the car for several hours triggered a full blown case of plantar faciaitis (PF). Labor Day weekend and the Tioga trip passed and it is now getting late in the month. SFR had a populaire planned for one of the remaining weekends and just like that I was out of options to fit in another month with a 200km RUSA event. So ended my streak of 92 straight months with at least one 200km a month. That really didn't bother me so much, but all this was a rather rude welcome to turning 60.

At the end of the year I was still getting PT for my wrist, and now I had to get my heel treated. My primary care doc recommended wearing a cam-boot to follow up all the other changes I was to make to address the PF: better shoes, more stretching. I was skeptical of the boot, it just didn't make sense and it really didn't feel better to use it. In fact, it felt worse, but when I conveyed this I was told this was the best option. Through the first four months of 2017 I juggled treatment on my foot with riding and trying to stay in shape. I was loosing fitness slowly, even though I would still have a number of pretty good rides. In fact, through that time riding was my only relief from the heel pain. The pedaling motion was gentle enough to not put much strain on the heel and with my heel never touching the ground I was never antagonizing the inflamed plantar facia. Alas, in late April while on a short walk with our dog I had an misstep crossing the street and a blinding pain began in my foot. I was unable to walk at all for days and finally got sent to podiatry where I got a cortisone shot. The idea was the cortisone would give me a break from the pain and allow the PF to heal. For a week it was great, for the next week it was still pretty good and after that it went right back to square one nearly overnight. With that development, I was ordered back into the boot (despite my arguing against that) for a minimum of 6 weeks. I managed to keep riding, even with the boot, by putting an over-sized pedal on my commute bike, but my daily mileage was dropping fast.

Dropping fast. I was about to find out how fast. And how hard. In late May, on a commute home from work on a Friday I stopped short of crossing an intersection to wait for the next light cycle and in circling back my rear wheel got caught and while my bike stopped dead, I did not and I landed hard on my right elbow. X-rays confirmed a non-displaced fracture of the radial head. Now I could not ride and I could not walk, and this is where the 'nothing' part of the title comes in. For the next two months I could find no outlet for exercise and I began to gain weight at a rate of more than a pound a week. The only silver lining in this is that the forced time off the bike allowed my wrist to get a bit better (still pain every once in a while). All this coincided with an absolute shit environment at work that caused a lot of lost sleep and a lot of stress. The only positive development during this time was that I was finally beginning to get some relief from the constant heel pain. I had started EPAT treatment and felt immediate lessening of the severity of pain. The pain never went away totally though and after many treatments I reached a plateau that was short of complete healing.

It is safe to say that May, June, and July pretty much sucked. Out the other end of that meat-grinder, I was finally cleared to begin riding a bike in mid-July. This was a mixed blessing though because while I was clearly happy to have the medical restriction removed, I had to confront a distinct loss of fitness, and some pretty intense elbow pain after only five miles of riding. Each ride saw the threshold for pain pushed further out, and some PT addressed the loss of range of motion in the elbow (I still can't straighten my arm as fully as I could before). I had missed doing the full Super Randonneur series again this year (I'm stuck at 9 and have been since 2015. I missed my 400km last year and missed the 400 and 600 this year) and missed the Double Brevet weekend trip, and missed a whole bunch of other rides but getting back on the bike, albeit slowly, in July meant I still had a shot at recovering enough to do the 2nd annual Tioga Road ride. My friend DHK helped by riding with me on one of those first short rides, and I joined Scott, Anne and Mark for my first 200km after the injuries in late August. I did make the Tioga Ride and while I was the slowest rider there, I still had a good time. The Davis DART at the end of the month was my return to brevet riding via a team event, and slowly but surely I'm putting the puzzle pieces back together. I still am concerned though that I won't get back all of what I've lost. My best days on a bike may no longer be ahead. That is sobering and saddens me.

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