Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where I was and where I'm going

In my cycling career, I've had some good luck and some bad luck. As it happens, getting hit by a car in July was a mix of both. On the one hand, I was hit by a car and I cracked two bones in my arm. My season ended early, and I missed out on the fall centuries that I really enjoy. Bad luck. On the other hand, in diagnosing the cracked bones, the doctors found an aneurysmal bone cyst on the proximal end of my humerus. Had they not found it, it would have continued to grow and spread, and my right arm would have ultimately become very brittle. Rather, they were able to treat it now, and I was able to avoid major injury later. Good luck.

So, on August 23, I underwent what the surgeon promised would be a very simple surgery. My shoulder was opened, the cyst was scraped out, and bone tissue from a cadaver (COOL!) was put into my arm to stimulate new bone growth. I am happy to report that it was indeed a very simple surgery. I went home that afternoon, and I was able to stop taking pain medication--prescription or otherwise--after less than 72 hours. Three days after surgery, I had very little trouble traveling six hours to Louisville and cheering for my wife in her first Ironman (which she KILLED!). I was back at work without a sling two days after that. Three weeks following the surgery, I started physical therapy, and now, five weeks later, I'm able to ride my bike with little trouble. My shoulder is still stiff, and the work that I do on the roads and at the PT gym make it very sore, but I am hardly limited. I am eager to go back to the doctor in a couple of weeks and get the go-ahead to start lifting heavier weights to re-gain lost strength in my core and upper body.

It has been a difficult time for me. First, to go from being as fit as I was when I got injured to being as out of shape as I am right now is frustrating. I cannot help but think that all of the mental and physical effort I put into getting stronger and faster has gone to waste. It hasn't, of course, but I will only be convinced of that once I actually begin posting good numbers in my workouts again. Second, and more interestingly, I have been emotionally wrecked. In the last three decades, I have had only a few times when I was not exercising regularly. Only once during any of those stretches did I ever really notice any change in my mood. This time around, though, I was profoundly affected by my inability to exercise. I began the school year in a grumpy malaise, and I limped through the first several weeks feeling angry and tired. Some of that is professional, but even so, my inability to manage my emotions was, I believe, entirely due to my inability to exercise.

I tried to run a couple of times, but I overdid it and quickly sustained a low-level injury. I couldn't lift weights, and being on the cycling trainer day after day is mind-deadening. I was left with almost nothing physical to do for nearly two months, and I nearly fell apart as a result. I had no idea that I had gotten this hooked on exercise.

The forced break did have one silver lining: it gave the opportunity to think a lot about the goals ahead. With colder weather looming, it's important for me to have a clear picture of where I'm going and how this winter's training fits. I knew that I wanted to do another twelve hour race, but I also knew that I wasn't going to spend this winter doing cold eight- to twelve-hour rides like I did last winter. I knew that I wanted to upgrade to Cat 2, but I wasn't sure which races would potentially get me enough points to do that. And thanks to my wife's big day on August 29, I knew that I wanted to do an Ironman, even though I know that spending time swimming and running could potentially compromise my cycling goals.

Given two months to do nothing but figure things out, though, I believe that I've done it. First, while I'm getting my form on the bike back, I'm going to learn to swim. My first lesson is on October 10. As the winter wears on, I'm going to ride my bike four days a week (with a heavy focus on quality), and I'm going to swim, run, and lift weights three days a week. When late January comes, I'm going to go to five days of cycling and only two days of lifting, running, and swimming. That way, I'll be fit early so that I can perhaps score some points in the February and March races and move up to Cat 2. After that, I'll lengthen my rides in preparation for a twelve-hour race in Portland in May, but I'll also start running and swimming a bit more in preparation for summer triathlons. Following the twelve-hour race, I'll cut down on my cycling and start running and swimming more. I'll do my first half-Ironman in September, and I would like to do my first full Ironman in May of 2012. It's a good plan, even though it may require a few revisions.

I'm happy that my forced convalescence is in the rear view mirror. I am eager--bordering on impatient, in fact--to regain a full range of motion in my shoulder and re-establish the strength and fitness that was so hard to come by. Nonetheless, I can't help but be glad that I spent some time getting out of shape. It has given me a better understanding of myself as an athlete, and it has focused my training on a set of mid-range and long-range goals. I look forward to what's next.

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