Sunday, March 27, 2011

I'm Free!

Yesterday was the seven month anniversary of my accident and, to celebrate, I decided to suit up and ride my bike for the first time outdoors. I planned a ride with my wife on a local rail trail in order to focus completely on the ride itself and to eliminate any worry of passing cars. The verdict: despite the long time away, riding a bike was like . . . well . . . riding a bike. Muscle memory is robust; it all came back immediately and my comfort level was just where I wanted it to be. Riding felt far more routine and less dramatic than I might have expected. Pedaling thorough the woods with my wife was both comfortable and comforting.

Physically, there were no nasty surprises. My legs and hips felt fine and my balance is solid and steady. Even my left shoulder behaved well; I can now reach the bars without any hesitation or pain. There is some sensitivity in the left shoulder, but I would expect nothing less. It will take some time to increase my range of motion and my strength. I was surprised by how weak my muscles have become. I noticed that my biceps and triceps, as well as the muscles around my knees, for instance, have not been called into service for a long time and therefore are not quite as powerful as they were in months past. It was also surprisingly challenging to maintain a pace of just 18 mph and I will need to rebuild both speed and endurance in the months ahead.

What a great anniversary present! I couldn't have hoped for anything better at this point. I'm off for the week on a school trip but look forward to logging some more miles when I return. My next goal? Spring break "training camp" on Block Island in mid-April. Before that, I'll log some additional rail trail miles to increase my confidence and strength. Onward!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Green Light: I’m Back, Baby!

“Sure, you can ride your bike again.” These were the last words my surgeon uttered today as I left her office and they continue to ring in my ears as I type these words. This was only the last piece of good news I received today. It turns out that my diligent adherence to my physical therapy regimen has paid off. Apparently, I even surpassed my doctor’s expectations both in terms of range and strength during today’s evaluation. Whereas in an earlier appointment I heard her say “that’s not what I wanted to see,” today it was “wow, that’s a homerun” and “look at you!” What a perfect way to ring in the first day of spring!
The prognosis looks brighter and brighter. My doctor was especially pleased to see both my increased range of assisted motion (65 degrees more than during the evaluation) and my increased muscle control. Most impressive (to both of us!) was my ability to hold my left arm extended above my head after slowly bringing it into position with the help of a cane. Apparently, this indicates the potential range I may have down the road. What a goal! While I thought I was shooting for comfortable handlebar use, it now looks like I may even be able to hang paintings and put dishes away on high shelves before this is all over. As for physical therapy, I now have a modified prescription to focus on extending overhead range and strength. Major strength building is still unnecessary at this point and can wait for years without any ill effects.

So it’s now three months after my most recent surgery and seven months after the accident and I will return to riding on the open roads this week. Since I’m a little nervous about just how weird this might feel, my inaugural spin will be on the “Hudson Valley Rail Trail – Walkway Over the Hudson” so I can get my bearings without worries about traffic. I may also ride my single speed so I can throw on a set of flat pedals for good measure.

Photo: Tom BKK, Creative Commons

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bell Crash Replacement Helmet Arrives, Rider Smiles

Today it was 68 degrees and sunny this morning when I opened a smooth brown UPS box to reveal a beautiful shiny white Bell Sweep helmet. The helmet came to me through Bell's generous "crash replacement" program. After a crash, all a rider needs to do is call Bell with the old helmet's serial number and a credit card and Bell will send any current model for 30% off retail. This strikes me as a great way to build brand loyalty. Since I had about 300 miles on my previous helmet, I was especially pleased to take advantage of this offer. With the discount, I even opted to upgrade and replace my Array with a Sweep.

Next up: I meet with my surgeon on Monday to assess the progress I've made over the past six weeks. I'm looking for the green light to upgrade my physical therapy and get out onto the open roads. Wish me luck.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"You must first have a lot of patience to learn to have patience." Stanislaw Lec

Rapha Continental | D2R2 from RAPHA on Vimeo.

Patience has always been one of my strengths as a cyclist. It's what helped me become a successful randonneur. I'm not alone, of course; focusing on long-term goals and building towards long distance brevets over time is what sets randonneurs apart from other cyclists. The irony is that I'm also a fairly impatient person, intent on enduring adversity and pushing through specific obstacles to achieve my goals. Paradoxically, this too has made me a successful randonneur. Recovering from a major accident over the past six months, though, has taught me a level of patience I've never before experienced.

Anyone who's suffered serious crash-related trauma will tell you that bones heal much quicker than muscles and soft tissue. Since my bones were pretty well healed six weeks after the crash, I naively thought I'd be training hard indoors this winter and riding early spring brevets without too much difficulty. I didn't know how long it would take my muscles and soft tissue to return to normal. My body was bent in all kinds of unnatural ways and the tears and damage my muscles sustained has been taking some serious time to repair. It's slow going and there's really no way to speed up the process. Since I have to exercise and stretch 3-5 times a day on top of  a very full time job and family responsibilities, I have virtually no time (or energy!) to train hard on my bike indoors. I've yet to ride more than 1 hour at a time and fitting in even 2-3 sessions a week has been beyond my grasp. Healing also requires more rest than I'm used to and the chance to lie in bed with a book on Sunday monrning is hard to pass up.

Over the past several years, having a big seasonal goal to work towards has really helped to shape my training and keep me motivated in the off season. I began my recovery thinking I would ride PBP this August as originally planned. After realizing the folly in this plan, I down-shifted to a simple SR series as a comeback strategy. Now, due to event timing and perhaps a greater level of realism, I'm looking at simply riding a few short brevets this season and none of them until I've had a few months on the bike on the open roads to build my endurance, balance and confidence. Now to non-randonneurs, this probably seems perfectly reasonable. My family sure is pleased.

I hesitate to even formalize these thoughts about the year ahead as "goals." The ground is still shifting too much and I don't even have clearance yet to ride my bike outdoors. I meet with my surgeon on March 21 and will have a much better picture of my recovery progress and needs at that time. Specifically, I need to discuss long-term muscle repair and possible risks involved with riding on the open roads. Rebuilding slowly from the ground up makes much more sense to me now rather than simply rushing and pushing things too fast. The risks are too great.

So my first "event" of the year is now the Five Boro Bike Tour with my son on May 1. I hope to then build to a 200K brevet in late June. I also plan to sprinkle a few 200Ks throughout the summer and cap off the season with Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee (D2R2) in late August. I've wanted to ride D2R2 for a number of years but it just hasn't fit into my schedule. Who knows, this may also be the year to tackle the R-12 award, earned by randonneurs who ride at least one 200K each month for 12 months.

I realize now that I'll need a longer period of time to grow back into being an endurance cyclist than I first expected. It will likely take over a year to get back into the kind of shape I need to be in to complete an SR series and a 1200K grand randonee. Now that I'm pretty confident that I'll ride long distances pain-free again, the wait won't be so hard.