Sunday, April 24, 2011

It's official: I have a season!

It's official: I have a season! I just registered for the epic Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee (D2R2 for short) and this will be the marquis event of the season for me. With over 15,000 ft of climbing on 180K of mainly dirt carriage roads in neighboring Massachusetts, this ride should be one hell of a lot of fun. The Rapha folks profile this ride on their Continental site. I mean, there's even a short film.

I've wanted to ride D2R2 for several years, but I've always been out of town in the end of August and unable to join in on the fun. Luckily this year, it seems to be scheduled a week later than usual and my vacation rental is scheduled a week earlier than usual, so bingo! we're all set.

As I pushed the "complete" button on the BikeReg site and looked at the confirmed rider list, I felt that familiar adrenalin surge that accompanies event planning. Somehow, making a commitment focuses training in a direct and productive way. So here we are: my season officially begins with the Five Boro Bike Tour next weekend and builds to my "A" event on August 27 at D2R2. Sprinkled in between and afterwards will be a variety 200K brevets and permanents and maybe even a century or two. Eight months after my accident, I couldn't be more pleased. Now the training really begins.

(Photo: Rapha)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The red efts are back and so am I.

I went for a quick spin tonight on the quiet back roads behind my house. The roads were so quiet, in fact, that I only saw one car in just over an hour of riding. I did see this little feller crossing the road, though, and he reminded me of all the subtle natural beauty I see while riding that people who spend their time in cars totally miss. Spring is a glorious time in the Hudson Valley. After a long period of monochromatic living, we are again blessed with the slow, but steady, reintroduction of color into our lives. Yellow forsythia, purple crocuses, pink magnolia all dot the greening landscape and remind me of the glory of rebirth.

Today was the first brevet of the season on my original 2011 event calendar. I had hoped to ride the beautiful Princeton 200K again this year as a season opener, but my post-surgery healing has taken a bit longer than I had naively expected back in December. While I made sure to ride today anyway, I am in no shape to complete a 200K at the moment. That said, every ride I take feels better than the one before and today was no exception. I feel increasingly steady and comfortable on the bike and find myself forgetting that I'm actually healing from a serous injury.

My revised first event of the season is coming right up, though. Next Sunday, my son and I will enjoy our third Five Boro Bike Tour together. I'm ready and can not wait to spend 42 miles pedaling at my son's side. Two years ago we endured monsoon rains and last year we both got sun burns. Maybe this year it'll snow.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Do you still ride without a Road ID? I don't.

Do you still ride or run without a Road ID? I don't. Mine just arrived this week and it looks a lot like this one, except it has my name and contact information on it instead of Jamie Johnson's. That seemed to make the most sense.

I never thought I'd be lying on the side of the road unconscious or otherwise unable to direct medical help after a crash. That is until this past summer when I was hit from behind by a distracted driver. One minute I was riding along, an experienced randonneur on a 1000K brevet, and the next minute I was in a hospital emergency room about to undergo surgery to repair several of the 25 bones I had broken. How did I get there? I certainly was of no help. Luckily another rider happened upon me and let the rescue workers know I was connected to an organized event.

While my wife finds the Road ID to be a grim reminder that I engage in life-threatening fun, we're both more comfortable knowing that if anything does ever happen, I'll get the best help possible. For less that $20, it seems well worth the peace of mind. In addition to my contact information, I added one last line to help me focus on the future. It reads: "Randonneur - PBP 2015."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tragedy, loss and recovery in "The Long Run"

And I thought I had it bad! There's nothing more humbling than reading a story about someone who's had a far more serious accident and grueling recovery. In The Long Run, NYC firefighter, bar owner and endurance athlete, Matt Long describes how a terrible bike accident in 2005 cut short his plans to run the Boston Marathon, but did not stop him from fighting his way back to run again. I should explain from the start that I'm a sucker for tragic-adventure memoirs. Into Thin Air, Between a Rock and a Hard Place and Off the Wall sit prominently on my book shelf and films like "Grizzly Man" and "Into the Wild" are listed among my Netflix favorites. That said, I did not love this book.

Matt's story is surely an inspirational one. Pinned beneath a 40-ton bus while commuting to work on his bike in mid-town Manhattan, Long was impaled by his seat post and lost a tremendous amount of blood while severely damaging several vital organs and destroying quite a few important bones and muscles. It is nothing short of amazing that he is now able to run again after 40 surgeries and years of rehabilitation. Co-written with a professional writer, it is still far too rambling a tale. His editor should have taken a more aggressive surgical approach. Long's story of recovery includes far too much reflection on his macho life as a firefighter and not enough detail on his incredible rehabilitation for my taste. As a result, readers are not able to fully appreciate and savor all that Matt has gone through in his remarkable journey.

My reading of this book is admittedly idiosyncratic. Like Matt, I was hit by a car while cycling and have spent a great deal of time in hospitals and physical therapy unsure that I would ever be able to become the athlete I once was. While my injuries were nowhere near as severe as Matt's, his book leaves me hungry for details about the healing and recovery process. Unfortunately, Matt neglects to devote any time at all to some of the sad realities of what takes up much of a recovering athletes time after a serious injury. Where are the countless hours spent arguing with insurance companies over bills that keep piling up? How does he find the time to exercise again with work, family and therapy demands pressing in? Where does all the money come from to subsidize his recovery? One imagines that Long received a juicy insurance settlement and perhaps a healthy disability package from the FDNY to help smooth things out financially, but we'll never know as he has chosen not to share this aspect of the recovery process with his readers.

Perhaps the most disappointing point in the book for me was Long's decision to sue the Transit Workers Union for holding an illegal strike that caused him to cycle to work on that cold winter's day in 2005. Give me a break, Matt. After all you've been though, you really hold the union responsible for what happened? I would have expected more from the son of the NYS Conservative Party chairman. Luckily, the judge threw the case out before Long could become an embodiment of the need for tort reform as well.

If you're interested in Long's story, you might do yourself a favor and read the great 2009 Runner's World article that also includes six short videos on the magazine's website.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Return to the Open Road

With bright skies and temperatures in the mid-60s, seven and a half months after my accident, I returned today to the open road. What a relief to simply roll out the door and head up into the hills behind my house. At my current level of fitness, though, climbing these familiar hills felt more like I was ending a double century than going for an easy 18-mile spin.

I was surprised by what did and did not hurt during this little experiment. I would have expected that my legs, hips and left shoulder would have held me back a bit, but it was my right shoulder that actually gave me a little trouble. I think the discomfort is traceable to my utter lack of upper body strength at this point in the year rather than anything more serious. I simply need to add this to the rehab list along with all the other strengthening exercises.

While I wasn't really freaked out as cars passed, I did place an order for a Take-a-Look mirror as soon as I got home. It might just give me a few seconds, but I'll feel a lot more comfortable when I can see 'em coming and no longer have to rely on my fading hearing to know who's behind me. The forecast for Monday has temps in the 80s. I'll take tomorrow off (to assess any discomfort) and plan to get out for another ride on Monday after work.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

My second day out: getting ready for the road.

After a week away in the Connecticut woods with our entire middle school, I finally got the chance today (after catching up on my sleep) to get out for a spin on the local rail trail. This time I rode a solo end-to-end lap which had me dodging pedestrians on the Walkway (see photo above) and "climbing" a slight grade into a headwind which just about took my breath away. My lung capacity is so diminished at the moment, it's an embarrassment. Note to self: complete at least 3 or 4 cardio workouts each week to push my endurance into a zone that feels a bit more familiar. Since my shoulder felt somewhat achy the day following my last ride, I thought I'd keep it short today. I'm pleased that my shoulder doesn't hurt while riding, but continue to be amazed by how weak my triceps, biceps, forearms and hands are at this point. I'll definitely need to strengthen all types of muscles as I build back to brevet strength by mid-season. With two weeks until Block Island Training Camp begins, I'm praying for nice weather.