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It's All Over But the Crying
posted: 09/28/08

I'm sitting here, scrubbed clean, after spending a couple of hours out on flooded, peanut-butter-mud trails, getting grungy with a few partners in peer pressure. Today was supposed to be a goal event, one for which I had trained and attempted to stretch form while my body and mind protested throughout the last month, roughly. Probably longer, now that I think about it. I've been at this for a while. All year, in fact. Before that, even. Pretty much always. Le whiiiiiiiine.

just mud. no cowbells.

So yeah. Today was supposed to be the Maine State Time Trial Championship, my last race before hanging up the bikes for the season - and perhaps then some. Hurricane Kyle (so weakly named, but I guess that's not a bad thing - it could have been Hurricane Klaus, which does sound slightly scarier) had other ideas. The time trial was called on account of rains and won't be rescheduled. I was sort of bummed. I suppose I still am. A bit. Not a lot. But a little. Things. Many things.

Last year I'd trained hard and attempted to peak for the race, only to get sick the week of. I turned in a mediocre performance, at best. I ended up riding the rest of the fall and winter of '07, racing cyclocross, trying something different, but bringing that same cross-eyed, slack-lunged hope for a good day out on the course. Chasing, mostly. The results were mixed, but there was always the opportunity to improve and prepare for that next race if things didn't go as planned. A cycle of feeding.

But this year? It's over. Though I'd love to get a 'cross race in - really any 'cross race for that matter - it's probably not going to happen.

My wife and I are inside two weeks to due date with la bambina. When we confirmed that we were pregnant, one of the first (and very selfish on my part, but ultimately necessary) conversations we had was regarding my training and racing season this year. I basically asked for clearance to live the lives of five men while she brought the muffin in the oven to term. Looking back now, I'm embarassed by my myopic concerns about meeting my own goals before others' needs usurped - and rightly so - well... everything. I'd just been asked to join a sponsored racing team and had committed to riding a full road schedule and beyond this year. I had worked out a training program to take me through all of the races, equipped the basement with a small weight room to work on core conditioning over the winter, had the stationary trainers ready, the whole nine. I felt like I'd made an investment, as had others in me, and I wanted to see things through. My wife tacitly agreed to let me do what I needed to do. It was January 2008.

I wouldn't categorize myself as a Type A personality. If I were Type A, I'd probably be more successful, variously. What I am, is dedicated. Sparingly dedicated, but dedicated nonetheless.

I've been good at few things in my life and the fields or pursuits in which I have gained any facility whatsoever have taken tons of work. I don't mind. It's just the way I'm wired, I guess. I don't mind working very, very hard for the things that are important to me. I suppose a lot of this mindset comes from my lifelong involvement with music, from the preparation necessary to reach levels of competence. And those levels are always in flux - aspirations are a moving target. I've never sought to be "just good" at whatever thing finally caught my interest. I've always looked at the leaders of any given field, at least to get a comparison view, a reference point, and even if I knew I'd never keep their company, I've always kept an eye trained on the top. It's important to know your place, I think. It's important to know how one might get there from here. Even if it's never going to happen. It's important to have a macro view of things, a sense of a larger chronology at work. You take small, necessary, purposeful steps, and you take a lot of them. And those steps keep you on your way. Eventually, you get where you're going. Sometimes you pause for a moment, you look back, and you surprise yourself at how far you've come. For me, it's always been important to prepare, to put skills to various tests, try to learn what did and didn't go well, and get ready for the next, usually bigger challenge down the line. There is no finish line, really. It's just a series of etudes and intervals. These become concertos and championships. Everything is a building block. The laying of the foundation, the construction. And then the tearing down, digging deep once more and starting over... It never ends.

I respond to these things.

It's tough to stop.

I've done 23 road races this year. I could have easily done more. Perhaps I'll get another in before the year closes, just for fun (or not). I haven't had more than two consecutive days off the bike since January 1st, save for when I badly injured, then very, very badly re-injured my back in February and again in March. Even then, when I herniated and prolapsed a disc, severely compressing my sciatic nerve and shutting down 90% of mobility in my left leg for months, I still rode. I still trained. With one leg. I couldn't walk for two weeks in March and was in excruciating pain, but I still did a minimum of one hour a day on the trainer, every day (except Mondays - Mondays are rest days - no seriously). Usually more and often much more. I simply hoped I'd get better, I worked to get better, and I didn't want to lose. It's sick and it's scary and it's... something I had to do. Whenever I've wanted to see something through in my life I've always known that it was up to me and me alone to make it happen. I didn't want to give in. So I didn't.

Racing this year was incredibly painful, both physically and psychically. I never fully recovered from the back injury and the nerve compression affecting my left leg continues to be a factor. I've overcompensated with the weak leg and have aggravated tendonitis in my knee as a result. By the time I received a proper diagnosis about my herniated disc (I lost months to the healthcare system; when I finally got an MRI it took 20 seconds for my doctor to confirm that I'd blown my back big time) the window for surgery had passed; at this point a discectomy would be more traumatic than simply leaving things alone and hoping for the best. A surgeon at a respected practice here tells me that, yes, I am really screwed up, but all in all I am making "fantastic" progress and that I am "about six months along in a year-long recovery." Until I saw him a few months ago no one had given me a timeframe. It was a bit of a shock.

At road season's end I'm pedalling at ~80% of my functional threshold. It's not enough - not enough to compete, anyway. I'd like to believe I can heal, and re-train my body. I thought about quitting - weekly, actually - pretty much all season long. In nearly every race this year I got spat out the back of the group. It's one of the worst experiences you can have on a bike. My results this year are beyond embarrassing - though the numbers alone obviously don't tell the whole story. I felt very much obligated to my team and it was a huge disappointment to not be a bigger contributor in races this year - possibly the worst stress of all. Still, I wouldn't give in. I wanted to keep going. Even when I probably shouldn't have. So I did.

I've tried to build and re-build all season long, but the fact is that the foundation is weak. If I weren't such a freak I'd try to just enjoy myself. That would be... what?


Never heard of him.

Speaking of freaks, how about some pictures?

I did live the lives of five men this year. Five hobbled, cranky, old men. And I would have gotten away with it too! If wasn't for... a wonky back and too many poorly-executed squats. Basically. Oh, and a couple of really stupid crashes caused by silly, over-testosteroned, squirrelly-assed dipshits. But I'm not bitter.

Lest it not be apparent (lo, even to me), I know what I need to do. I am on a forced break from cycling until such time that the family feels that I need to go out and play again. I must be here for my wife and the little one on the way. I know that I will take to that life-changing experience just like I've taken to every other thing in my life that has ever mattered. The big difference here is that nothing has prepared me for fatherhood. I'm still not okay with that. It's just not the way I'm accustomed to doing things. There needs to be a program, a schedule with peaking and tapering periods, data to crunch... we need spreadsheets! But I will get it done. Rest assured. I might even come out a little more normal on the other side. It's doubtful, but... hey. It could happen.

Stay tuned.

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Last updated, fixified, or otherwise jiggered: 09/28/08.