So, with 3 State Championship races – hill climb (Evans); criterium; and road race – and the Hill Climb National Championships being 4-of-the-5 races left on my race calendar, you might be asking exactly why I decided to pull the rip cord on racing. Well, let me tell you.
If you’re a regular follower of ORION Training Systems, then you know a dream of my wife’s and mine is to split time between Boulder and Nosara, Costa Rica. We’ve purchased land and are breaking ground very soon. Our goal is to have the sleepy beach home finished in time for our 25th anniversary next July so we can celebrate in Nosara and, more importantly, in our own slice of heaven. A month ago, directly after the State TT Champs, we traveled to Nosara for some beach time and to finalize the architectural plans for our home. It was also a perfectly-timed break for me to unplug from riding the bike for a little over a week, recharge the batteries and prepare to knuckle down for the final push into the races mentioned above.
I ran on the beach the first couple days in Nosara, to keep moving rather than for fitness. When I awoke our third day, my right big toe was blown up big time, was hot to the touch and throbbing with pain. At first, I figured the running had created some sort of bruise around my big toe joint. But, as the swelling spread to the upper-half of my foot, I realized it was another attack of gout. In the past 15 years, I’ve had four gout attacks. The first was the worst. The swelling was up to my ankle and a light bed sheet atop my foot felt like a cinder block had been dropped on it. The next two attacks were years apart, not as severe (though still very painful) and lasted 5-10 days. This attack was similar to the past two, but here it is nearly a month later and I’m still not past it.
After seeing a preeminent gout specialist here in Boulder – weird, given how active a community Boulder is and that gout typically afflicts those who don’t take very good care of themselves – I’m not on an aggressive round of prednisone for the next 15 days. And, despite the four attacks being spread out by several years each, I decided to start a daily medication that I’ll take for the rest of my life and that will ensure I never have another attack. It’s worth it to me.
Thank you for indulging me the story. As serious endurance athletes, especially as we evolve into Masters athletes, injury is something we all will deal with at some point in our athletic careers. Some injuries will be minor and may require no time off; others will be severe enough to require time off, either a little bit or a lot. In any case, how we cope with the injuries is critical.
Being fit and athletic, training hard and competing, fighting tooth and nail is part of who we are at our cores. As I like to say, we’ve been training and competing long enough by the time we’re Masters athletes that they’re imprinted on our DNA. When the training and competing is suddenly taken away from us, then, temporarily, a part of us dies. Depending on how much we define ourselves by our sports and our accomplishments, the impact of the temporary death can be massive.
Here we are, high-level, finely-tuned athletic machines. We invest blood, sweat and tears into our endeavors on a daily basis. “I can’t” is rarely part of our vocabulary. Our 1-to-10 pain scale is skewed compared to mere mortals. Yet, the ramifications of injuries bring us to our knees. Some of the first thoughts that run through our heads is, “How long will this last?” or “How long will I be out of commission?” or “Once I’m healthy, will I ever get back to 100%, let alone get my fitness back?” We feel lost, like a ship without a rudder. When I was younger and racing triathlon professionally, I had few injuries and even fewer that forced me to miss training (I can recall one Achilles injury, actually). Yet, I became an insecure, stressed out fool during that Achilles injury. I was not fun to be around because I was so on edge with it. It occupied my mind 24/7 and my frustration grew as the injury persisted. I did eventually get over it and I did return to top form. But until then, I was an ass.
Fast forward to today. I’m over 20 years older and, I hope, at least a little wiser. I am disappointed with this gout attack. The timing of it is terrible. It’s uncomfortable. And the drugs I’m taking make me feel eviscerated. At a HR and RPE similar to threshold, my watts are down 20%. My legs feel fantastic, which means the break in Costa Rica was the right call. But, my HR spikes to 160+ very quickly and when it beats that fast, it feels … weird. Not like it’s supposed to. The meds are doing a number on me. I anticipate these symptoms will go away when I’m done with the prednisone.
I don’t race for experiences. I race to win or to help my teammates win. I can’t do either right now. Not when it really becomes “go time” in these races. Rather than being a hammer, I would be a nail and would be driven into the tarmac in no time flat by the other hammers in the Masters peloton. No thanks.
Like I said, I’m disappointed. But, stopping is the right choice. I rue the missed opportunities. After all, I’m 48 and not getting any younger or faster. Any missed race is a missed opportunity to prove to Father Time that I’m cheating the inevitable erosion of my physical prowess. That I can still pull out a masterful race execution in a hill climb. That dipping under that 2-hour barrier at Evans is still possible even now. I’ve relaxed enough in that athletics no longer defines who I am. I have chosen bike racing as the sport through which I express myself. Growing up it was swimming; post-college it was triathlon. When bike racing isn’t fun anymore, I’ll find the next means of expression.
Injuries suck. No doubt about it, no way around it. My advice to you is to try relaxing when you’re hit with an injury. It is so, so easy to allow injury to consume us and create unnecessary emotional and mental stress around it. And that added, self-imposed stress actually slows down the recovery and healing process. You will get past the injury. You will return to 100%. You will regain your top form. All this will take time, but it will all happen. Give yourself permission to relax, to lean into the recovery process and to embrace the downtime. If instead athletics define who you are, you do yourself a disservice. Athletics can be extremely important to your life without defining you. There are things in life that are infinitely more important than competing and a finishers medal or a podium spot.
So, what’s the silver lining here? I’m coming off a fantastic if less comfortable vacation in Costa Rica that most definitely recharged my batteries. Since late-June, as this gout attack has oscillated between getting better and worse, I’ve ridden enough to provide some mental clarity and joy, yet not enough to create lasting fatigue. I’m fresh. I’m ready to start game planning for 2018 and get a huge head start on preparation. While the rest of the peloton is winding down, I’ll be ramping up. And, given that it’s mid-July, I can also start running as soon as my big toe is fully calmed down. I absolutely love trail running in the Boulder mountains in the fall and winter. Why not get started with this fantastic means of cross-training in the next couple weeks?
I rode just for the joy of it today. I didn’t watch my watts. I took in some dirt road climbs I had not previously ridden. I didn’t care how long I was out there. I smiled a lot. I enjoyed the scenery and found beauty in things I would have otherwise missed were my head down and I were focused on the effort. Three hours passed quickly. I like to say that at some point, the training is no longer fun. We can find enjoyment at times, but the fun factor evaporates once we start cracking the whip on ourselves and pushing toward goals of improvement in some capacity. It is the natural course of things. Today wasn’t fun, but it sure was enjoyable. And because my 2018 prep will be extended by a couple months, I plan to find more enjoyment before it’s time to knuckle down in my regimen and get more serious.
Hope this perspective helps when you hit your next injury.