Tuesday, April 13, 2010

to train, or not to train....

Many of you have heard some of this already, so here's a quick recap for the informed--and some back-story for the uninitiated:

In 1997 or 98 I started playing city rec. league basketball as a way to get some endurance after quitting my 11-year smoking habit. Yep, 11 years of 1 1/2 to 2 packs a day. Plus, about 12 beers and 5 whiskeys a week. I never drank more than 4-5 drinks a night, but I spent 3-4 night a week at the Dubliner, White Rabbit, and 49'er. And I was a major volunteer and PR hack at Shelterbelt, which was a nicotine and alcohol-infused hotbed.

I quit smoking by covering every available inch of my skin in nicotine patches (think of Krusty the Klown here) and trading my cigarette addiction for a gym addiction. I lifted three times a week, ran on a treadmill, and played basketball. Poorly.

One night I went up for a rebound, and while I was in the air, a cutting guard accidentally swept my legs out from under me. I fell parallel to the ground and landed on my right hip, probably dislocating something in the sacral-illiac crest and herniating the discs between the S-1 / L5 and the L5 / L-4 vertebrae.

Two years of off-and-on-again physical therapy, spinal injections, and nSAID meds later, I still fought bursitis in both hips and painful swelling in my lumbar spine muscles. Running was occasionally agonizing, so I did a lot of elliptical cardio work and tons of yoga. My ultimate slvation arrived in the form of chiropractic treatment and custom orthotics.

When I finally got pretty close to healthy, I started riding mountain bikes with Miah around Omaha. Then I moved to Davis for grad school and took up road riding--mainly recreational club stuff and the occasional century. I could spin along pretty comfortably for about 50-60 miles on an aluminum Trek, but by mile 80 I would be popping Vitamin-I and stopping to stretch every 20 minutes. LeOuch.

I joined the Aggie race team at the urging of the coach, Judd Van Sickle. He spent some time fitting my wife's road bike in the UC Davis Sports Medicine Center, where he worked under Max Testa and Eric Heiden, and when we got to talking about collegiate racing, I got hooked. Part of the coaching benefits of racing with the Aggie team included power at threshold tests and bike fitting. Once Judd re-positioned me on my road bike, I started to ride longer and longer with no back pain.

I managed to race my entire first year with no back symptoms, but in my third year I hit the deck in some USCF crits and torqued it all to hell again. A TTT at conference championships pretty much laid me out for five weeks (we won, though!), and it's been steadily recurring problem for the last two years. Anytime I let my core strength and/or hamstring flexibility degenerate, I start to suffer or experience a major blow-out. For example, I managed to race a pretty full mid and late season last year, but after driving across the country and moving my family into our new house here in Omaha, I blew my back apart after a long October ride in the Ponca Hills. It was pretty awful throughout most of the winter and early spring, but I managed to get to about 90% by mid-March. Then, some climbing on the TT bike (the road bike needed a derailleur hanger after my Ozarks crash) aggravated everything again and sent me to the couch and ice packs this last weekend.

So I rolled out of the house this afternoon in a wee bit of discomfort. It pissed me off since I felt great last night, but after 2 miles, I started feeling twinges. The DC here calls those twinges "the canary in the coal mine"--early warnings that what I'm doing is dumb and will end in grief.

I almost turned around and came home. But I didn't. I promised to spin a really easy gear and not push myself at all. And, lo and behold, I managed 35 miles of rollers with no pain after mile 10. My back loosened up and let me enjoy the warm and windy weather. And I can sit here and type with only a mild tightness that I'm going to go stretch away right now.

Le Tour de Husker? Ahh--to race or not to race.....

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