Monday, June 14, 2010

The back abides: a pain-free TT

The last time I really, really screwed up my back, the TT position was the culprit:

l to r: Adam Smith, Nate Anderson, Cervelo-mounted walrus

That's the UC-Davis Men's "B" team time trial squad racing at the Western Collegiate Cycling Conference Championship outside Reno, Nevada in 2008. We beat a very determined and talented Stanford squad by about 20 seconds and put over two minutes into UC-Berkely, Cal Poly, Nevada, and the like.

I had played a pretty large role in getting us beaten the year before (thee of the four of us went to the wrong place on course and missed our start by three minutes), so I was hell-bent on winning in Reno. The altitude was tough, but it affected everyone the same. The course was mostly flat, with only one climb and a bit of a false flat in the homestretch, so my usual problems with climbing weren't too much of a handicap. But I had strained my back racing a crit at UCB the week before, so I knew that spending 30 minutes in the aero position was going to pose a challenge.

Warm-up went reasonably well; Marisa teased me mercilessly for about 35 minutes of trainer time, and my back loosened up enough to let me get onto the aero bars.

We started with four riders (Daniel Stuart isn't in the photographs) and maintained a good, steady rotation for the first two-thirds of the course. Skinny climber Danny took a monster pull on the course's sole climb, and the rest of us powered up the false flat into a headwind. My normal lactate threshold heart rate is around 175 bpm, but I averaged almost 188 the last two miles. I think I rode harder than I ever have, before or since.

Since we were the last team on course, we knew we'd won shortly after we crossed the line. That elation turned to agony when I tried to dismount my bike -- I fell over sideways because I could barely stand. My lower back had completely seized into a convex shape, and I couldn't straighten my lower four vertebrae. The best I could do was shuffle along in a sort of half-bowed position.

Three of my teammates took me back to our motel and went to work on my back. We iced, stretched, massaged, embrocated, and medicated. Nothing worked. I was in near constant pain, even as I tried to race the conference championship criterium the next day. I didn't really feel whole again for about two and half months.

I've been cautious about my TT position ever since. Judd at the UC-Davis Sports Performance Lab and Joe Santos at Davis Wheelworks have done wonders with my fit over the last two years; even though I'm much lower in front, I'm much more comfortable in my lower back, and I felt good enough to race (and badly lose) three Master's 1/2/3 time trials in Norcal last season.

Still, given how long I've been suffering with my latest flare-up (seven months now, off-and-on),  I was pretty cautious about racing the Nebraska State Time Trial last Saturday.

I previewed the course with Sam Oakes the Wednesday before, and I really liked it. Three stinging rollers after the start line give way to a false flat that continues for about 10 miles. After the turn-around, the almost-imperceptible ascent back toward the finish forces the rider to contend with a headwind, and the return of the rollers near mile 21 really hurts a fatty like me. But I was able to ride the course at ME / Zone 3 / Tempo pace with NO back symptoms of any kind.

I had planned to do endurance work on Thursday and race prep on Friday, but the car accident and subsequent car shopping ruined those plans. (I bought another black Civic on Friday, BTW...)

Saturday dawned hot and humid, with the expected northerly wind. I weighed less that morning than I have since I returned to Nebraska, and I was well-hydrated. I even slept reasonably well, a rarity for me the night before an event.

The registration and assembly area was situated in the parking lot of the Yutan V.F.W. hall, with a predictable lawn ornament: 

That's me warming up in the shadow of a Sherman tank.

Brady, fellow blogger and racer, introduced himself as I warmed up; he seemed like a really nice guy. I also received my weekly dose of friendly smack-talk from the Puma. He's looking awfully thin in his snazzy Bike Master's skin suit. Seriously, damn near everyone I've met in the Nebraska cycling scene has been welcoming, friendly, and encouraging. There are one or two exceptions, of course, but the ratio of cool-guy speedsters to douche-bag poseurs is much, much higher here than in Norcal.  Conservative politics aside, that's true of the general population in Omaha, as well.

My heart rate on the trainer was crazy high; fresh legs and a heavy dose of adrenaline will do that. I did a nice 10 minute SE opener and managed few intervals of threshold work. Despite the fact that I was positioned 30 yards away from the start and had synchronized my computer's clock with the race officials' timer, I almost missed my start, making it to the line with only 20 seconds to spare.
photo by Rob Skiba

I deliberately tried to go out slowly in order to save energy for the uphill, head-winded return; I've lost count of the number of times I've crapped the bed in a TT by sprinting off the line and blowing up five minutes later. And while I think I went out a bit TOO slow, my heart rate was still off the charts. I powered up a hills in the big ring and spun down the false flat in my 53-12, pushed along by the tailwind. I need to do some more cadence analysis in the TT position, since I found it easier to pedal smooth circles at a lower cadence but ended up going a bit faster when I spun a lower gear.

I seemed to fly along at 32-33 miles and hour and reached the turn-around in ~24 minutes. The first few minutes of pedaling into the wind after the turnaround were brutal. I passed a flatted Brady and briefly entertained the idea of faking my own mechanical to end the pain. It hurt that badly. My lungs were searing, and my naughty bits were going numb, but I managed to avoid slipping into a mid-race Slough of Despond and pedaled hard the whole way home. 

I noticed significant cardiac drift over the last 4 miles, and I started to lose power. I don't train with a powermeter, but my speed and cadence relative to my perceived exertion dropped precipitously. I rolled in at 59:10 with nothing left in the tank. 

Puma put four minutes into me and won the Cat 3 championship, while I finished fourth out of four-- DFL again, baby! I lost third by a few seconds, so I wasn't too terrible.

I drove home feeling good about the progress I've made in the last month: I've built a pretty good aerobic base, established some solid core strength, and managed pain-free riding for about three weeks. I'm going to ramp up the intensity of my intervals the next two weeks and see if that helps establish my ability to quickly recover from hard efforts. 

I still putz along pretty slowly, but perhaps it's coming. Hope springs eternal, I suppose. 

No comments:

Post a Comment