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Last week, some of the team lined up for a local road race called the Harbins Road Race located on the outskirts of Dacula, GA. The race was short for a Pro/1/2 race at only 65 miles, but it had a decent climb that required riding every lap for 9 laps. The big guns were up in Greenville racing the Pro Crit Nationals, and some others were at other races in other states. With only about 15 starters, it was clear that Thomas Brown, United Healthcare of Georgia p/b 706 Project was the favorite. Thomas is an excellent cyclist who can win races anytime. The rest of the field didn’t have any consistent winners, so it was pretty wide open.

An early break went away with a couple riders, so I bridged up halfway at about half effort just keeping it close enough to me in case they rolled away. I’d prefer to put in a few hard pedal strokes early rather than chasing for several hours. The group slowly got a gap. Once the gap become 30 seconds, it was a confusing situation for me. Is this a good break to help drive? There were 7 riders in the break, which is too many riders, but we didn’t have Thomas in the move. He would be stuck chasing later or forced to solo bridge. It seemed like a good move considering the chances of winning the sprint from the break were better than sprinting straight up against Thomas.

So, for the next 60+ miles we rode what seemed like the slowest break I’ve ever ridden. The rotations were smooth, but the pace was very slow. It felt like we were going 1 – 2mph slower than a typical breakaway which is a lot slower than normal. There were a few times that I bet most of the riders considered going solo, but the head wind would kick up every time they tried to attack the group. Also, there were only a couple riders who could have attacked the break and ridden away. Each time someone attacked the break, it didn’t contain the legs required to ride away.

Tip of the Day: If you plan to attack your breakaway companions, make sure you are one of the strongest riders in the break. Don’t think that you are going to successfully attack a break if it contains stronger riders than you.

With around 12 miles to go, my teammates rolled up to the break so I knew that it would come down to Thomas Brown sprinting for the win. I considered going off the front solo and probably should have tried since he may have let me go since he couldn’t chase every rider on our team. We could have started launching guys and forcing him to chase each one. If there is only one very strong rider left in a front group riding against a group of riders on the same team, that’s probably the most effective approach. At some point, they have to stop chasing each attack and hope that no gap is established. I never attacked, so I’m not sure if that would have worked.

In the end, my teammate Brendan Cornett made a perfect attack leading into the steep uphill sprint. Thomas had to chase, but he couldn’t see me about three bike lengths off his rear wheel. In hindsight, I should have kept that gap and used it for a flying start into a fast sprint right as the hill started. It would have been tough, but I would have flown by at a couple miles per hour faster. Instead, I sat his wheel and couldn’t come around since the uphill effort made the draft effect less important. So, it was a second place on the day.   Several years earlier, I was in a similar finish where I dropped a few bike lengths off his bike and got a running start.  I’m not sure why I forgot how to approach a steep finish with a three man break, but there you go, that’s bike racing.

On the back front, things were not great, but it was strong enough to ride without a lot of pain.  I”ve realized the back spasms come from repeated hard sprints from corners, so I”m going to minimize those types of races this season.  Next season I hope to be back at Speedweek, but this year I’l be a spectator.

I remember reviewing race results when I was new to racing and being impressed by one rider’s results versus another rider’s results.  I had no idea what I was really reading.  I was looking at the surface of the results without any context.  I remember thinking, “Wow, rider A got 12th and rider B got 23rd.”  That’s an impressive result for rider A and not so great for rider B considering what little I knew about them.  I think a lot of casual fans and newer races still read results like that because I still hear people getting congratulated for results.

In Category 5, 4, and 3, there is some credit that can be given to riders.  If someone sits in the whole race as part of their strategy, then their 5th place finish may be the result of maximizing their talent.  However, in Pro/1/2 races, teams have strategies and riders play roles.  On many strong teams, there are many riders who could podium in a given race, but the team will designate specific riders as the focus for that event.  So, rider B may have been tasked with getting in the early break and rode 90 miles with three others into a headwind for four hours before getting caught by the pack.  If that rider still managed to finish 23rd out of over 100 riders after riding in the break for 4 hours, that result may have taken more effort and talent than any of their prior podium finishes.

Some riders sit in the pack for four hours essentially riding a recovery ride and then feel good about sprinting for 15th while all other 100 riders in the race were throwing down.  Two different riders can race the same race, but they experience vastly different races which was highlighted perfectly in this article: http://www.vervecycling.com/community/racing/power-data-analysis-solo-break-vs-sitting-in/

Blog Post – Comeback Time

As we heading into racing season, I’m writing with a little LL Cool J from the 80’s “….Don’t Call It a Comeback….”.  That’s not exactly the situation with my riding as I’m far from back and may never get fully back, but I’m healthy enough to train and race this season.  

The rehab process and has been long and hard with a lot of time spent planking, side planking, lunging, etc….you get the idea.  My weak glues and weak core are still weak, but just strong enough to support training now.  I can ride most days without severe back pain, so that’s a win alone.  I’m on a hardcore diet and went from 182lbs in December to 170lbs right now.  I’m going to keep going until I reach low 160’s or at least mid 160’s.   My power is lagging big time, but I’ve been 100% focused on zone 2 base rides until now, so I’m not going to get overly concerned with power in late January.  During the airport ride last week, I had a 20 min peak of 323 watts which is about 12 watts below normal this time of year.  On a percentage basis, that’s about 7% which isn’t bad considering the zone 2 base focus.  On the bright side, my base riding has left me fresh with a good starting CTL which is slightly ahead of plan.  I’d like to start race season on March 7th in Gainesville, GA with a CTL of 95, peak 20 min of 330w, and a weight of 165lbs.  My goal is to start May around 162lbs, peak 20 min of 345 watts, and CTL of 100.  If I avoid injury and illness, that’s very realistic.  If I can get the weight down there, I’m a little less concerned about a few watts here or there.  So, that’s the goal, and I’ll check in two weeks from now to see how it’s tracking. Stay tuned….

It’s been 20 days since my last post, and I’m doing pretty well in the back department.  I got my 2nd epidural injection and think the one disc herniation and 3 annular tears are potentially healing a bit.  It is hard to say what’s actually injured back there since a fall off a chair straight onto my back on hardwood followed-up by lifting pain with a dog may have pushed some additional things out.  Regardless of the damage, I’m on the mend, and I’m hoping to be pain free by December.

I’m back on the bike riding with a brace on my back.  It is a neoprene ace bandage, and it is about 8 inches tall wrapping around my midsection to support my back.  My hope is that I can avoid further injury with the back brace while simultaneously doing physical therapy to rebuild my core and protect the back without the need for the ace bandage.  I’m thinking it probably makes sense to ride with it until mid-November, and then slowly start riding without it.

If you want a good overview of herniations, the link below is the most comprehensive and visual explanation that I’ve seen:

http://www.chirogeek.com/Herniation/Herniation%20Page/disc-herniation-page.html

Blog – Back to Square One

I was about 80% healthy from the herniated disc when I bent down to pickup the smaller of our two dogs last Tuesday night.  Suddenly, I felt a jolt of lightning go through my back down my leg as I lifted him.  I dropped the dog and realized I couldn’t straighten my body.  I had done it.  I had reinjured myself when I was only a few weeks away from being healthy.  It’s hard to see if falling off a chair the prior week on my back or just too aggressively stetching my hamstring earlier in the day caused the injury, but I knew one thing, it was reinjured.  The worst part of the pain is the reinjured back felt much, much worse than the original injury.  I never had a moment when the back “went out”, but that moment was clear that something had badly slipped out of place, and I would be starting over.  It’s 3 days later and sometimes the pain is worse.  I can’t even think about riding a back since just walking is very painful.  It looks like I’ll have to reset expectations and dial back any 2015 cycling goals.  I can’t see myself getting back on a bike for a bit, and when I do, it’ll be at a snail’s pace.  Heck, that’s life, you win some and you lose some.  I’m just in a losing streak right now…

I woke up this morning to another EPO headline on Velonews highlighting that PED use in pro cycling is still an issue. I immediately started to think about the Cat 1 – Masters who have been testing positive over the last few years.  Then, I started to wonder how many of these masters cheaters had explored natural strength building exercises to improve their performance prior to going down the cheater path.  I’ve never gone down that path, and I’ve never even been tempted.  I don’t care enough about winning to even bump bars with riders at 1 to go, so I definitely don’t care enough to cheat.  I have a great career and a family outside of cycling, so maybe it’s easier for me since bike racing is a smaller part of my life.  I’ve always been more satisfied with a strong result in a stacked field that winning a race where the competition was not as strong.  I’m never impressed when I see a masters rider winning a masters race.  I’m always impressed when I see a masters rider on the podium of a big race because I know how hard it is to train hard enough to race competitively at a high level and avoid injury as you get older.

Prior to injury, I was focused on 1 min / 5 min / 20 min power, hill repeats, etc…  All these things are important, but they don’t matter at all if your muscles become so tight and inflexible that they eventually cause injuries.  My back injury (herniated disc / several annular tears) wasn’t a case of overuse, fit, form, etc…it was a case of no flexibility, inconsistent muscle strength, and some areas of weak core.  If I was a racer in my twenties, I probably could have raced without injury for years.  Eventually, the lack of strength in my glutes, no flexibility in my hamstrings, and no range of motion in my hip flexors would have caught up with me.  Since I’m race age 43 next season, it happened much sooner, and it is taking much longer to fix.  At this age, these muscles don’t become limber very quickly, and they also don’t rebuild as fast, so it is a long process to fix imbalances.  The best thing about the physical therapy is that I can see how much better off I’ll be in the long term.  I’m only about 50% convinced that I’ll get back to pain free riding, but if I can accomplish that, I could get faster because all the imbalances caused by weak / inflexible muscles create a slower rider.  If I fix imbalances, but I still have nagging back pain, then I’ll never be fast again, and I can live with that.  It’s a very real possibility since I’m over a month into this physical therapy and still feeling serious pain if I try to push for any extended period of time.  It may be that I have permanent damage that can’t be fixed, only managed enough to ride short group rides recreationally.  However, I’d like to look on the positive side and think about a more optimistic potential outcome.  If I can get pain free, then I could eventually get faster with a long rebuild.  I’ve lost a lot of muscle, so it could take 6 – 12 months to rebuild all my muscle, but if I can get pain free, continue PT exercises, and rebuild fitness/form, I would be a faster rider.  I was riding with so many imbalances across so many key muscle groups, that it caused strange compensations and over use by other muscles to make up for my weak muscles.  I think this is likely the reason why I always complained so much about fast crits.  Nobody else walked around hurt for several days post crit like me, and I couldn’t figure out the reason.  The likely reason is that my weak glutes, tight hamstrings, and inflexible hip flexors caused my other back muscles to compensate and created severe pain and soreness.  My rehab process involves a lot of trigger point therapy to remove tight muscles that have built up over time.  The mots common reason for trigger points is due to a muscle compensating for another weak or tight muscle that isn’t doing it’s job.  The muscle that is forced to compensate then becomes overused and worn out.  It knots up and cause a lot of pain.  When you add sensitive nerves running down the back to the equation and other injuries like herniated discs, it is a problematic mess.

So, 4 weeks into physical therapy sessions, and I’m happy to report that we’re making progress, but at least 8 – 10 weeks away from pain free riding.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever get pain free, but if it’s possible, it will not happen until December.  Fingers crossed…

It’s been over a month since I’ve last posted, and little did I know during my last post that I was racing with a herniated disc and several annular tears. However, what I’ve learned since taking a month off the bike and later starting physical therapy is that rest by itself will not fix anything. Also, at my age, “fixing” in the form of “healing” may not be the correct way to look at things. I may never get my MRI to reverse. In other words, I may live the rest of my life with a herniated disc and several annular tears, but the pain that accompanies these things is what I am working to remove. Physical Therapy has helped me understand that my muscle imbalances are likely larger causes of “pain” than the herniation. That is counter intuitive, but the theory is that I need to fix my imbalances, get pain free, then worry about the things that are showing up on the MRI like the herniation and annular tears.

I attend an excellent physical therapist in Smyrna called SET Physical Therapy. Within one session, Stacy had diagnosed several imbalances that included tight hamstrings, weak glutes, and tight hip flexors. We are doing acupuncture (dry needling) and various stretches and weights to fix those areas. After four sessions, I can see the road to pain free riding is in my future, but it’ll take another 4 – 8 weeks most likely. Since it’s now September, I’m fine with that timeline so I can be ready to start winter build in November.

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