Monday, May 6, 2013

Getting hurt, humbled and feeling hopeful

It was a lousy race, and I also took lousy photos. To get a true feel of how kickass this course is, venture over to IngotImaging to see race shots.
Let's just get straight to the point: Saturday's 2013 Texas XC Mountain Bike State Championship Series race — the Prayer Mountain Pedal at Big Cedar in South Dallas — did not go as planned. In fact, it really sucked for yours truly.

I signed up for the race well over a month ago thinking that it would be another great opportunity to race a trail I was training on regularly. It's a tough trail — lots of climbing, plenty of roots, and tree trunks line the twisty singletrack and seemingly are magnetized to attract your handlebars and throw you to the dirt.

All that being the case, I really enjoy riding this trail. It requires focus. Now, that's not to say I'm really skilled on the trail. I've fallen most every time I have ridden Big Cedar, once hard enough to warrant a trip to the doctor. A spill in a rough rock garden had me concerned that I broke my shoulder. Luckily, I was wrong, and I healed.

My riding, in fact, had improved greatly. Last week, I had a particularly good training session at Big Cedar — rode fast, climbed like a mountain goat and stayed on my bike the whole friggin' time. That was an excellent day. It convinced me that despite training for a 24 hour endurance race, I could be competitive in a quicker competition — the two-lap, 16-mile cat 2 Prayer Mountain Pedal race.

DORBA, which helped coordinate the race, does things differently. All of a sudden, 29-inch tires seem inadequate. 

On the day of the race, the Big Cedar was packed. I read that 500 cyclists were signed up to compete, and it appeared each took his or her own car — soooo many vehicles. And, sooooo many badass bikes. I arrived early to watch the pro and cat 1 racers speed through the course (and stare at their bikes). As it turned out, I had plenty of time to watch racers (and, say it with me ... stare at their bikes). The start times had been pushed back at least thrice since I signed up for the race. TMBRA could have done a better job communicating the time shift; but I can't complain about getting to sleep a little later and hang out. During this extra waiting time, I heard a cat 1 racer say that a section of the course — the right turn immediately after a creek crossing around mile 5 — was slick as ice because of all the riders' wet tires rolling through the corner. I thought, "I know that section. Duly noted."

While lining up for the race, I managed to get marked with the the incorrect age group (group 2 instead of group 3). So that wasn't a good start, but not the end of the world. Despite the incorrect mark, I started with my correct wave (30-34) and promptly ate the dust of the racers who are in the top 10 for the TMBRA series. I knew I probably wouldn't catch all of them, but I knew my familiarity with the crazy-ass climbs would benefit me down the road, er, trail.

All was going well. I started to make up time, passing a guy from San Antonio I chatted with before the race and some group 2 racers. Then, I reached the "slick-as-ice spot." I splashed through the creek crossing, reaching the other side and approaching the right turn. I was going too fast. And, in a split second, I went down. Hard and fast. Still clipped in, the right side of my body slammed onto the singletrack. That sorta hurt. But, what really hurt, was my left knee, which slammed directly onto the top tube of my bike's aluminum frame. The pain was immediate. I writhed on the ground. I said choice, four-letter words. I was pissed. Even worse, I was really hurt. The bruise and swelling were instant. I couldn't bed my knee without feeling a sharp, stabbing pain.

Minutes passed and riders passed, and I eventually tried to walk off the pain. Then I foolishly tried to ride my bike. No chance. Each attempt to press down with my left leg was met with an intense pain in my knee cap that shot up and down my leg. I could taste the pain. So I walked. More riders passed me. Even though I did my best to stay as far off the singletrack as possible, some were audibly pissed that I was in their way. Others were varying degrees of concerned. Several asked if I was OK. I replied to some, saying that I wasn't OK, but there was little they could do. Some said they would alert race officials who were about 3 miles away. It was really no use. I had to get out of the woods on my own power.

I walked up and down the tight trail, moving into weeds as best I could when riders approached. I leaned against the bike's saddle, using it like a rolling crutch. The climbs sucked, but the descents were even worse. It was difficult trying to maintain balance with a leg that could neither bend nor support much weight. I gritted my teeth and sucked it up. I was especially upset when I walked the hilly switchbacks that I had recently conquered and felt comfortable on during training rides. On the few flat stretches, I clipped in with my right foot and pedaled with one leg, shifting like a maniac for small changes in elevation in order to maintain momentum.

After the 3 miles of this race hell, I eventually finished my only loop for the day and went straight to the EMTs. They iced me up and offered to take me either to the ER or my car. I thanked them for being out there and for their offers but declined and opted to pedal another half-mile to my car, making a slashing gesture across my throat as I passed the race officials' table. I was done for the day. Dammit.

I packed my crap and went to Primacare pronto. Long story short: X-rays were negative, I was ordered to rest, elevate, ice and take some anti-inflammatory pills. If the pain didn't get any better by Wednesday, I would need to get an MRI. Based on my 1-out-of-10 pain level (a solid 8), I was certain I would need to get an MRI. Dammit.

Well, it's Monday evening, and, miraculously, I feel pretty good. I can bend my knee, and the pain is minor. I'm sore, but the knee is hardly swollen now, and I am walking quite well. I'm hopeful that I will continue to improve and won't obsess about not training. That's easier said than done. This injury is going to set me back considerably when it comes to training for 24:00. Alas, the only thing I can do is get well. I may line up at Palo Duro less prepared than I would like; but, I can't afford to start that race injured. So, more rest is in order this week. If I'm lucky and feeling up to it, I may get in a short road ride. We shall see.

You never know what will happen each time you set out on a journey, race or daily, mundane errand. It could be a matter of what we eat (beware the blueberry doughnuts), our state of mind, dumb luck, the nature of our activities or a combination of factors that lead to bad ish happening. Regardless, we have to dust ourselves off and get back to business. And that's what I intend to do. Unlike past road bike crashes, I will not allow a spill on the dirt to ruin my passion. I love to ride bikes, and it's going to take a lot more than a sore knee to keep me from pedaling my ass off.


That Pink Girl said...

Falling sucks. Plain and simple. And it hurts. Both our bodies and our pride. I can still remember a big crash I had as a young un. It sticks with you.
But you are stronger than any trail and I know once you're healed and no longer wonky, you'll get back on the same trail and kick ass the only you can!

Michelle K said...

Oh man! I am sorry to hear the news, but I am happy to hear that you are progressing so nicely. Rest up, heal up, and live to fight another day.