Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Limping through the season

Time Pro Cycling has strung together a few excellent weekends, with 2nd at the Iron Hill USA Crit, 3rd at the Louisville NRC (after lapping the field), 1st at Norton Commons, and most recently 3rd, 4th, and 6th (again, lapping the field) at the Boise NRC/USA Crit! The team is really firing on all cylinders and we are hoping to bring Adam Myerson home for the overall USA Crits win, as well as secure the Team Overall and the U-25 Overall. We have the Crossroads Criterium Series coming up this Friday through the following Friday, leading into the big-money Charlotte criterium and our own race at Haynes Park in Winston-Salem.

The U-23 guys (Eric Barlevav, Jackie Simes, Andy Baker, and yours truly) are going to pick and choose which Crossroads races to do, and Andy and I are flying out early on the Sunday before Nationals (just 12 days from now) in order to scout out the TT and road courses as well as acclimate. The guys are super motivated and ready to rock!

I found my racing legs at Louisville and Norton, where I finally felt like my old, powerful, attacking self after over two months of purgatory trying to find my form following my car accident, a broken rib at Nature Valley, and a concussion on the final monsoon-stage of the Tour of PA. Unfortunately, my bad luck and even worse timing continued . . .

My high-side crash at the tail-end of the Norton criterium has turned out to be much worse than I had anticipated. It has now been nine days since the fall, and I am still hobbling around and unable to put shorts on without leaning on something. I had been riding all last week right after the accident, putting in really hard 4+ hour rides on Thursday and Friday, but found myself out of commission after I pulled a tendon in my left knee that seems to give me some grief every winter.

I had been putting up with the stiffness and sharp pains in my hips and lower back for the past seven days by pounding five or six Advil each morning and at lunch, but after my knee flared up I decided to just ride longer and really easy to try and keep it moving . . . then Monday morning I decided to really assess the situation: no ride, no Advil, lots of ice. I came to the heart-breaking realization that my heavy dosage of pain killers had been causing me to think my maladies were mending, but in fact they were still plaguing me almost as painfully as the day after the crash!

First I called my mom and vented for 40 minutes about how frustrated I am: I have now had five crashes this season, including two broken bones, two concussions, 30+ stitches in my forehead after getting glass removed, and lots of road rash. I have struggled mentally to overcome my setbacks, as each accident occurred at perfectly spaced intervals to prevent me from really getting the ball rolling and getting my form back to previous levels. I have felt the pressure of being on a new team with new teammates and failing to come through with the success that I know I am capable of when I am 100%. I have dealt with the stereotype of being just a strong time-trial-specialist who is not able to read a race or ride at anything faster than a steady 30 mph for 30 minutes. I worked incredibly hard from October 2007 to May 2008, and put much more pressure on myself than I had realized, only to find numerous setbacks that have prevented me from reaping the rewards of my efforts.

My mom is an excellent support system, and she was incredibly understanding and helpful. She knows when to just listen, when to give me some advice, and when to tell me to quit my bitching and man-up. My dad is always there for me 110%, but he is like I am (maybe that is backwards!): he cannot help but attempt to solve problems, and most of my problems this season have no solution. My mom and I came to the realization that no matter what happens for the rest of the season, I am going to come out with incredible new experience in some of the country’s biggest and fastest races, as well as loads of training and racing at levels I have never reached previously. But most importantly, I am going to have a bunch of excellent teammates and friends who are motivated to come back out next year and just rock! It will be HUGE to know my teammates, how we race, how we live together, how we travel, and how we deal with rough patches. I want to make the most of the rest of the season, and I have some huge races coming up, even if I am dealing with some injuries and still looking for that “the-chain-is-missing” form.

After Erik Saunders came over to the house for a little visit and saw the ice bag riveted to my knee, we talked about my injuries and, always the man with the answers, he told me to call Dr. Matt. Dr. Matt is our pro-bono team doctor and a good friend of Mike Stoop’s. We talked on the phone and Matt said that if I am still having severe pains and stiffness in my pelvis and hips after over a week has passed since my crash, then there is a good chance that I have a hairline fracture or I have broken the tough outer layer of bone between my ligaments and bones. In either case, the body treats the injury like a break, and just takes weeks to come back to 100%.

In my stir-crazy cabin-fever dementia, I decided I would take a second day off the bike and travel by Amtrak up to Richmond, Virginia to pick up my Vespa from Mike Stoop’s house and drive it back down to Winston. The trip would dovetail perfectly with a visit to Dr. Matt so he could poke and prod me and give me the news, for better or for worse, as well as tell me whether a chiropractor (NOT covered by my insurance!) would be helpful or necessary.

So here I am, riding in a comfortable-but-packed train up from High Point, NC to Richmond, VA. I am looking forward to driving the Vespa over 200 miles on some beautiful back roads, through hills and small mountains, back to Winston, and I am anxiously awaiting Matt’s diagnosis. I know that, with the help of Advil, I can come back to riding (and maybe even training) tomorrow, but the knee issue is something I have had before and needs to be cared for very well or it can be a plague that lasts for weeks. I have to get back into things steadily and surely, and make the most of the next 14 days before the U23 National Time Trial (with the criterium the next day and the road race three days after).

It has been a very tough season for me, but Iron Hill and especially Louisville confirmed to me that, no, I DON’T suck, and that I am still at another level than I have ever raced at before even when I am not 100%. I just need to get healed, get healthy, and not put pressure on myself to adhere to a timeline or expect certain things from certain races in August. After all, I know that cycling is a tough sport and if it were really easy to go out and dominate I probably wouldn’t enjoy it! Perseverance pays off, I just have to stick with it through thick and thin and always remember what it is I love about racing my bike.


Pete Basso said...

Keep your head up Nick, your young and will recover quick. Just don't make it any worse or you'll pay later in life when your my age! Good luck with the upcoming races and especially the nationals. We're all pulling for you!!

Carson said...

Nick! Keep your head up bud! Your an amazing role model for us back in Iowa. You show us that we make the leap with the big boys!

I enjoy seeing your success. I know you and your team will do awesome the rest of the year!