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A View from the Drops; A Crazy Week in the Life of a Cycling Enthusiast…

This past week was a bit of a downer – and not only as weather goes. It was supposed to rain all week but I only really had to ride once on the trainer to avoid it, so we really lucked out there. There was a second trainer ride of the week, on Thursday, but that was for simplicity’s sake – and the fact it was cold outside and I just didn’t want to throw on all of the crap that would have been needed to stay warm.

Tuesday night we rode in short sleeves and shorts. Wednesday, had it not been raining, would have been knee warmers, wool socks and arm warmers. Thursday, had I ridden outside rather than choosing convenience and warmth, leg warmers, wool socks, arm warmers and a vest. Friday morning’s ride started out at just 38° (3 C) – so doing the math, that’s a drop of 44° or 24 C. For Saturday, it was full-on cold patrol; leg warmers, tights, wool socks, winter gloves, wind-stopper hat… Autumn, it appears, is here to stay. The weekly outlook is for fourteen days of the same – lows in the upper 30’s, highs in the low 50’s.

And that was the highlight. Friday morning’s ride was the real mess. We started out well enough. I’ve taken my computer off of my rain bike because I had a desire to be free of it for a while. I have a friend in the A Group who manages to ride without knowing how fast he’s going and he does quite well no matter the pace. I want to be able to do that, too. Well, I’m not very good at it, yet, so I can hammer some of my friends into the ground if I’m not careful – especially if I’m coming up to a City Limits sign I want.

Friday started out all fun and games. We rolled west, into the wind – I took some long turns up front, and we maintained a jovial mood. We stopped at a park to use the portable facilities and eat a snack. Everything was great. We’d rolled past a “Road Closed” sign, so Mike went up ahead to find out if the road was really closed or if we could get around… It was closed, so we looped back and decided to head for home.

Coming into the town of Durand, one of my “must get” signs, I started to crank the speed up a little early – I like to try to hurt those I can behind me to discourage them wanting to come around to try for the sprint. Cresting the little hill just before the sprint, I heard a shift of someone’s bike behind me and hit it. I hit the line smiling, north of 30-mph, then looked back and slowed to wait for my wife, Mike and Diane to catch up. Everything was smiles and chucks on shoulders. We looped around town to avoid crossing a massive set of train tracks five or six wide that we’d all fallen on at one point or another. It adds another two miles, but anyone who knows me, knows I don’t mind the bonus miles.

I was still up front and we were approaching the county line… another sign I like to get, but don’t “have to” have it… I picked the pace up a little bit – Strava shows I went from 20-21 to 23. My wife came around, if memory serves, to pip me, and we formed back up. She took the lead, I was behind her, and Diane and Mike followed.

My wife tapped out to go to the back and asked me to take it easy because Mike was having a tough time keeping up at 23. According to Strava, I picked the perfect gear for 20-mph and I kept it there. Two miles later, Mike was off the back by a quarter-mile. When he caught up, he complained of having a tough time. He said he could keep up at 20, but more than that was hurting him. Problem was, I’d been at 20… Diane is a medical professional, so we stopped at an intersection and she checked his pulse. It was faint, but she said he seemed to be regular enough. Mike said he was fine, so we pressed on. We let Mike take the lead so he could choose the pace with the wind at our back. We went on for another few miles but Mike would “hit a wall” every once in a while and slow from 18-19 to 16-mph and that’s when he mentioned he was short of breath, that he couldn’t get a deep breath.

Diane looked at me and we dropped back a bit… and she quietly said, “You need to call 9-1-1 right now”. I pulled out my phone and did as I was told, after making sure I heard right. Fortunately, we had just happened on the Gaines Township Fire and Rescue station, so we had Mike pull into the parking lot so she could check his pulse again. We got Mike off his bike and she checked him out. His pulse was “all over the place”.

We managed to keep Mike off his bike for a few minutes but he wouldn’t sit down. After about five minutes, with an ambulance on the way, he said he was okay again and went to get back on his bike. Diane was fairly adamant that Mike choosing to ride home was a very bad idea – and I liked the idea that we were sitting in the parking lot of the fire station (!). If there’s anywhere to be when you need an ambulance, it’s at the fire station for God’s sake. Diane and my wife, who was also on the phone with Mike’s wife or daughter, tried to talk him off his bike while I stood in front of his handlebar so he couldn’t get rolling to clip in. He tried to move his front wheel to roll, and I’d side-step in front of him again. This went on for a minute when two fire & rescue folks rolled up in their pickup. A woman got out of the passenger side and immediately went to Mike and worked on getting him off the bike with my wife and Diane. The guy who was driving grabbed a medical-looking bag and headed for the door of the fire station, urging us inside where it was warm. The woman tending to Mike told him she was a nurse and that he should go inside, just to get checked out. And finally he broke. He got off his bike and headed over to the door.

From there it was a flurry of activity and Mike getting sorted. Phone calls were made and I sat down with a small cup of coffee that the firefighter had offered. An already long story shortened, Mike finally agreed to a ride home in the pickup of the fire and rescue people, but no ambulance. He wanted to go home and wash up before he went to the hospital. He called his cardiologist and let him know what was going on. I put Mike’s bike in the pickup and after the ambulance techs ran a few tests, he got in the truck and took his ride home.

My wife, Diane and I rode home without our buddy.

Mike is doing well, though he’s in the hospital till he goes through a couple of procedures on Monday. The good part is they know what they’re looking for now. Having Diane there for the episode was perfect. Because she got his pulse, they know they’re looking at an arrhythmia problem rather than a racing problem. We stopped up to see him for a bit last night. He seemed to be in a good mood, though he’s pissed at the electrical heart doc who told him he should rethink his cycling. You can guess where that went. An “F” bomb or two was dropped.

According to what Mike said, they ruled out a heart attack, which is fantastic news. Sadly, they haven’t come up with a way to remove the cranky yet. They’re still working on that… and it’s a very good chance he’ll die of natural causes before they figure that out.

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The Ten Commandments of the Cycling Enthusiast: The Ninth Commandment

Thou Shalt Honor the Recovery Ride

Every avid cycling enthusiast rides too much… in the estimation of normal folk. And this, we know, is because normal folk are wrong. One only rides too much if cycling negatively impacts life off the bike and is greater than one hour a day during the week and two three four hours each weekend day, then, and only then, can the notion of “too much” be contemplated.

That said, this commandment is for the avid enthusiast who rides daily.

One should refrain from riding in a manner that is “all hammer all the time”. Doing so will surely result in injury, and be boring. Therefore, the ninth commandment of the cycling enthusiast; Thou shalt honor the recovery ride.

Enjoy your bike on occasion. Spin your legs a bit and enjoy the scenery that you normally miss because you’re in the hurt box, head down, tongue dangling precariously close to the spokes.

Your body, and your melon will thank you for it.

My Best Cycling Bud is Back….

My wife is my best friend, there’s no question. On the other hand, in the last seven years or so, I’ve spent a lot of hours on the road with my buddy, Mike.  He and I are cyclists cut from the same cloth, and it shows when we ride together.  We have a lot of fun.

Mike and I are the cycling equivalent of Goose and Maverick in Top Gun.  We’ll ride without the other.  We won’t like it as much, but we’d do it.

Three weeks ago, he broke his ass when our group was hit by a deer.  According to what I’ve heard, because I was up front and missed everything, I didn’t know how he could have possibly fallen hard enough to break his sacrum (just above the tailbone)…  He went over the back of the bike and landed on his ass.  At that old fart’s age, being as brittle as old farts tend to be, it makes sense, falling from that height.

He started riding, gingerly, after three weeks on the couch, the beginning of the week.  He rode with our small group Friday morning, then again yesterday.  We did 38 miles on Friday with an average of 18.8-mph.  Yesterday’s ride was 42 miles at 18.  My buddy is back.

I had a good time riding without him, but I didn’t like it as much.  Having him back, cycling is better.  Even if he is a dinosaur.  At least he’s a fast dinosaur.

Mrs. Bgddy got Runover by a Reindeer…

Seriously. Mrs. Bgddy got runover by a deer. My wife was hit by a deer yesterday morning on our bike ride.

We were heading north on a beautiful stretch of country road, about 22-mph. We saw the deer in the middle of a farmer’s field, and when she saw us, she started running, parallel to us, about 100 yards to our right. After 100 yards like this, she started angling towards us – I think it surprised her that we were faster…

I, being the nature freak I am, decided not to stop, but to see how long we could keep that up… 200 yards later she was almost on us, but still 15 yards to our right. Then a minivan appeared, heading south, towards us in the other lane. The deer saw the minivan and made an instant right turn and plowed into my wife, missing my rear wheel by inches.

She’d seen it coming and had almost come to a stop. Unfortunately, my buddy, Mike didn’t brake as fast as she did and got tangled up with her bike. He went down. Hard. The three others behind him managed to brake and come to a stop safely.

We helped Mike up and he dusted himself off. Meanwhile, my wife and I dislodged his bike from hers (handlebars and a shifter lever had to be untangled). He was favoring his hip but mounted his bike and we rolled for home.

With a few miles to go, Mike reached for his water bottle and he knew he was in trouble. He was jolted by a shooting, singeing pain up his backside.

Three hours later he was in the ER being x-rated and CT scanned.

Cracked sacrum. Six to eight weeks. His grandkids sang him “Grandpa got taken out by a reindeer”…

What a bummer, dude.

Cycling and Back Pain; My Experience and Why I Wish it would be Looked at Scientifically

I can’t explain why my back likes cycling so much, but the results of 47,000 miles in the saddle are in, and they’re good.

First, I have a confession to make; if you guessed that I ride the bike I do, set up as it is, for reasons connected partly to vanity, you’re not wrong.

No doubt about it, my bike is sleek and awesome. So is my other one. And my other one. Oh, and let’s not forget my mountain bike…

Variations on a theme…

Anyway, getting back to the point, I ride in an aggressive posture. There’s a lot of drop from the saddle to the handlebar on my bikes. The mountain bike is the only one where the drop is a bit closer to normal.

Where this becomes important is that I have a really bad back. I have suffered physical back pain for most of the last three decades, unless I’m riding a bike. I used to define good weeks and bad weeks by how many Aleve I had to eat (because of my being an addict, I never accepted narcotic pain meds even though they could have been justified – I’d end up eating them like candy, it’s my nature). Two or three pain relievers a day for six days of the week was a really bad week. Two a day for three or four days in a week was average. One or two days a week was a good week. Before cycling, there was no such thing as a week without an Aleve (before 1994 it was Advil or Tylenol but I didn’t want to have to go through the pill amount conversion).

Today, after seven years of cycling regularly, my back isn’t cured but it certainly is manageable. My Aleve habit has dropped from as many as 20 pills a week down to one or two – or even none most weeks. On my recent mountain climbing cycling sabbatical I didn’t take a pain reliever. Three days, 160+ miles, climbing hills I’m not used to climbing, and I didn’t need anything for pain. My last day off the bike was April 14th, it’s currently May 20th.

I don’t do sit-ups, I don’t do core exercises, I don’t stretch… I just ride my bike with a smile stretched across my face, and it’s all good.

I’m sure there are contributing factors that explain my results, but I don’t know how to explain the fact I’m not all that flexible (I’ve never been able to touch my toes) but I can ride my bike comfortably with the aggressive set-up I’ve got, and doing so actually makes my back feel better.

In the end, I’m sure the lack of belly fat has something to do with it, as does the fact that I still get a great core workout riding. I think there’s one other thing at work here. It’s more a law; A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Conversely, a body at rest tends to stay at rest…

What I know about abnormal pain and cycling; Distinguishing REAL pain from “my butt hurt ‘cuz I rode hard”…

Trigger (heh) warning:  I’ve always had a problem with the phrase “listen to your body” and I’ve poked fun at it from time to time.  I’m about to do it again, but only mildly.  You have been trigger (heh) warned.

I’ve always had a problem with the phrase “listen to your body”.  If we’re being honest, all too often “listening” isn’t the problem, it’s the interpretation of what the body is saying that messes people up.  All too often I’m amazed at what people take time off riding or running for.  Little tweaks, minor disturbances, tiny discomforts, a little twinge here or there under the guise of “listening” to… um… something.

I go by this simple rule:  If I can walk, I can ride.  This isn’t to say that has the possible chance of being the wrong thing to do, I just haven’t run into a situation like that yet, pardon the pun.

Last week, I wrote about my back barking at me.  I was in a fairly ridiculous amount of pain all day, every day – I messed it up, somehow, but I couldn’t figure out how.  I thought the issue might be tight hamstrings, but when I think back, I never have problems with tight hamstrings unless I’m riding on a saddle that’s too wide and I haven’t changed any saddles.  Then I went back to when it started hurting in the first place – when I took the Trek to the shop to have my name put on the top tube….  I rode my gravel bike on the trainer for a week or so.  The set-up is more upright compared against my other road bikes and it doesn’t have as much cockpit reach (22″ opposed to 22-1/2″)…  That’s when my back started barking.

Still, if I can walk, I can ride…

And I could definitely still walk.  The first day outside on the bike (last Friday) in a month, hurt pretty bad but I loosened up around mile fifteen (give or take).  I didn’t care anyway, I was outside!  Saturday, Mrs. Bgddy and I took the tandem out and that hurt.  All of that time in the saddle and pedaling a lot harder (tandems are about 20-30% harder than a single bike on the captain).   Still, outside, didn’t care.  Sunday was more of the same on the tandem.  You know the drill.  I could walk, so I could ride.

All this week I was in pain but I rode anyway… till Wednesday.  My daughter had a swim meet and there was no way I had enough time to fit in a ride, even on the trainer.  So I took a day off for the first time in two weeks.  My back didn’t straighten up.  I spent the day with a nagging back.  Still, I could walk, so I could ride.  I got home from work and dutifully mounted the Trek on the stand at quarter after Five… and 20 minutes in, I could feel my saddle nose in a way one doesn’t want to feel a saddle nose whilst riding.  I rode for another 10 minutes to see if I could shift my way into feeling better.  Nope.  At 30 minutes in, I dismounted, grabbed my Allen wrenches from the bike room, and adjusted the nose of the saddle down an eighth of a turn each on the back and front bolt (back out the back bolt, tighten the front – that’ll lower the nose).  I got back on the bike and the adjustment was a little too much.  It felt like I was sliding off the saddle, from back to nose.  I loosened the front bolt a sixteenth.

Bingo.

I rode the last fifteen minutes and felt quite nice actually.  Take a guess at whose back doesn’t hurt so bad this morning…  It’s not completely healed but the pressure is off and I don’t feel it sitting here writing this post, a distinct change for the better.

Folks, the normal “listen to your body” deal is take a bunch of time off and heal up, then continue at a cautious pace, blah, blah, blah.  If I’d have done that, it’d be another two months before I figured out what the real problem was, I’d be slower, fatter, and I’d have missed out on four fantastic days of outdoor cycling in the middle of winter…  Instead, I’m fitter, faster, and I fixed the root of the problem – all because I told my body to shut up and take it.

I am not a doctor and I don’t play one on this blog.  I don’t trust my doctor, either, because he’d have me taking time off too…  That’s what doctors do.  So, how do I know when to take time off and when to tell my body to suck it up?  I don’t have a good answer, other than “if I can walk, I can ride”.  The rest tends to work out in the wash.

The answer, methinks, is to do what you feel is right.  Just make sure the interpretation is the right one.  And if you’re going to hurt yourself, don’t do what I do!  Listen to your body and take some time off!  Or somethin’…

 

Now that you’ve finally begun, don’t quit…

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