Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bruised, Battered and Tired

I think I may be burned out on endurance mountain biking.

This happens, and it's rarely a permanent condition. I can't say it's ever happened to me, and at this point I'm not entirely sure what's going on. But a couple things happened this weekend while I was riding solo in the 24 Hours in the Sage that are making me feel burned out.

The obvious thing was going over the bars and doing a headstand on the bare granite drop called The Notch, and then landing on my back on something pointy. Right above the belt line left of my spine I have a deep bruise of some kind that gives me a sharp bolt of pain if I make certain movements.

I DNF'd, spent half an hour talking to an EMT who suggested I go get a CAT scan. Another hour having friends from Salida who are health care professionals help. They felt around finding the impact spot and using their knowledge of human anatomy to confirm that it couldn't be a short rib that might puncture my lung or a bruised kidney. Probably right near the top of my pelvis there's a muscle that's been smashed. Maybe a little splinter of pelvis bone that moves around in that sore meat when I bend? Kind of feels like that.

The other thing? During the six laps I did ride I was feeling more and more like I was going through the motions.

I don't really do lap races anymore. Except when I do. When a race has some sentimental and social significance I get attracted. That feeling brought me to the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo in February, and fond memories were the definite deciding factor for going to 24 Sage. It's a great party, KOA Dave is an awesome host, and I always see lots of old friends. At registration Friday night Dave had a local caterer with a little brick oven on a trailer set up, and they cranked out fresh tasty pizzas one after another. And there were kegs tapped.

It's a great event, and I did see old friends. Got to hang out and talk with Dave and his wife Kirsten. Dave has fielded 24 Hour teams using the name Mud Pigs for over a decade. I rode my first 24 Hours of Moab in 2001 with the Mud Pigs.

Dave center, Steve left
I've had a successful season. I'm as fit as I've ever been. Before I signed up for 24 in the Sage I had met my goals for the year. I've ridden a bunch all over Colorado, and been in as many events/races as any year since 2007. My riding log as of today shows almost 3,400 miles. The season started early and has been quite full:
  1. January: Lots of long training rides, including tough 50 and 60 mile days at Lake Pueblo State Park
  2. 2/10: Tour de Palm Springs, 100 mile road century
  3. 2/17-18: 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, Solo, 194 miles
  4. 4/28: Big Gravel Grinder around Black Mountain in South park, 82 miles
  5. 5/19: Dirty Double Fondo Gravel Grinder, 128 miles, 13 hours
  6. 6/8: Salida Big Friggin' Loop, DNF due to odd afternoon brain goof, but still 83 hard miles
  7. 6/29: Durango Dirty Century, 100 amazingly hard miles, 17 hours and 20 minutes
  8. 7/13: Chama Redneck, 82 hard miles, 12 hours and 20 minutes
  9. 8/4: Vapor Trail 125 Individual Time Trial, 125 spectacularly hard miles, nearly 23 hours
  10. 8/17: Steamboat Stinger, 50 hard and intense miles, 7 hours and 20 minutes
  11. 8/24: Six laps of 24 Hours in the Sage ending with crash in the dark
Got a good night's sleep in the truck Friday night with a little soothing rain after dark. Up Saturday, hot coffee and getting things ready. Then the start.

The first couple laps were pretty fun; mountain biking at Hartman Rocks on a course I know well, only with a couple sections of new singletrack that made it even more fun. It was going pretty well. Then at the start of the third lap I rode through a 15 minute rain squall that soaked me to the bone and made my chain all grindey and noisy. The squall passed and eventually the sun came back out, but it gave me a little dose of negative.

In subsequent laps I started feeling like a machine. The familiar feeling of finding a pace that I can maintain indefinitely as fatigue sets in. Turn the cranks. Deal with the climbs. Recover on the descents. Breath in, breath out.

I'm pounding out laps. My goal was 15. At the completion of every lap I'm doing the math and concluding that I'm on pace to pull it off if I can stay strong through the night. And I keep thinking, "Why is it that I'm doing this? Why exactly do I have this goal, and why is it important? Maybe I should have just paid the entry fee to come over here and party?"

So there's that. But I'm wanting (needing?) to go straight ahead into that bare, raw experience of being on a bike at 4 AM near exhaustion; for the purpose of getting in touch with myself in a way that can only happen when the filters have been washed away. I have some things that I need to work out (when in life do we not?). Some things in my life are happening just now that I don't think I'm really understanding or getting in touch with during my normal waking routine. I know that riding around the clock determined to finish 15 laps will probably take me there. The lap count goal is ultimately a means to bringing on a vision quest.

So I keep at it. Ride a lap, go through start/finish and say thank you to the people at the timing table. Back to my truck, fill up my bottle and do whatever else I need to do. Back out for another lap. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Then it gets to be sundown and I mount up my lights. The start of the interesting part. The part I'm really here for.

I roll into that 6th lap, a third of the way to my goal. I'm feeling as good as I probably ever have at that stage of a 24 solo. I know it, and it's good, but it's just kind of a basic fact. Not particularly joyful, just a fact. This season I've been riding well and feeling good, and often experiencing the happy feeling that I'm holding up better than I might have in past seasons. But in previous events it's been way more positive. Saturday afternoon and night, it was just kind of neutral.

I'm finishing out the 6th lap. I roll into The Notch, the technical test at the end of the singletrack part of the course. I've ridden it five times already during this race with no incident. But I've crashed here before, at night during this same event years ago.

For some damned reason I rode a different line than what I'd chosen all day. My front wheel dropped into something and stopped, back wheel comes up and I smash down onto my head then over and onto my back. Sharp, horrible pain. I'm laying on my side in the dust; my bar mounted light is blazing up into the sky. I yell out an expletive or two.

I know immediately that my race is over, but how bad is it? Am I going to need search and rescue to get my ass out? Hurts!!

I hear a voice and see a light above me, "You OK Tom?"

"Who is that?"


I know Jefe is in this race to be on the podium, maybe win. And I'm in this... why?

He asks me if I need help and I tell him no, go on. I actually didn't know yet if I would need help, but there will be other people coming through; people who aren't in it to win it. I know he'll stop and help me if I ask, but I don't want Jefe compromising his race. If I need help I'll ask somebody else.

The rest of the story is nothing special. I figured out that I could walk. I was worried that it could be my kidney, and it really hurt. Electric shock pain and muscle spasms when I make certain movements, like bending to pick up my bike. But I'm able to move. I'll get to the road then ask the course marshal for help if I need it. Turns out I don't, I can ride the road back to the KOA.

At the start/finish I tell the timers that I've crashed and I'm dropping. I'm having trouble talking because the spasms keep forcing the air out of my lungs. They call Michael the EMT and he checks me out, then uses a golf cart to get me back to my camp. Another event staffer follows pushing my bike. Brian and Sarah see me being brought back and start helping. Jari, who is in the camp next to mine supporting Jefe, brings a bag of ice and they all help me crawl into my truck to lay face down with ice on my back.

Eventually with the help of Brian and Sarah I conclude that I don't have a life-threatening injury. Getting myself out of my bike clothes and into comfortable clothes takes a half hour of awkward movements and yelps of pain. But I wasn't desperate enough or hurt enough to ask somebody to get me naked and help me put my undies on.

I pee'd and saw that there wasn't blood in it.

After a while Brian, Sarah and I went over to the race HQ to get some food. I was more or less OK as long as I didn't try to bend at the waist. If I do the penalty is swift. But I could walk, and even smile a little.

I'm still trying to sort out how I feel about things. As always, it could be much worse. I could have had hospital injuries, could have even been a spinal or brain injury. Being busted up makes a person grumpy, but I am also really thinking about that feeling I had as I warmed up the diesel--going through the motions.

I'm probably out of the Vapor Trail 125, two weeks away. But that's OK, I already slayed that beast earlier this month. Finishing that and the Durango Dirty Century were my only real endurance riding goals for the year. I did those things. I have my health, in fact I'm in great health. I know people my age who are not so fortunate. The source of pain and discomfort in my back will heal.

I think I'm going to turn to other aspects of my life for a while. I have an elk permit in October and a deer permit in November. If I care about that I should spend some time scouting my game areas. I can help with running the Vapor Trail 125. I can enjoy the good things going on in my life and spend some energy dealing directly with the hard things.

And I can heal and rest. No reason to keep beating the dead horse that is my body right now.


Matt said...

Heal up amigo! You had one hellofa a year and yeah of course it's reasonable to be burned out right now.

kw said...

Sorry to hear about the crash, glad to hear it wasn't any worse. All's good as long as the get downs equal the get ups. Great reading about the summer exploits. Hope to see you in Oracle Az this winter kw