Somehow I managed to have one of my worst rides, and one of my best rides, all within a span of a few days. The second ride got me into the blissful state of “flow” and I forgot just how good that could be.
Late last week I got a text from a friend who rides with Silver Cycling, asking would I want to go on a “long easy ride” on Friday? I said I couldn’t go as I would be at work. However, as a frustrating work week drained on, I decided on Thursday to heck with it, I would take a vacation day and go ride with the guys.
I followed up with a text asking how “long” was long? The reply was 100 miles or so. Gulp. I had ridden 165 miles the week before in my attempt to ride across Iowa. My fuzzy logic was that if I had ridden 165, I could easily do 100, right? Either way I was already committed and in.
We loaded up and headed out. From a few miles into the ride, I didn’t feel “right”. I did my usual, eating, drinking, letting others take pulls, and even letting my boyfriend help push me up a climb. The off feeling didn’t go away, and then I pinpointed what it was. My upper hamstring hurt, and the pain was starting to drift down the back of my leg. Aw shit, nerve pain. Here we go again.
I was shocked because it hit earlier than normal, maybe 20 miles into the ride. It starts as a subtle pain in my hamstring, and grows into a burning that spreads down the back of my leg. The best I can describe the pain as of late is that it feels like a muscle cramp that won’t let go. It renders the leg mostly useless, and I now have video evidence of my crappy pedal stroke thanks to a friend’s video of the ride.
I lobbied for a stop in Faribault, about 45 miles into the ride. I stretched, ate, stretched some more, and the burning pain abated a little. Stupidly, I told the group I would continue on to Northfield another 30 miles up the road. There, I would wait for my boyfriend to finish the ride and come get me in the rescue wagon.
… the best part of today’s ride was the sense of flow. I was focused, my mind wasn’t cluttered with stressful thoughts, and at times I felt like I was sailing through the woods. I forgot how much I loved mountain biking when it just “clicks”.
Rolling out of town, the pain shot back immediately. I think I do a good job of hiding how miserable I am, but I DO get really quiet and don’t hold up my end of conversation when it hurts. Sorry boys. By this point I felt like my hamstring and glute were locked into a cramp, and the outer edge of my calf was tingly. It was GAME. OVER. and even with my boyfriend pushing me up hills I couldn’t stay attached to the group. I made the decision to tell the group to ride on without me, leaving me in unfamiliar territory and not really understanding the route back to Northfield.
I was lost as shit, but didn’t admit it. My Garmin 820 tried to route me back to Northfield but I think I’ve told it gravel roads are ok. Problem is, they’re not right now as far as my back is concerned. I made it back, following road signs and staying on major highways.
I rolled into Blue Monday Coffee shop in Northfield right as the boys were getting saddled up to leave. They were so happy to see me, and I them. They asked how I was doing, and I simply gave them a big thumbs down, but said I’d be fine. I didn’t want to belabor the point and preferred suffering more in quiet. They offered me more Advil, but I know that anti inflammatories in the moment don’t help when things feel like this.
I took a quick break for water, then pedaled on. My goal was to get out of town before the rescue wagon got me, and I succeeded. I even made it to the section of highway with wide shoulders! I bagged 80 miles for the day and a few QOMs, and NO, they weren’t on hills where I was pushed. Swear to god!
My leg continued to have shooting pains for the rest of the weekend, regardless of my activity levels. It woke me up at night. My leg would go numb in meetings. Meanwhile, I persisted, ramping up the physical therapy, stretching, and core work. I cancelled ride plans to rest. I didn’t learn my lesson of scaling back when the pain started, but I’m a stubborn mule and will learn this lesson a few thousand times more, I’m sure.
After almost a week of rest, I was ready to try a ride again. I wanted to go solo, ride at my own pace, and be ok with quitting. I decided I would head into the woods and ride the mountain bike again on my favorite trails.
My mantra was “What Would Hammie Do?” “Hammie” is the nickname of my 9 year old son, a daredevil but surprisingly safe and self-aware little mountain biker. He can ride MANY more obstacles than his mom due to a combination of technique and lack of extraneous fear. Every time I mountain bike on my favorite trail, I focus on riding an additional obstacle or feature that I used to be able to ride before spine surgery. Today, I rode THREE more obstacles than last time without dismounting. THREE. It was a banner day!
My other focus was not braking so much. I get skittish and brake all the time, then have to work much harder to constantly reaccelerate. I focused on looking ahead, scouting my lines, and not staring at my front tire. It paid off! I got home and looked at Strava, and I posted my fastest times since surgery on every segment I checked. Also, I actually got my third best time on two segments outright.
Numbers aside, the best part of today’s ride was the sense of flow. I was focused, my mind wasn’t cluttered with stressful thoughts, and at times I felt like I was sailing through the woods. I forgot how much I loved mountain biking when it just “clicks”. I’ve gotta focus on the “fun” of riding more, and less on numerical goals. Any bets on if I’ll succeed?