I went into this week not knowing how the Jesse James 100 mile ride would go. I was out of town again for a decent portion of the week, and I’ve learned that work trips are hell on my back. My nerves were frazzled this morning, that’s for sure.
A Maddening Summer
For the new readers, a quick recap: I had lumbar spinal fusion just over a year ago. Titanium hardware now braces my spine from the front and the back. Trauma to my body was extensive. Now, my lower spine is fully fused from the bone grafts. However, the fusion has created excess movement in my SI joint which causes all sorts of nerve issues. I’m back in physical therapy, I sleep in a soft back brace, and I’m doing my horribly boring exercises like a religious zealot.
I can’t pinpoint the exact reason that work travel is so awful. A recent personal trip didn’t cause nearly as much suffering. I think work trips are a collection of the worst things — longer plane rides, 10 hour days of meetings in awful chairs with only a few sporadic 5 minute breaks, and not enough “reset points” throughout the day to realign me. On this recent trip, I focused on getting in at least 5000 steps a day (pathetic for most, a stretch goal for me) and doing core and PT exercises twice a day. To top it all off, I sleep in my brace and prop my body with tons of pillows to keep everything aligned in shitty hotel beds. Even with all of this, I still had problems with shooting nerve pain in my left leg during my meetings and on the plane rides. This journey has been maddening for someone like me who craves control, order, and predictability.
A Change of Goals
My original fall ride goal was a double century over Labor Day weekend with the gentlemen of Silver Cycling. After a handful of awful rides where extensive nerve pain kicked in after 60-90 minutes, I knew that goal was shot to hell. I regrouped and focused what WAS in my control — mainly, tons of core work, more walking, and shorter indoor rides where I could bail immediately if I had a flare up.
I’ve also been struggling with my goals as a cyclist overall. In 2016, I threw myself into distance cycling, with some strong performances in off-road and gravel shenanigans. I thought I could train harder and try my hand at some of the timed 12-24 hour pavement events in the ultracycling world. If I thought riding the trainer in the basement for 5 hours, pedaling in virtual 3 mile circles for 5 hours was fun. Imagine how great an OUTDOOR loop could be?!
Now I’m trying to refocus and just be “a cyclist”. A cyclist who helps others reach their goals. A cyclist who can hang on some of the good group rides around town. A cyclist who has a kiddo who crushes on the mountain bike. A cyclist who enables others to try new things by recommending great products. (And, a cyclist who helps fund her habit through her work as an Amazon Affiliate. Ha!)
I keep reminding myself of this shift in goals when I feel too out of shape, too big, too tired, too hurt to ride. It’s ok to just be “a cyclist” and ride as my body allows. If you hear me getting caught up in my head about this, nudge me back in the right direction please?
One of my cycling friends had asked me a few months back if I could ride the Jesse James 100 with her. I said no, as I had planned to do the 200 the weekend before. Since my back didn’t allow the 200, I let her know not long ago that I was back in for the 100 miler and did she still want to tackle her first century? She said yes, and a plan was hatched!
Her goal was to ride a pace of 15-16 mph. I thought — this is perfect, it will keep me in check, I won’t ride “too hard” and can hopefully avoid a nerve flare up, and I can focus on having fun for once. She was ok if I rode on ahead as I’m stronger in some areas than her (I’m a muscular diesel engine on the flats! vroom vroom!). The deal was I had to stop intermittently and wait for her.
The course was amazing, the aid stations well stocked, the course was beautifully marked, and there were SAG vehicles everywhere should you need it. I definitely recommend this ride!
When I was feeling peppy or wanted to catch a certain group, I could hightail it on up the road. I had a ton of fun dropping into a Grand Performance rotating paceline a few times today. (We were quick at stops and it paid off, resulting in us seeing the same riders multiple times during the day.) I had to keep myself in check and not get too far ahead, so it kept me from drilling it for any significant length of time. The playfulness of the ride was just what I needed. Being able to stop frequently also really helped, as I could get off my bike and stretch quite often. I actually had one guy comment on how “fast” I was, and it helped me remember that it’s all relative. Riding with a bunch of dudes who still race makes me feel like a slug!
I had hints of nerve pain and SI issues throughout the day, but since I wasn’t drilling it I could pay attention to my body and make changes quickly. Hip socket on fire? Focus on pelvic alignment and rounding my back. Hamstring numb? Maybe it’s time for a quick on-the-bike stretch of the leg and the back. With this diligence, I managed to finish out the ride without much nerve pain at all. My mid-back had some muscle spasms but nothing serious. As I sit here and type, I feel pretty dang good. Hell yeah!
My friend finished her first century with a smile on her face. She trained well, had a plan for fueling and hydrating and stuck to it, and managed her pace well across those 100 miles. I thanked her as well, as this ride gave me permission to listen to my body, “go slow”, and just enjoy the day.