Saturday, September 28, 2013

And Then It Starts All Over Again

Here is the home gym as seen from my trainer-mounted road bike.
The state cyclocross championships are 10 weeks from today. I have decided to train as if I were going to race for the Cat 4 Masters 45+ title. Today I worked out indoors, “riding” a bike for the first time since breaking my collarbone three weeks ago. (It was my first trainer ride since Apr. 10.) My doctors say indoor trainer workouts are OK. I’m sure they picture me sitting perfectly upright with my left arm in a sling, but I am able to ride on the tops and on the hoods without any trouble.

I will be 13 weeks post-injury on December 7. That’s a lot of healing time. When I thought surgery was inevitable, I thought my cycling season was over. Now I’m not sure, so I will try to rebuild my fitness and keep my options open. I was in good shape when I got hurt and I think I will rediscover my legs. Today’s trainer session was a modest start: an easy 60-minute spin. Over the course of the next two weeks I will increase the intensity. Even if I get discouraging X-rays on Oct. 14 and I lose all hope of riding again this year, I can follow a less ambitious training program and start building my base for 2014.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Great Britain’s Brian Cookson was elected today to lead the UCI, cycling’s international governing body. The controversial reign of Pat McQuaid is over. Nearly a year ago as the cycling world began to digest the “reasoned decision” handed down by USADA in the Lance Armstrong case, I called for McQuaid’s resignation. McQuaid did not resign; I guess he didn’t see my blog post. Oh, well.

Early this month as other federations were announcing their support for the candidates, I took a more direct approach with USA Cycling to let it know where I stood:

On Sep. 18, USA Cycling announced its support for Cookson.

Am I really taking credit for today’s victory? Of course not. But I am taking credit for caring enough to let my national federation know how I wanted it to cast its vote. I expected other Facebook users to do the same, but no one added a comment in agreement or in dissent.

I should not be surprised: America is a country where nearly 100 percent of the population complains about politics but an election is considered a success if 50 percent of the voters actually turn out. Most people feel like they cannot influence the process, so they don’t even try. And we see the same dynamic outside of politics. How many of us believe that we “just have to live with” the terms dictated to us by our employers or by the companies on whose goods and services we rely?

Motivated groups or even individuals can exert disproportionate influence simply by expressing their opinions. Decision makers know that most people, no matter how dissatisfied, will sit quietly on the sidelines. So, when somebody does speak up, that voice can seem louder and more powerful than it really is. You can count on me to keep using mine.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Episode IV: A New Hope

Back on September 8 there was no doubt that I had broken my collarbone. I knew it even before I stood up after crashing in the WORS race at Lake Geneva. X-rays at the emergency room provided the official confirmation. A second set of X-rays on September 12 prompted an orthopedic specialist in West Bend to caution me not to expect the injury to heal on its own. A third set of X-rays on September 19 led the same specialist to refer me to a surgeon at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee.

Today I met with that surgeon and he was amazed at the ease with which I could move my arm. I have excellent range of motion and very little discomfort. I thought I was going in for a pre-surgery pep talk today but instead I came away with a recommendation to wait a while longer to see how far natural healing takes me. I will be happy to avoid surgery if I can, however I made it clear that my first priority is a full recovery. If surgery is the only way to get back to 100 percent, then surgery is the way to go. New X-rays are planned for October 14. I will be five weeks post-injury and we should see clear indications of progress. On three prior occasions, this shoulder has healed itself. For the next couple of weeks, at least, I can hope that it will again.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Exquisitely Bored

A new season of The Simpsons begins next Sunday.
Since breaking my collarbone two weeks ago, I have been challenged to fill the hours that I would have spent on the bike and in the weight room. In some ways, I have turned the clock back 25 years to a time when I wasn’t an athlete. Autumn 1988 found me in my native Pittsburgh where I enjoyed music, movies, sitcoms and televised sporting events. In the last two weeks, entertaining myself has consisted of this:
  • 22 music albums
  •   7 James Bond movies
  •   4 other feature films
  •   3 Pittsburgh Pirates baseball games
  •   2 University of Pittsburgh football games
  •   2 Penn State University football games
  •   2 Pittsburgh Steelers football games
So, I found something like 60 hours of entertainment … or at least distraction, because you wouldn’t describe me as “entertained” when my favorite teams lose. That part of my personality has been consistent throughout my life, but in many other respects I am not the same person I was in 1988. Here in 2013 there really is no substitute for physical activity, especially outdoors. This afternoon I went out for a 1-hour hike but it turned painful after only 30 minutes. My left shoulder started to ache. It needs a little more quiet time. At least my spirits were raised by the fresh air, sunshine and wooded trails.

Also today, I finally got around to inspecting my mountain bike for damage from the crash at Lake Geneva on Sep. 8. I may have bent the rear derailleur hanger, but the bike seems OK otherwise. The bike was shifting badly going into the race, so the hanger will be just one more thing to address. And there’s no rush … just like the Steelers’ offense.

Medically, the next step for me is a consultation with a surgeon at Froedtert Hospital on Tuesday afternoon. I hope to come out of that meeting with a surgery date. Right now I feel like I can’t make any plans and I want a timeline for my recovery.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Season Over

Today a new set of X-rays convinced my doctor that surgery is the only sensible course of action for my broken collarbone. I might know the date of that surgery as soon as tomorrow. For now, it’s enough to know that my 2013 cycling season is over.

I have the doctor’s OK to walk for exercise and even to ride a stationary bike, so I may be able to retain a little fitness. Some hikes on the Ice Age Trail and, eventually, snowshoeing will have to satisfy my desire to be active outdoors until next spring. And I probably should look into some dietary restrictions, as there’s no way I will be able to match my usual calorie burn.

Looks like the final tally for 2013 will be 130 rides for a total of 3,547 miles. Nine races, one century, lots of group rides … it wasn’t a bad year. But I had good fitness to begin the cyclocross season and missing out on the rest of those races is a big disappointment.

You would not believe how short my To Do list just became.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

An Early Look At 2014

My cycling plans for the rest of 2013 remain on hold due to a broken collarbone, but early this afternoon some of my plans for next year came into sharper focus. Here is the just-released 2014 WORS schedule:

05/04    Iola Bump & Jump @ Iola
05/18    Crystal Lake Classic @ Rhinelander
06/01    Battle of CamRock @ Rockdale
06/15    Red Eye Rendezvous @ Wausau
06/29    Red Flint Firecracker @ Eau Claire
07/12—13 Subaru Cup @ Portage
07/27    Sunburst Showdown @ Kewaskum
08/17    WORS Cup @ Mt. Morris
08/24    Reforestation Ramble @ Suamico
09/07    Treadfest @ Lake Geneva
09/28    Collectivo Coffee Bean Classic @ Franklin
10/12    Wigwam MTB Challenge @ Sheboygan

Those are the same venues from this year’s schedule, but for 2014 the Subaru Cup moves from Mt. Morris to the new trail system at Cascade Mountain in Portage. That probably won’t matter to me. Unless I change my mind over the winter, I won’t be competing for WORS series points next year. I would like to race at Wausau, Kewaskum and Suamico, but the rest of the schedule doesn’t fit my plans. Mix in a couple of WEMS races and I will have enough of a mountain biking schedule even without a full complement of WORS dates.

Cyclocross is probably going to be my No. 1 priority in 2014, especially if this collarbone fracture wipes out the rest of my 2013 season. I also intend to do more time trials. Mountain biking is not the whole enchilada, but today’s announcement from WORS is significant. Knowing that the WORS season will begin on May 4 gives me the likely date of the 2014 Cheesehead Roubaix: Sunday, April 27. That’s not final—mark your calendar with a  pencil, not with a pen—but it is my prefered date. Staying one weekend ahead of the first WORS race allows me to promote Cheesehead Roubaix as a good fitness test for the off-road racer crowd.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Waiting For Good News

“Waiting Room” by Stefano Fornara (2009)
After a new round of X-rays, I am still clinging to a little bit of hope that I won’t need surgery on my broken collarbone. Today I met with an orthopedic surgeon whose evaluation included not just the X-rays of my most recent injury, but also the X-rays of my first collarbone break. This is the fourth time I have suffered a significant shoulder injury, all on the left side:
  • 8/20/2008—Crashed on a group road ride in New Jersey. Recovered for 16 days before I could ride outside again. Collarbone was fractured but not displaced, and no surgical intervention was required.
  • 8/06/2010—Crashed on the Wild Goose State Trail. Recovered for 10 days before I could ride outside again. Suspected only soft tissue trauma and not a fracture. Did not seek medical attention.
  • 7/26/2012—Fell while running the bases in a softball game. Again suspected only soft tissue trauma and did not seek medical attention. Was able to continue riding without interruption.
  • 9/08/2013—Crashed in the WORS race at Lake Geneva.
Today the surgeon suggested that my previous injuries might have done some nerve damage, which could explain the almost complete absence of pain this time. On Sunday and Monday nights, I took an over-the-counter painkiller at bedtime just as a precaution against waking up in discomfort. And that’s it; I received no pain medication from the EMTs at the race or from nurses in the ER. Being a one-armed man has sucked, but it hasn’t hurt and I have a far greater range of motion than I did in the first few days after my earlier injuries. The surgeon has warned me not to take advantage of that fact. I must wear a sling and keep my left arm as quiet as possible. Next Thursday I will return to the surgeon for more X-rays. At that point I will be 11 days post-injury … maybe still too soon to make a decision on surgery.

The longer that decision takes, the more cycling events disappear from my calendar. If surgery is the way to go, then I have ridden my last miles until next spring. If natural healing progresses in a best-case scenario, then I might be able to return to the cyclocross series in October.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

2013 Treadfest

I broke my left collarbone today at Treadfest in Lake Geneva. Whether this injury will heal on its own is something I expect to find out after more medical consultations later this week. Surgery may be necessary. What is certain is that I'm in for at least a few weeks of pain and limited mobility. My 2013 mountain bike season is over, and my cyclocross season is in serious jeopardy. What a difference 24 hours makes! Yesterday I was fired up for 'cross, and now I'd be happy just to be able to tie my shoes.

You are NOT excused from 'cross practice on Tuesday! Jeff Wren now has the barriers, cones and flags, so he will run the practice in my absence.

Thanks for the well wishes, those of you who wish me well. I will have an update on my condition in a day or two.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

2013 Sheboygan Bicycle Co. Cyclocross Classic

The Wisconsin Cycling Association cyclocross season kicked off in Sheboygan today and I overcame a couple of off-course obstacles to take a strong 4th place out of 16 in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ field.

Last night I just couldn’t fall asleep. My legs were twitchy and my stomach was telling me to eat but my brain really didn’t want to. At about 2:30 a.m. I ate a thick peanut butter and jelly sandwich and about 15 minutes later I was finally asleep. Less than 4 hours after that, I was up again to down a bowl of cereal and make my way to Sheboygan. Despite the lack of sleep, I didn’t feel bad but I availed myself of a small bottle of Coke as soon as I got to the race venue. At registration I received Unwelcome Surprise #2: a set of numbers to wear on my jersey sleeves. (In past seasons we wore numbers only on our backs.) I understand that the numbers are "totally Euro" and will benefit the race officials, but for racers this new requirement just adds to the pre-race preparations. For the rest of the season I will be able to pin on the numbers the night before the race; today the process ate into precious warmup time. I did some sprints at the end of my warmup to compensate a little for its brevity.

I was confident on the starting line and I got off to a good start. But it didn’t take long for eventual winner Jeff Abitz to pass me and ride away virtually unchallenged. I think I was so defeated by Abitz’s acceleration that I literally forgot about him and settled into the race for second place. I knew I was going well: Jon Antonneau and John Lichtenberg took turns passing me and each other but everyone else was falling off the pace. I have never beaten Antonneau but I have beaten Lichtenberg and with everyone else losing ground I was happy just to cooperate with them until the fourth and final lap. We weren’t trading pulls on the front as a breakaway group might do in a road race, but our wheel-to-wheel racing brought out the best in us. Antonneau increased the pace midway through the final lap and I pursued closely. Then we hit The Equalizer, Sheboygan’s infamous dirt hill. Racers in the higher categories may have ridden to the top of this beast but it was a run-up for everyone in my race. I couldn’t close on Antonneau, and Lichtenberg used the final ascent to sprint past me. Remounting at the top, Lichtenberg worked his way up to Antonneau’s wheel but ran out of racecourse. So did I. After losing time on the run-up, I was really charging over the last 500 meters. With another 500 meters to race, second place might have been mine. Like I said, I literally forgot about Abitz and I thought I was racing for the win. (Abitz also won the open Cat 4 race later in the day.)

Fourth place is my best finish ever in a cyclocross race. I felt strong despite inadequate sleep and inadequate warmup time. I thought about taking an afternoon nap but instead I found a little more gas in the tank and went out for a fairly brisk 25-mile road ride. My 2012 cyclocross season came unglued as the days got shorter and colder. My training mileage plummeted because I wouldn’t ride after a Saturday or Sunday race. This year I plan to ride in the afternoons to hold on to that deep endurance I get from high mileage.

More Good News!

You might recall that after replacing my home’s water heater and my lawnmower I was scrambling for a way to afford the new cyclocross season. Well, problem solved! My wife and I completed the mortgage refinance process yesterday and confirmed that the first payment on our new loan won’t occur until November. With no payment due in October, I can replenish the household emergency fund and still have enough money to cover my race registrations and travel costs. If I don’t make it all the way through the ’cross season, then I’ll probably blame the weather and not my finances!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Back To The Future?

My road racing interests always seem to be in a state of flux.
Keenly aware that the new cyclocross season is less than a week away, on Sunday I took a preseason fitness test by time trialing on my ’cross bike to Campbellsport and back via the Eisenbahn State Trail. It’s a test I perform a handful of times each year, always shooting for less than 1 hour in each direction and a faster split on the return. I reached Campbellsport in 55:06—a good time, but not a personal best—and then raced back home in just 50:47, a personal record that beat the 51:19 I posted on July 8. That’s an 18.4 mph average on the return, covering 15.6 mostly-gravel miles with 700x32 knobby tires at 75 psi.

Obviously, I’m satisfied with any new personal best. But I also know that a long time trial is not the same kind of effort as a 30-minute cyclocross race. I proved—not for the first time—that I can sustain a hard effort once I get the motor going. My success in cyclocross will depend on good, long warmups; without them I will falter during the first chaotic moments and fall hopelessly far behind before I find my legs. I enjoy cyclocross, but I am not ideally suited to it. The shock of the start is hard for me to overcome. Building to a crescendo over a much longer effort is more my style.

It did not occur to me until Sunday that my 31.2-mile TT course is unusually long. Converting to metric, the distance is a little more than 50 kilometers. That’s longer than the last six UCI World Championship TT courses for top-level pros like Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara. For amateurs like me, a sanctioned TT would generally be no longer than 40 kilometers. (That’s also the standard for the bike portion of an Olympic-distance triathlon.) This chart from Sunday shows how I achieved a negative split after the turnaround in Campbellsport (the big decelerations correspond to intersections where I had to slow down or stop for motor vehicles):
It’s too bad I can’t run my Eisenbahn TT on a closed course!
I have done just a handful of TTs on the road and I didn’t get close to winning any of them (unless you count this one). Competing on a stock road bike, I entered those races for fun and fitness and never had any expectation of a good placing. My fastest TT came on Labor Day 2012: a 21.35 mph average over 19.3 rolling miles (31 km) just outside of West Bend. With the right equipment and training—and on the right course—I might be pretty good.

If I decide to throw myself at time trialing in a more serious way next year, the biggest problem might be finding events that don’t conflict with my other racing ambitions. With that in mind, I am revisiting the prospect of a Washington County Bicycle Club TT series. The first attempt was a failure, but the composition of the club has changed over the last few years. A revamped series, properly promoted, might appeal to the multisport community. There are a lot of triathlon/duathlon folks in the area and their training objectives are not really served by the club's Saturday rides. Neither are mine, so maybe my future with the WCBC will be to coordinate the century and the TT series.