Back in the saddle

I haven’t posted in a while, mainly because I’ve been riding my bike.  My clavicle break is finally healed, and I’m still working on recovering lost muscle mass/strength in my shoulder.  I’m working with a fantastic physical therapist who has taken my goals and made them hers.  And I’m doing great, riding again, even off road, and just started mountain biking again.  I’m not quite 100% where I was before the crash, but I’m progressing well.

Well enough I’m going to race tomorrow.

It’s Minuteman Cyclocross, in Lancaster, MA.  I raced this last year in the pouring rain, had a solid mid pack finish, and a hell of a lot of fun. This time I’m trying to tone down my expectations, but I admit it’s difficult.  My plan is to take in the course during pre-ride, have a good start, go hard whenever I can, and stay upright.  Keep it simple.

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Minuteman CX 2017-sopping wet and gasping for breath, I finished mid pack in a field of 58 and was thrilled about it.

If I survive the race tomorrow, I’ll turn my eye to Gloucester.  I haven’t entered yet, but am 90% sure I’ll race Sunday, and about 50% sure about Saturday.

I remain tentative because I am genuinely surprised about the amount of strength I lost from keeping my shoulder immobile for 5 weeks. The muscle loss is visually noticeable, and I was told “the asymmetry would last a while.”  But I think tomorrow will help me turn the mental corner to racing again–providing everything goes well.

Regardless of all of the cyclocross angst I have (because when have I not?), I’m so happy to be riding again, on all surfaces, on all bikes.  It’s great to be back riding!

-Karen

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X-Ray Results and a Divine Plan

Tuesday afternoon I got the news I wanted: the collarbone is healing well, and ligaments are stitching the shoulder separation together nicely.  Already the separation is measurably smaller.  I’ve been cleared for physical therapy immediately.  I left the office absolutely elated.

Then I went home to make my PT appointments.  Reality check–they are booked an entire month out.  What.  The.  Actual.  You know how to end that sentence.

If you are a medical professional, feel free to cringe when I tell you my very next move was to Google search “rehab protocol clavicle fracture.”  They say you have to be proactive in your own healthcare–well most of the time, we aren’t left with many choices in the matter.  So I’m DIYing it until I get an “evaluation.”  Leave me unsupervised, this is what happens.

I did get some handy tips from the PA before I learned I wouldn’t get into therapy that I have already been practicing, like finger crawls up the wall, and just trying to get some gentle movement into the joint.  Nothing weight bearing for now.   That’s ok, I can’t lift more than a coke can at this point. I definitely need the PT.

Since this was the news I had hoped for, and I’m not looking to screw it up with being stupid, but I am not willing to wait around for another whole month.  While I’m not known to be terribly religious, I’ll take one from the Lord’s playbook, and quote Luke 4:23 and “heal thyself.”  How else can I put this? To make another pious reference,  I’ll quote the Book of Elwood:

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My original timeline for getting back on the bike and back to racing is intact, and the Lord helps those who help themselves and all, so I type this from the seat of my trainer.  I should be back riding outside by Labor Day Weekend and no MTB until October.  Racing by mid October.  I’ll miss cyclocross in September but still have October and November, that should be plenty.

What I can tell you, is the healing power of the human body absolutely boggles my mind.  It really is a miracle. That is some divinely elegant design.

More X-rays at the end of September as a final sign off to my health and onto new bike adventures.  I cannot wait.

-Karen

Clavicle Fracture Update: the 5 Week Mark

I didn’t know a bruise could last 5 weeks, but I still have one from my epic DH MTB Crash and subsequent collarbone bust-up (in at least 3 places, no less).  But things are slowly getting better and I figured I’d check in about it.

Last week, at 4 weeks post crash, I went on vacation as it was planned many months in advance. That delayed my 4 week check up to next week. Fortunately cycling wasn’t on the itinerary for vacation, but the sea kayaking in Puget Sound was out. I went west in a sling, and came home without one, because I just couldn’t take wearing it anymore.  It was hurting more to wear it than not to.  Actually–that went back and forth a little.  Let me explain:  when you don’t move an entire part of your body for a month, muscles start doing weird stuff.  Like spasming.  That wasn’t in the brochure.  I tried massaging the affected areas-biceps, triceps, trapezoids, etc. but at the end of the day–i just wanted to move. But not TOO much. And what is more important here is what was NOT hurting–and that was my shoulder.  The only thing uncomfortable were the supporting muscles around the shoulder–and those were, at times, pretty painful. So for the week–I kind of went back and forth between hurting when I was wearing the sling, to hurting because I was not wearing the sling. I was walking a ton and hiking a bunch too (in Olympic and Mt Rainier National Parks in Washington State).  There was definitely a correlation between my overall body movement and my discomfort. Flying all day in a sling to get across the country–horrible.  I just wanted that sling off. Hiking 6 miles in The Olympics wearing a sling? That felt just fine. If I walked or hiked too much without the sling, well–that hurt too.  It was a balancing act.

My range of motion is no where near 100%.  Probably 30-40%? That’s my best guess anyway.  I’m not pushing that part too hard but I’ve noticed that it is improving with just normal daily activity.  Yesterday I drove for the first time in a month, and that was so nice to have some freedom back.

The big day is this Tuesday, when I finally go back to the Orthopedic practice for feedback on how I’m healing.  My hope is they say “everything is going great, you can start PT next week.”  Fingers crossed for that.  It feels great to start doing more for myself.  I can put a t-shirt on now!  I can drive short distances! But I know I’m not fully healed yet (lifting more than a coke can is impossible and I cannot raise my arm past my chest). Regardless, I’m moving forward as if I’m going to get good news Tuesday.  I have done a few trainer rides now and it has felt so good to spin on the bike, even if its on my back porch.

Good thoughts for Tuesday–wish me and my shoulder luck!

-Karen

Bike Accident Recovery Update: Day 15

It’s been a solid 2 weeks since my crash and I’m healing.  Slowly.  I won’t lie, it feels like watching paint dry.

I went back to work last Wednesday, and I was so happy to focus on something else besides what was on TV, or the book that I’m trying to get through, or all the rides my friends are taking that I am unable to participate in.  But at the end of the day on Friday, I was really hurting, and felt like maybe I’d undone some progress. My shoulder was aggravated and I had random spikes of pain, and my rib ached with each breath–something that had really improved in the last couple of days.

In terms of what’s happening inside my body, I found this pretty cool video of how bone heals.

With 2 weeks into healing, I should have a lovely soft callous formed, with bridges built to join the broken bones together.  Next step, very simply put, new bone will be interwoven into a hard callous. So I’m between stage 2 and 3, and getting fully to 3 is probably at least 2 or 3 more weeks away.  See the stages nicely illustrated below.

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By mid August, I should be into the 4th Stage, bone remodeling.  This is where things get really firmed up.

I had my walk Saturday morning, and my rib was hurting…..the pain level just a click below “let’s not have a walk today.”  I pushed on, and by the end of 3.5 miles, my rib actually felt better.  I spent the rest of yesterday (Saturday) doing relatively little, and being quiet and still.  Now it’s Sunday morning and I feel back on track.  But with a 5 day work week ahead of me, I’m thinking about the ways I might change up my workstation so I don’t push my shoulder into a subtle position that feels innocuous at first, but cumulatively feels awful.  I don’t want to undo any progress made.

My goal is to be back on a bike by September 1.  I feel this is a reasonable expectation. Of course, all my expectations and plans could be redirected after my checkup on August 14th, where x-rays could determine surgery is needed.  But if it’s not, and my healing is going well, I hope to start riding on flat smooth surfaces–taking it easy as everything firms up.  That’s the textbook 8 weeks from injury.  I expect to take another 4 weeks before tackling rougher surfaces, and another 4 weeks before attempting cyclocross racing.  I know a good crash could set me back tremendously, but I haven’t crashed all year until this mishap.  Cross racing means crashing and falling.  I’ve done the math, it’s highly probable.  So I’ll want to be 100% sure I’m out of the woods before racing.  I’m not afraid to fall, I’m not afraid to crash.  I’ve crashed so many times over 17 years and this is the worst injury I’ve had, I’d say that overall–I’m doing alright.

Smaller efforts: I’m taking a calcium/bone health supplement daily and consuming as much dairy as my lactose intolerant body can take (thank God for Lactaid).  I’m eating healthy. I ‘m taking my walks daily, and this week I hope to start pedaling on a stationary bike.  I expect to hate it, but beggars cannot be choosers.  And something is better than nothing.  I’m living through everyone else’s adventures online.  It helps me cope with being on the sidelines.  I’m happy for others who enjoy the pleasure of cycling in it’s many forms.  Savor it!  And be safe out there.

-Karen

 

Nature Baths: Get Outside to Get Right

I use cycling to manage stress and to bring me into a state of overall contentment and happiness.  With my injuries and that now temporarily on hold, I’m left feeling antsy and angsty, which does not make me a dream companion, a good mom, a good employee, or a good friend.

A friend in the cycling community reached out and suggested Nature Baths to calm my spirit.  She had an injury that derailed her summer in 2017 and knew exactly what I was going through.  I had started taking walks immediately after the accident to give my energy a place to go, but how much woods time was I getting?  Some, but not as much as my riding had been feeding me.

So I took this piece of advice and seriously considered what a nature bath meant.  I started taking walks in slightly wilder places.  Off sidestreets and sidewalks and onto paths and trails, even if for a short time.  The break from the noise of the world was truly calming and restorative.  When I was on streets and sidewalks, I’d focus on the birds or butterflies that floated by, or the way the breeze would gently stir the leaves on the trees, or the wildflowers that grew up on the margins of property lines.

And this simple break–it works.  Yesterday I only had a short walk close to home and my mood took a beating.  I was grouchy, sad, having a pity party and ready to argue with anyone who talked to me.  Today, I went out for a 3 mile walk along the slow end of the bike trail and feel relaxed, open, with more positive and creative thoughts.

So–if your feeling down or stressed or grouchy–try a walk in the woods.  It’s free and it works!

-Karen

 

Training Remix: Broken collarbone recovery plan

This year, I had a clear path to a big block of training in July–a little unstructured, but I had the time, great weather, and some nice momentum from spring.  With all that out the window, I’m looking at a recovery plan and how to get back all I’m losing now.

Last Saturday was the JAM Fund Grand FUNdo, a ride I’ve done in the past, features the vibrant elite & citizen cyclocross community in western Mass.  A couple of friends came over to visit me after the event (which is 2 miles down the road from me), and I told them of my plan to be racing cyclocross by October.  My friend Gail gently tried to dial me back.  “I think you’re out this year.” She said.  She cautioned one fall too early could easily rebreak newly healed bones.  I know she’s a little bit right, but this approach is super conservative–and cross season lasts until December.  I feel like that’s plenty of time to heal properly and still squeak out a few good races this year.

It’s been 9 days since the accident and little has changed in terms of discomfort and pain.  Breathing is painful when I breath deeply.  The shoulder feels a bit better but I think I’m doing a REALLY good job of keeping the shoulder immobile.  In another week, I’m hoping my rib stops hurting enough for more labored breathing that comes with some physical effort.

This is the plan:

  • Walking.  I started doing this immediately and got a 4 mile walk in yesterday.  My rib hurts, but my shoulder feels ok during the walks now, and just a bit achy after.
  • After 2-3 weeks, stationary bike and/or trainer. I have access to both at home, but the stationary bike, while less like actual bike riding, is more stable and comfortable for these early recovery workouts. The pain associated with breathing will inform how intense I can do this, but my main goal is to spin a bit, and mitigate the loss of overall fitness.
  • Assessment.  I have an appointment after my early August vacation (where I’m traveling to Seattle) to see how the healing is going.  I’m very hopeful that things will be progressing well and corrective surgery won’t be needed at that time.
  • Physical therapy/gentle use. Providing the assessment goes well I’m hoping to come out of the sling at that point.  My assessment is supposed to happen at 4 weeks, but can’t happen until 5 weeks due to my trip to Seattle.  So in the 5th week, I’ll know more, and if things are good…..maybe I’ll be able to come out of the sling.  What the doctor thinks will largely determine what’s next. See a physical therapist, do my exercises.
  • Riding on flat surfaces.  I’m really hoping to start this by September.  Minimize risk of falls by keeping surfaces even and flat.  Continue to heal.  Listen to the advice of medical professionals.  Focus on intervals, rebuilding overall endurance.
  • Graduate to gravel & mixed terrain. Hoping by late September/early October to be on some gravel or tame forest paths. Can I start dismount and remounts by now?  I’m not sure.  I don’t want to be stupid, but with daylight fading and cross season in full swing, I want to ensure my training is moving forward.  There are a couple of gravel rides I’m looking at like the Dirty Apple (my friend Laura is organizing this for her bike club, and she’s the queen of route planning, so it’s going to be freaking awesome).
  • Start racing in late October.  This is my amended plan.  Originally I thought I could start racing in early October, but this is probably too ambitious. I thought about how probable crashing is during any race.  Last year, out of 11 races, I crashed at least 6 times.  That’s a 54% chance of crashing. I can’t count the crashes practicing, warming up, doing regular rides, pre-riding, etc.  I think giving my bones 2-3 more weeks before racing is probably a smart way to go.  Remember, there are no shocks on cross bikes!
Date Race Name Place Racers Points Crash?
7-Sep Wendolowski Farm Cross 19 20 692.08 Yes, 2x
30-Sep KMC Cross Festival Day 2 12 25 589.58 No
1-Oct KMC Cross Festival Day 3 16 16 723.37 No-flatted
8-Oct Minuteman CX 29 58 602.12 Yes
14-Oct CRAFT Sportswear Gran Prix of Gloucester Day 1 48 72 653.26 Yes
15-Oct CRAFT Sportswear Gran Prix of Gloucester Day 2 29 58 600 No
29-Oct Wicked Creepy Cyclocross Race, part of the NYCROSS.com Series 5 11 583.06 No
11-Nov Northampton International Cyclocross Day 1 18 35 583 Yes
12-Nov Northampton International Cyclocross Day 2 17 27 620.49 No
25-Nov Secret Squirrel 8 28 552.78 Yes-Preride
8-Dec The Ice Weasels Cometh 14 26 609.53 No–but one close call!

If I start racing late October/Early November, I think I can get at least 5 races in.  I usually am pretty done by the end of November, and the Ice Weasels is just the end of the year party.

I’m sad to lose this summer for riding.  I was exploring new roads nearly every ride, feeling relatively strong this summer, and I wanted to see where I could take that. Last fall was a breakthrough season for me in terms of my cross performance, and I know with focused effort and an actual plan that I follow, improvements are possible.  I enjoy this the most–improving against my own results, especially as I grow older.

-Karen

The problem with bike obsessions

I’ve credited cycling with a lot of good things in my life.  Always presenting the upside, but that isn’t 100% honest.  With some forced time off the bike due to my collarbone & rib fractures, I’m getting some more time to think about this.

I’ve held the viewpoint that bikes lend needed balance to my over-scheduled life.  My brain is on bikes a disproportionate amount of time.  My partner has to stop me from talking about training, races, events, because it’s what i gravitate to, my mind is always circling back to this really great thing in my life.  At this point, most of my social life revolves around cycling, all of my fitness is attributed to cycling, and most disposable income as well.

In the last month as i looked to fill my calendar with cycling trips, rides, events, and adventures, I thought, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to skip cyclocross season this year.  I had that same thought last year too.  I thought, maybe I should switch out a ride with some running or a hike.  I thought, maybe I should diversify my interests just a little.  After all, I AM interested in other things.  Was this burn out?  I’m not sure.

Now, post crash– I’m forced to change my focus.  I’m still scrolling through my Instagram feed which is about 95% cycling focused, and on Strava every day, and thinking about what kind of training I’ll need to do to squeeze out a few cyclocross races this fall.  But I’m doing other things too:  I’m taking walks twice a day to keep active.  I’ve reassessed my approach to retirement and saving for some of my other goals.  I have started reading a new book–a hobby I love and have been really bad at making time for.

What I’m sure about is that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  I’m sure this break will serve to rebalance my life a bit, and getting back to cycling will feel fresh and even more appreciated after this break.  That’s my hope anyway.

-Karen