Friday, July 20, 2012

Is it in my head or just in my head

In my last post on the abrupt...and probably really cool to the old lady on her patio who saw it all go down (pun intended)...end to my race in Huronia, I alluded to bumping my head when I crashed. I don't remember actually going down, just the sound of my helmet hitting the road and then sliding across the pavement. My bike mostly survived - just some torn bar tape, scratches and bent rear derailleur - and the only thing that concerned me was what looked like a tennis ball on my elbow.

Luckily I mostly slid so nothing broken, and eventually I washed off the blood and got back on my bike. My Garmin that was paused while my bike was lying in the ditch, had my bike split at 1:07 for my time actually on the bike...the top bike splits were 1:05-1:07. But with one of my main points races, and the coolest race in Ontario, coming up 6 days later, I packed it in when I got back to T2.

Plans started to change when I started getting faint and dizzy spells later that night and the next day, and throughout the week after workouts. With the prevalence of concussions in "real" sports these days I should have taken it more seriously, but I really didn't think I hit my head hard. And that's what helmets are for anyway...right? People crash a lot harder and still get up. I tried to ignore it throughout the week leading up to Gravenhurst and avoided going to the doctor despite having a paramedic and my almost-doctor brother saying it was definitely a concussion.

Just like anyone in this sport I have had a few injuries over the years, although I have done well this year to keep everything in check and stay healthy. But even with my brief stint of recovering, I have never experienced an "injury" like that. It's one of those things where, if you start wondering if you have a concussion, you suddenly have a headache (try it! don't actually).

Sure I had some road rash and bruises but I continued to convince myself that I was fine. And it didn't help that I was very motivated to get back on the bike and race again. But it was a very difficult thing to quantify or explain to anyone, including myself. One person would tell me to stop thinking about it and race, the next would tell me I need to sit in a dark room for the next six weeks. Besides, every day I push myself until my eyes are rolling into the back of my skull and my head is pounding. It's called training. So how did I know that those around me, telling me my eyes were glazed over and I wasn't paying attention to what they were saying, weren't simply seeing me on my third rep of 10k ride @ 330W/sub-10min 3k run? And how do I know when I'm healthy when I push myself to that place in my workouts?

All in all it was a very difficult week of sucking up the superficial injuries, trying to ignore those telling me to STOP, doing my best to be honest with myself in figuring out what were symptoms of a concussion and what was just "in my head", then finally accepting that I would not be racing and telling my great support team at Multisport Canada that I would be letting them down after getting me on the start list of a sold out race. It also meant accepting that I likely will not be chasing the top spots in the series points, and will have to re-motivate myself to race a full season for a crack at a couple hundred bucks (still better than nothing!)

Luckily my plans were already set for Gravenhurst, so I still got 4 days off work to enjoy in beautiful Muskoka with Amanda, friends and family. And as hard as it was at times, I got to take in all the great racing in the heat and hills, and helped out a little volunteering in the morning. Amanda had another awesome race...seriously, I talk about her a lot on here. But she is just starting to find herself in this sport and is a 3x provincial champ already, and you can look out for her name in the near future! She is also an amazing support system for all the dark times in my racing endeavors.

What's definitely not in my head is I'm sitting here with no concrete date for my next race, working through a number of painful reminders of a really stupid crash, and - whether it be a lack of preparation, execution, or luck - it is late July, I have trained smarter and more than ever, and:

1. In six planned races have seen the finish line twice this year
2. I have racked up about $3000 in damaged equipment in races and about $100 in prize money so far
3. I flatted out of my A-race and can't afford to travel to another international race

I have taken it all in stride and used it all as more motivation in each workout, but I can only piss vinegar in training for so long. There are athletes I have shared the start line with heading to London next week, athletes I have shared a lane with winning three months worth of my wage at World Cups, and I have found my direction in non-drafting races yet I'm having an incredibly difficult time justifying my time and financial commitment to the sport right now. Ultimately I do not compete in this sport for the results and I do not measure my success by prize money envelopes. But I am training my ass off and it has been a horrendously frustrating and unlucky season so far.

I'm ready to race to my potential and my fitness, set bike course records, run 3:20s and win one by 10 minutes. I guess it just doesn't work out that way though. So for now I will continue getting back at it one step at a time, knowing that in my small successes this year there are some big positives, and hopefully I will prevent this from being the season that wasn't.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The race that wasn't meant to be

Man, this sport is an emotional roller coaster. But I guess that's why I like it. Trying to find success and searching for the "perfect race" is like trying to figure out the meaning of life. Work your ass off, make minor improvements, get wrapped up in your own expectations, fall apart, rebuild your attitude, work some more, get the sh*t kicked out of you, repeat.

After the the big emotional high of actually finding the finish line of a half ironman (with what I would consider a modestly successful results, with lots of promise :) I had to hold myself back from wanting to sign up for a few more this season. I made the decision to stick to my season plan of a few big races but mainly competing in the Multisport Canada series for points. I didn't get much in the way of points in Welland with the tough field and my first serious long course result, so I put together a schedule of 5 Olympic distance races. If I had 4 good results out of the 5, I would probably end up in the prize money at the end of the year.

So that brings us to this weekend in Penetanguishene (Huronia) for the newest race venue in the series. It was a bit of a gamble having no idea how my body would respond two weeks after an emotionally and physically draining race. But I wanted to give it a go and find my limits at the shorter distance.

As is the norm at these races now, there was a handful of very strong swimmers on the start line. After switching the swim course to a 2-loop 750m course due to the heavy rain and possibility of thunder, and a good warmup I was feeling ready to go. I started strong and found myself sitting comfortably between Angela Quick and Alex Vanderlinden at 100m in...until my goggles got knocked off my head. Although I have never had them kicked completely off in a race, I have forced myself to deal with it in training and didn't panic. But after a quick stop to get at least one eye on I had lost the lead pack. I tried to calm down and find a strong rhythm for the 1500 and exited the water about 30 seconds down on my main competition. Time to get to work on the bike.

Through the first 5k with a few good hills I was making up ground on a small group ahead that included the eventual podium finishers. At 9k I was feeling strong and confident, and made a dig up a steep hill. We were warned about the slick roads and technical corners on the bike course, but I made the conscious decision to take all the risks having gained some experience on sketchy ass bike courses in St Croix, and knowing that I would have to make my move on the bike if I wanted a good finish. Over the hill I went, about to bridge up, and my thoughts went something like this:

Strong over the crest...
Back wheel locking up, try the front...
Pavement is hard...
Please stop sliding soon...
Are my new wheels ok!?

I really am stupid sometimes. I have been pretty lucky (or just a decent bike handler) and have had very few crashes in my career, but this one was the fastest and hardest to date. Luckily my bike was fine except for some shredded bar tape. No broken bones, just some road rash and a severly damaged ego. I also smacked my head pretty hard, but thanks to my Rudy Project Wingspan I escaped without too much brain damage. I spent about 20 minutes on the side of the road trying to gather myself, check my equipment and decide if I could keep riding. I figured the guys in the Tour can get up and finish after a crash, so there's no reason why I can't.

I couldn't ride aero since I had banged up my elbow but I rode a steady tempo, and according to my Garmin I would have had one of the top bike splits if you discounted my little pit stop. It was a beautiful and technical course and I was bummed that I couldn't truly race it. It was a tough decision seeing athletes out on the run course, but with another series race next weekend I decided to call it a day and heal up for the next one. I was lucky enough to see some awesome finishes from the top guys. Damn this series has gotten competitive. But after a long and lonely drive home contemplating life, trying to come to terms with a frustrating mixed bag of results this season, and searching deep down for some more motivation, I'm looking forward to the next chance to throw down. That is, after paying a visit to the doctor to determine just how hard I bumped my head...not that I listen to them very well anyway.