Written by Erich McAlister Monday, 17 August 2015 12:54
So I finally got around to doing my first race this year. It was the Escalante Days 2015 mountain bike race in Dolores CO. It's pretty low key local race that I've won in the past and written about for Bikeman.com. This year was a bit different than most for me, so I decided it would be good to write about it again.
For the last three years or so I've had some issues with my low back. It would hurt for a while, I would do some rest and stretching and everything would be good again. This January however, it went nuclear. I woke up for the second day back teaching at the college this winter with the most horrific sciatic pain I had ever experienced. It was so bad that I had to cancel classes for the rest of the week (it was snowing so the students probably didn't mind). After going to the ER, I got the pain down to "manageable" levels and scheduled an appointment with a physical therapist and a spine doctor. The pain was only manageable in the sense that I could walk and do my job. I could only sleep in specific positions on the floor, on heavy drugs, for about two hours a night. I lost strength in my left calf to the point that I could not lift my heel off the ground. This went on for about ten weeks before I could finally actually SEE a spine doctor and get an MRI. Needless to say, base miles were not getting done.
When I finally got the MRI it confirmed that I had two very herniated discs in my back at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels. The herniation at the L5-S1 level was "a big one" according to the MRI tech and the nerve was "really smashed" according to the doctor. So we scheduled surgery for the Thursday before Spring break (cancelled classes on Friday, again the students weren't too upset). After waking up from surgery there was pain at the incision site, but no sciatic pain. It was amazing.
Then I was on to recovery. The doctors insist that you start walking a mile per day on the DAY OF surgery. So I did. Then I walked a lot for the next six weeks or so. It was base walking five to seven miles per day, which is really pretty good aerobic exercise if you push the pace. Then the physical therapist let me ride my road bike. It was pretty rough at first. I had to shorten my position for a while and just had a hard time with everything. Finally, after nine weeks, the doctor cleared me to ride on dirt, just taking it a little easier than normal. During this rehab period I think I did more road miles than I did in the previous three years combined. Usually I find the road bike boring, but I was outside on a bike without sciatic pain. It was great!
This brings us to last weekend. After finally getting my fitness and mobility up to snuff, and working on remembering mtb skills, I felt ready to do a race. It's always hard to tell how the first race of the year is going to be, and this year was, not surprisingly, even less predictable than usual. On the first steep paved climb of the course I felt decent, until Travis Brown punched it really hard. I've never had a lot of really high end, so I just settled into a rhythm. I got into the singletrack second (better than expected at this point), and just tried to keep it smooth. I was going pretty fast, and even with the rain the previous night, my Panaracer Drivers were perfect. As it turned out T Brown's tires weren't perfect and he flatted in the rockiest part of the course, so I moved into the lead! Again, I just kept a hard rhythm and stayed smooth, and won the race!
The kicker is that there has been a $1000 bonus for setting a new course record for the last few years, in addition to the $300 prize for the win. Since the course got a non-trivial reroute this year, I set the record and got the bonus. Not too bad of a first race back if you ask me.
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