April 6th was a beautiful day in San Diego. I was up early to for the 2014 edition of the Campagnolo Gran Fondo San Diego. It was a ride I put in my calendar as a goal at about the 8 month mark, or 3 months prior.
When I signed up for the ride, I wasn’t sure how it would go. I know the ride would fall at about 11 months post back surgery, but at the time I signed up, I was still not fully in control of my leg muscles.
Like the rest of my recovery from back surgery, preparations were a bit of a roller coaster. The mere fact that I registered for the event is proof that I’m feeling better. I registered in January largely because I had some progress and really felt as if my muscles were regaining control. One of the hardest parts of the my recovery was that I did get quick improvement regarding use of my leg, but not all of the muscles came back. To this day, I’m not 100% sure I have full use. I do not have full sensation in my leg, but that doesn’t bother me too much.
Prior to deciding to register, I was able to ride pretty well, but in late December or early January, I realized that something was wrong with my cycling. It boiled down to years of bad habits and really bad form. I would torque me left arm and essentially ride with primarily my right leg. My form made it so that I didn’t use my left leg to the full potential and thus a lot of the muscles in my hip and glutes were really weak.
So, I added hip exercises to my physical therapy and it has helped a lot. As I gained control of my muscles, I added some weights in the gym. I couldn’t even move the “no” weight settings on the hamstring machine with my right leg in December. Now, I’m able to do sets with over 50 lbs using just the right leg. I’m doing the same sets and weights with both legs to help with balance. Waking up my hip muscles has been a great help too.
So, as I worked on my form and supporting muscles, the riding fell into place. Endurance is weak, but I think all cyclists will say that. My right leg is still visibly weak to me (looks smaller) and I can tell in exercises, but it is coming along.
Given all of that, my goal was to complete a relatively mild ride of 54 miles. In the months leading up to the event, we were blessed with great weather in San Diego. I did some 40+ miles rides along the coast and started to climb again. My average monthly elevation gains saw the biggest change. I sort of like climbing, so I was very happy with that.
I never managed to do a ride of the same length before, but I did do some rides with more climbing and was seeing continual improvement.
The biggest challenge for me was my trick knee. It was giving me horrible pain and swelling. I was looking at so many problems I didn’t know what to do. After one business trip where I had no problems, I asked my physical therapist about shoes. With the amount I was standing and walking in the same shoes (nice running shoes), I had basically blown them out and they were contributing to poor form. New shoes and some ankle stability exercises have done wonders for me.
My back and the rehabilitation continue to bring a two steps forward, one step backwards cycle. A few times, I started to get numbness and tingling down into my left leg (good leg) that made me pretty worried. I’m 99% sure that it is from muscle tension outside of the spine itself. Rest, stretching and a massage really helped. A lot of what I went through was fixing form, so it isn’t a big surprise to me that I was working some new muscles as I re-balanced.
I was nervous for this ride. My first test back into my life since my laminectomy surgery. The week before was also spring break, so my short term prep was eating and drinking on a family vacation without getting on a bike. I did get a ride in the Friday before. The night before I did what we are supposed to; go to a friends surprise birthday party at a brewery. Right? I don’t think a few pints of porter helped, but I don’t think they hurt too much either. Next time, maybe I’ll stay home, pack and get to sleep earlier.
This ride started downtown with downtown parking. There was a 2 hour zone, but it said Monday thru Friday. I didn’t want to gamble and get a ticket, so I found a paid lot, got ready and headed a km or so to the start area. Instructions said to be in line by 6:45. It was cold and forecast to get warm. So, I layered up and got in the area. It was cold. My brief warm up wore off quickly and we got to listen to someone babble into the microphone for too long. Finally the pre-ride announcements came on with some bad jokes about a Ferrari followed by some good words from the Challenged Athletes Foundation. It was about 7am, sunrise and the live-work area of Little Italy was being bombarded with a loudspeaker and a thousand or so Lycra clad cyclists.
Getting through the star was slow, but it thinned out pretty quickly. The first flat parts of the ride are punctuated with some dodgy railroad tracks at odd angles and a mass of riders at different paces. Once out of the downtown area, the roads were very nice. The climbs on the Medio route were not bad; about the same as the sharp little hills on the coast I’m used to.
We passed the Otay lakes and it was beautiful. Rolling hills and no wind. Sun was high enough to not be blinding, but we were riding into it. The Medio turn around was just for the big climb, so I didn’t do it. Maybe a different ride. After the turn around, there was a lot of down hill. That was fun. I started to pace with a group of about 6 or 7. We ended up staying together to the finish. I’m glad I was able to stay on. There were a few little hills on the way back I wasn’t expecting that hit me more than I expected and then there as a little headwind for the last bit.
When we rolled into the finish, things were quiet. Not all of the tents were set up and the family wasn’t there. We finished a lot faster than I expected. We were in the first 20 back.
I far exceed my expectations with a little luck. While a timed ride, the course was on public roads with stop lights to obey. We all spent time at more that one red light. Based on my GPS, I had over 10 minutes of stopped time. I point this out to illustrate that the timing does not indicate a race.
I felt ok at the turn around, but on the last few bumps heading back, my legs cramped a bit. Thanks to the groups of about 6 of us riding together, I made it in quickly. I pulled a bit, but at the end was gassed. According to the results, I did end up 13th of 407 in the Medio Route. 3 hours total time with 2:50 on my Garmin.