There’s always a point in an endurance athlete’s career when they reach a pinnacle of fitness, one higher than they’ve ever reached before. Each workout you start pushing new boundaries, and you can’t wait for the first race. Then, it hits you like a ton of bricks. What’s that annoying pain in my thigh? Hmmm. That wasn’t there before. Ring up the fiancee, “Hey, I’m going to need a pick up, my leg hurts”. I’ll be alright I keep telling myself, I just need a day off. Then it’s there after that day off. Then the next day. Then you start panicking. Is it my bike? My fit? My seat? My hip? My knee? My trigger points? Sciatica? Okay- let’s Web MD this. Alright- looks like I’m going to die.
Okay, I start to compose myself. This happened 2 weeks before my first race. 2 weeks is plenty of time to recover. I call my coach, hey coach, I haven’t been able to ride for a few days, I’ll be fine tomorrow I think (Denial for sure). I text my best buddy and teammate Clay Murfet (who also is dealing with an injury), “hey man, where’s your knee pain”. He points to his, mine’s similar. We both start to panic some more. The next week consists of massage, electric stim, 20 minutes of painful spinning. Obsession really. I need to just see if I can make it here without pain. Then the pain comes, and you roll home with your tail between your legs.
Web MD some more, yep, it’s official, I’m definitely not making it through this one, call the doctors, they’re probably going to need to amputate. Now it’s the week of the race. I call my strength coach Dr. Tim Moore, he says, “Sounds like you strained your VMO, you’ll be fine by Sunday.” In my head I’m like, there is absolutely no way. He hasn’t seen my sad state of riding, I was the opposite of Drake, I went from 100 to 0. REAL QUICK. It’s amazing that one day you can be dancing on pedals more effortlessly than you ever have in the past. Then 1 day later you feel like your grandpa after knee surgery.
Finally, I make a decision, if on Wednesday I can’t ride pain free, I’m not starting the season. I head out, and the pain starts at 10 minutes. I’d be lying to you if I wasn’t holding back tears. I swear, I worked hard for this, and now I can’t even race. This was different than my college injuries, this was my job. This was my livelihood. I wasn’t just letting myself down, 7 guys were counting on me to be there. I hobble into the door, I send the dreaded message to my director. “Hey man, I don’t think this week is happening.” Jamie tries her best to get me to relax, but my head is spinning as I try to fall asleep. Finally I wake up, and I feel sick in my stomach. I know I’m fortunate, but why is this happening I ask.
I crawl out of bed. I take one of Jamie’s dad’s knee braces, and wrap it on my thigh. I head out. But this time the pain doesn’t come right away. Dr. Tim calls, we talk about the injury for an hour. By this time, I looked at the Garmin, I just rode for 90 minutes! Sure it hurt, but it wasn’t unbearable. I call up my director Andrew, “I’m racing…..”.
This was the first time in my career, that I packed up my bags to race, not actually knowing if I was ready. It’s a pretty scary feeling actually. Fitness wise, you did the work. But physically, you have no idea if your body can actually even make it 100 miles at this point. I pack my bike bag, and tell Jamie to get ready for damage control if she sees me beginning of next week (and not on the livefeed of Redlands). I’d be lying to you if I didn’t think deep down, there was absolutely no way I was making it out to California.
Saturday comes, I get dressed anxiously and I head out the door with the boys. I can barely even warm up with them. I just need to test it I keep thinking. We get to the climb, and I punch it. I roll over the top. Fresh as a Spring Daisy. First effort over 400+. The knee starts to hurt at the bottom, I stretch, I’m going to be okay I say. Take it pedal stroke by pedal stroke.
The race comes, I tape the knee, swallow the ibuprofen, and put on the thigh brace. The racing starts. It hits the fan on the second lap, and I follow McCabe up the climb. I go across the line, the chase group has initiated. We eventually catch the break, and now we have a big group. But somehow we are brought back. My teammate Travis Livermon and I, were going FULL in that chase, “how did that come back? 70 miles hit, and my leg feels like it’s exploding. It’s a weird feeling having one leg feel fresh, and one feel like it just rode a 150 miles. We come into the final sprint, around 25 of us left. And I am fighting off the left leg cramp of death. Stand sit. Stand Sit. Okay, pedal with one leg. Crap. Maybe it’d be quicker if I ran to the finish. I roll across 19th. Not pumped. But I finished. Right?
So I finished. Reality sets in. Wow. I’m racing Redlands! Nothing like 2 weeks of no training to start off one of the hardest stage races of the year. We head to the hotel Sunday night, which was overbooked. So we went to three others before finally we get a bed. It’s 1 am, finally we fall asleep for the 4am wake up. We make our way to the Atlanta airport, the security line is insane. I look at my teammate Monk, “dude, we aren’t making this flight”. Finally we get through security. Full gas to the terminal. 3 minutes to spare. Sorry sir, we gave your tickets away.” WHAT!?”
Standby it is. We miss 5 more flights. Finally, I crack and tell them to book us to LA instead. We finally get on a flight. I crack so hard and pass out. We head to the rental place. Hungry, tired, not looking forward to LA traffic. They hand us the keys to a black dodge charger. All is right in the world. Monk looks up some dinner places. He finds authentic Mexican, we start driving. I see a sign for Inglewood, I start to shudder. “Bro, I lost 5 grand and almost died here last year (see Redlands post from last year)!” Turns out to be the best Burrito we’ve ever had, and we hit the road. Making it into Redlands before sunset. Now lets just hope I make it to sunset…Loop.
Redlands was definitely fast this year. There were a lot of teams looking to make a mark. And a lot of teams trying to shake everything up. It’s always a hard race, because a lot of people come into the season super hot. The first day, we had a lot of bad luck. 4 flats, one crash, and I dropped my chain with 3 laps to go. The second day was Oak Glen, and I was really hoping to improve on my place from last year (16th). I made the final selection up the climb, when about halfway up the left leg started to give out on me. I got dropped like a 50 lb bag of potatoes with around 800m to go. Ouch.
The TT was rainy and fast, and we just hoped the rain cleared for the crit the next day. The crit was probably our best executed race as a team. We were off the front in a few moves, and in perfect position going into the final turn. Monk looked great and he was ready. Then boom. A Silber rider goes down, and CHAOS. I sneak through on the right, and make it in safely for 11th. I start running back to monk, hoping he’s okay. No big deal, just a chipped elbow, and subluxed shoulder. “I will be fine tomorrow”. Legend.
Sunset Loop. The race plan was to have guys in early moves, while I waited for 3 to go when it heated up. Well, Sunset Loop was pretty chaotic this year. A split of 20 makes it up the road, and ol’ Danny boy is in it. On the fourth lap, Jamis doesn’t like that so they punch it. I come over top of them and bridge with a few guys to the move. To say I was in the box is an understatement. 4th laps in and I just went FULL GAS. Pretty sure I was coercing my legs not to give up at one point, it’s bad when you start talking to your legs. Eventually that group becomes the main group, Dan and I watch a few guys roll off the front, thinking there’s no way Jamis doesn’t bring that back. Well. We were wrong. We played the race wrong. Our mistake, and a huge learning experience. We came in as the second group. I was 21st on the day. Disappointing for sure, but I had to be realistic. Last Wednesday, I couldn’t even ride 20 minutes.
I’m home now, for about a week, and then we travel to Joe Martin, then Gila. I’ll have a lot more confidence this go around, and can’t wait for the uphill TT. My two British teammates have been living with me, and will be moving into Jamie’s and my new house end of April. They’ve been great, and are such good kids to be around. I look forward to seeing how far they go in their careers. Not only that, they’re great dog sitters. I’ve been thinking about getting the Brits a nice suit, so they can answer the door at my new home. They’d make great butlers. Dan is essentially the perfect Alfred.
A huge shout out to our great sponsors this year. The Fast forward wheels/ Specialized bikes combo has been amazing. We are way faster than last year due to equipment alone, and I can’t wait to prove that.