Monday, February 9, 2015

Too Hip To Be Fast

Some of you may have noticed that I've gone from "decent local bike racer guy" to "who is that guy who is already off the back?" in the last year or so. Allow me to explain.

I've always had minor pain in my lower back and hips. I've never been able to stand in one place for a long time without pain, and my hips have always popped and cracked. For a long time, I chalked this up to being tall—I'm 6'3"—because tall folks all have back pain, right? In early 2013, though, the pain became significantly worse.

I began to wake up in the middle of the night with sharp pains in my back and right hip. The pain was so intense that I would sometimes wake up gasping. Something wasn't right.

I went to my doctor, and he referred me to an orthopedist. The orthopedist did some x-rays and told me that I had large bone spurs on the heads of both femurs (the balls in the ball-and-socket joint of the hip) that had probably destroyed the cartilage in my hips. According to him, I needed at least one new hip.

I didn't like that diagnosis, so I found another orthopedist who specialized in hips. He looked at my x-rays and more or less agreed with the first guy, but told me to go see Dr. Jon Hyman a "surgeon to the stars" who specialized in hip arthroscopy, a new type of hip surgery that was far less invasive and would likely allow me to get some more mileage out my hips.

Dr. Hyman had a long waiting list, but when I finally got an appointment, he told me that I was a "pretty good" candidate for the surgery. Due to the locations of the spurs, it would be a challenge to get good blood flow to the parts that would need to heal after the surgery, but Dr. Hyman said that my good health and youth would likely tip the scales in my favor.

By this point—March 2013—I had stopped doing anything longer than a criterium, but I was still able to sneak into the front half of local P/1/2 races. When Dr. Hyman and I agreed on a timeline, I decided that I would race until the pain became too much. I had a few good rides, culminating in my final race (the cat 2 race at Sandy Springs) in which I even spent a few laps off the front solo. After that, I couldn't even complete a pedal stroke without sharp pains in my hip.

I had surgery in June of 2013, and it went well. Dr. Hyman said that there was more damage in the hip joint than he had expected but that he was still optimistic. He prescribed twice-a-week rehab and six weeks of no weight bearing on the right side.

That six weeks sucked, but I got through it. In September, my very supportive sponsor, Atlanta Cycling, set me up with a top-of-the-line Cannondale 'cross bike, and I came roaring back to life. Over the next few months, I began to feel like my old self. The surgery, it seemed, had been a success.

At the start of the 2014 road season, however, I knew that something was wrong. I had pain again. It was not the severe, sharp pain that I had pre-surgery, but it was still pain. I trained and raced through it, and I even eked out a couple top tens in local races. In my heart, though, I knew that something wasn't right.

When 'cross season rolled around, I was optimistic. I knew that my handling skills would help me mitigate the effects of my janky hip. But that wasn't the case. I didn't notch a single result that I was proud of. I even got lapped in a couple local races.

Nevertheless, I put in a solid training block before nationals in January. This would be my first time to do the 30-34 race, and I was very excited. I expected to be top 15, even top 10 if I had an exceptional ride. I don't know where this confidence was coming from, but in my head, I was still the Mark Babcock of 2012, pain-free and fast.

Long story short, I finished 30th at nats, just off a group of eight or nine guys who were racing for a spot in the low 20s. I had a fifth or sixth row start, got caught behind all the first-lap crashes, blah, blah, excuses, blah. I rode well technically, but the top end just wasn't there. My heart and lungs were in top shape, but my hip just couldn't match them. I hobbled up the run-ups, and every other out-of-the-saddle effort caused my hip to pop painfully.

Since nats, I've had plenty of time to think about my future as a bike racer. I've talked to Dr. Hyman, and he told me that I "would always be active, but maybe not with the hip I was born with"—he was telling me that the surgery was not a success and that I would need a new hip. I'm starting to fear that he was right. The nighttime pain is back, and now my left hip is acting up too. I have struggled to keep up on our local Winter Bike League rides whenever the pace has gotten anywhere near racy. I can't lie flat or stand up straight without pain. I'm starting to think that it's time to face the facts.

I will always race bikes, but it might be time to accept that I am an entry fee donator rather than a real competitor. And maybe that's ok. It doesn't feel ok yet, but maybe it will one day. I could go ahead with the hip replacement, in the hopes that it would allow me to get back up to speed, but my racing "career" isn't worth that risk. I'm going to ride as much and as hard as my busted hips will allow and deal with the pain until it gets to be too much. I'd like to put hip replacement off at least until I'm 40 (I'll be 31 tomorrow). The 40-44 field at 2025 nats had better be on their toes.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Get Home Safe

On Thursday, cycling lost Amy Dombroski, an American professional cyclocross racer. She was hit by a truck in Holland. On January 3rd of this year, we lost Burry Stander, a South African professional mountain bike racer.  He was hit by a taxi in South Africa.

When a rider like Amy or Burry is killed by a motor vehicle, I feel shaken. We don’t expect that to happen to people who know what they are doing. Because of this, I felt that I should add my two cents to the bike safety dialogue.

When you ride your bicycle, you are responsible for your own safety. Drivers are not responsible for your safety. Your riding buddies are not responsible for your safety.

Be visible.

There is no reason to ride without a rear-facing flashing red light. They are cheap, widely available, and lightweight. Get one. The brighter the better.

Also, your new Rapha kit may look sharp, but black and gray aren’t terribly easy to see. I’m not saying you shouldn’t wear Rapha or the like, but maybe pair it with a high-viz helmet. There’s a reason that road workers wear neon.

Be predictable.

Don’t swerve. Stop at stop signs and traffic lights. Signal before turning.

Be careful in a group.

People often say that there is safety in numbers, but where there are large groups of cyclists, there are angry drivers.

Ride leaders, be smart about route selection for your weekly rides. Is there a stretch of road on which you always seem to have trouble with drivers? Pick an alternate route. In the 4,000-lb. car vs. 18-lb. piece of plastic argument, we don’t win.

Know when to ride single-file. Yes, you have the right to ride two-abreast, but sometimes it’s not appropriate. If you’re going to ask drivers to “share the road,” you must do the same. A little common sense can go a long way.

Remember that your actions reflect on all cyclists, not just you. If you smack a car’s hood or needlessly hold up traffic, you make all of us look bad. Chances are that someone else will pay for what you did.

Know how to ride your bike

If you are not a technically skilled rider, you should not be on the road. Cycling in America is dangerous. Cycling without proper skills is even more dangerous.

When I ride on the road, I take comfort in the knowledge that I can hop a curb to get on the sidewalk or insta-turn into the grass without crashing. I can look over my shoulder without veering into the road. I can ride over train tracks, gravel, potholes, etc. These skills should be part of every cyclist’s repertoire.

Know when to get off the road

At certain times of day on particularly dodgy stretches of road, I hop on the sidewalk or ride in the grass. I know that cyclists are not supposed to ride on the sidewalk, but I also know that I’m not supposed to be hit by a car on Johnson Ferry. If a quarter mile of sidewalk riding is what it takes to get home safe, do it.

Just yesterday, I felt uneasy on a stretch of road, so I road in the grass for half a mile. I was able to do this because I have the necessary skills and I ride 28 mm flat-resistant tires that will stand up to a little “off roading.”

I know that a lot of people will take issue with this section. I have had good friends tell me that it’s our job as cyclists to claim our space on the road. I understand the sentiment, but I have two jobs that supersede that job—being a husband and a father. Making a point is not worth my life. It’s not worth yours, either.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Back to Therapy... Again

After 20+ years of off and on speech therapy with the same pathologist, I'm starting fresh with the folks at UGA. And I'm a little scared.
The reason I'm scared is that going back to speech therapy means that stuttering has gotten bad enough that I can't fix it on my own. It means that I have to commit time and money to focusing on the part of myself that I hate--the part that I try to ignore.

I imagine it's similar to a person with a drug or alcohol dependency admitting that they have a problem and that they need help. Admitting that I need help scares the shit out of me.

I've been asked why I talk so openly about stuttering on social media, and I think I have an answer. Stuttering is a very public problem. If I want to get things done, I have to talk. Everyone I talk to sees that I stutter and forms their own opinion and creates their own meaning. Some people, upon hearing me stutter, assume that I am a victim of head trauma or that I am otherwise disabled. Some people think that I am scatter-brained. Still others think that I am shifty or untrustworthy. By talking about stuttering often and without holding back, I hope to help people form opinions and create meanings that are more in line with the truth about me, whatever that is. If I choose not to talk about stuttering, I waive my right to state my case in a debate that I have no choice but to be part of.

To everyone who supports me and "gets it", thank you for putting up with all the stuttering talk in your FB/Twitter feed. To everyone else, I hope that I can positively influence your view of stutterers.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Work Phone Call

Whenever I give a work contact or client my phone number for the first time, I feel obliged to "warn" them that I stutter. I do this to avoid an awkward or unpleasant first contact that might sully what could otherwise be a good relationship.

Every time I do this, my pride takes a hit. Admitting your flaws to a stranger hurts. Doing it every couple of days hurts even more. That said, I know it's the right thing to do. I can't let stuttering sabotage my business.

I thought this post would end in a question, but I can't really think of one. Any comments, dear reader?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Exit Speed

The day after the house fire, I raced in the Roswell Criterium, a 90-minute, high-speed circuit race run through the closed streets of downtown Roswell, Georgia. Over 100 of the country’s top criterium racers fly around the racecourse at about 30 mile per hour. It’s a feat just to stay in contact with the group.

My head was still swimming from the house fire. I wasn’t sure where my family was going to stay that night, and I didn’t know how much of our stuff had made it through the blaze. I wasn’t in a bike racing mindset.

As soon as the race started, I was struggling. I had to sprint out of every turn, only to slam on the brakes to slow down for the next turn. I did this for about ten laps before I heard a familiar voice.

“What are you doing?” It was coach, friend, and professional criterium racer Adam Myerson. He had seen that I was in trouble. “It’s all about exit speed. Follow me.”

I did as I was told. As I followed his wheel around the course, I noticed that we were moving up the field, but my heart rate was down. Instead of braking hard into turns and sprinting out of them, we stopped pedaling well before the turns. Initially we would lose ground, but when other riders began to brake, we coasted past them. Because of the speed we carried out of the turns, we didn’t have to sprint; we just started pedaling again to resume race speed. By backing off a little before each turn, our exit speed was substantially higher than it would have been after hard braking. We were going faster with less work.

This way of racing went against my instinct, but it worked. My gut told me that professional criteriums involved brute force and reacting to what those around you were doing, but Adam taught me how to “surf” the momentum of the field.

Recently, I have gone back to speech therapy (I’ll cover my decision to go back in another post). Over the past few weeks, I have been mindful of speech in a way that I haven’t been in years. This mindfulness has made me realize that I have been approaching stuttering the same way I used to race criteriums. I’ve been struggling through every block only to “sprint” into the next. It’s exhausting.

This awareness of my speech was initially very painful for me. I hate stuttering. It doesn’t jibe with my image of myself, and it doesn’t jibe with the life I want to lead, so I hate to think about or deal with it. As I strive to let go of my hatred for stuttering (this will be another blog post), the pain is beginning to subside, and I have been able to approach speaking with a new perspective. Like Adam in the Roswell Criterium, Tim Mackesey, my speech therapist, is helping me figure out how to “coast” through blocks and carry my speech momentum.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

CX Nats 2012

The 2012 Cyclocross National Championships were this week in Madison, WI. I was there. Here's my story.

Monday, January 2, 2012:

I left Marietta with two bikes, six wheels, two boxes of spare parts, a tool box, a stationary trainer, a gigantic plastic tub of cycling clothes, a suitcase with regular clothes, my computer, three helmets, three pairs of cycling shoes, mud boots, tennis shoes, Whole Foods honey roasted peanut butter, rice cakes, and a good attitude. I drove to Evansville, IN and spent the night with my cousin Lindsey, her husband Brian, and their children: Kaden (human), Bella (canine), and Bentley (canine). They fed me lots of good food and took great care of me. Thanks, Blanchards! I love you guys!

I also made a quick stop to see one of my biggest fans - Grandmommy.

I woke up early Tuesday morning and drove to Madison. The drive from Evansville, IN to Madison, WI is boring.

When I got to Madison, I went straight to the course and rode a few laps. It was frozen and terrifying. I went to bed feeling a bit freaked out about Wednesday's single speed race.

I woke up extremely early on Wednesday and went over my bikes. After I had them both dialed in, I headed to the course. I was happy to find that course had thawed quite a bit. By the time the single speed race started, the sheet ice had turned into ice/mud. I can ride ice/mud.

I only did one single speed race this season (which I won), so I had to start in the back of 56 guys. I spent the first lap and a half escaping a scrum of crashes and bottlenecks. When I reached the front of the pack, the leaders were already well up the road, so I set the throttle to cruise and rolled in for 15th. I was expecting top ten, but considering my start position, I was satisfied.

After the race, I had a beer and a salad at a local brewpub and then headed back to my hotel, where I washed my bike in the shower. It was a pretty good day.

On Thursday, I did a few more laps of the course and then drove to Plainfield, IL (near Chicago) to stay with Joy and Aaron and their fantastic two-year-old daughter Emma. When I got there, I found that my thermal skinsuit had shown up. It was supposed to show up before I left Marietta, but when the company called me to tell me that it wouldn't ship until the day I was to leave town, I told them to ship it to Joy and Aaron.

I wondered out loud if there was a screen printing company nearby, and Joy immediately picked up the phone and got the number of Rocket Imaging from her brother in law! I mocked up a quick jersey design in preparation.

Sarah flew in that night, so we picked her up at the airport. I was unbelievably happy to be reunited with my other half.

Friday morning, I awoke to unseasonably warm temperatures. I dropped my skinsuit off at Rocket Imaging and then had some coffee and breakfast. After that I headed out for a ride... in shorts... in January... in Chicago. I found some great bike trails and XC ski trails and spun the cobwebs out of my legs. On the way back to the house, I stopped by and picked up my newly customized skinsuit. I think it turned out pretty good.

For dinner, we had Chinese at the house. Another good day.

We spent Saturday touring Chicago. It was awesome!

I went to bed early Saturday night.

We left Joy and Aaron's at about 8:00 and headed to Madison. We got there around 11:30 (pregnant wife + lots of coffee for me = lots of rest stops).

I took my time getting dressed and looking over my bikes. I finally started riding around about 12:30. My A bike, that had felt fine on Saturday, suddenly wouldn't shift. I turned around to head back to the van, and the chain broke.

I pushed the bike over to the expo area to find a chain. All of the SRAM guys were busy in the pits, so I stopped at the Shimano trailer. I asked a Shimano tech if he would sell me a chain. He said no. The largest bicycle component manufacturer in the world would not sell a chain to an elite rider sixty minutes before the start of nats. Shimano, thank you for making your customer service policy clear to me.

I jogged back to the van and asked Sarah to head to the local bike shop for a chain. When she got back, I put the chain on, and the bike shifted fine. I hurriedly changed out of my warm-up clothes (without ever having warmed up) and into my new skinsuit and headed over to staging.

I was called up in the last row. There were around 100 guys in the race. Before Wednesday's race, the largest race I had ever done was 40 guys. No problem, right?

The gun went off, and I passed a few guys right away. As soon as the group hit the grass, people started crashing and getting tangled in course tape. The bottlenecks were amazing. I spent an unbelievable amount of time completely stopped with nowhere to go. After the first lap, I had moved up about 15 spots and crashed four times. As I started the second lap, I thought now the race starts.

I was wrong.

When I hit the grass again, I could tell that something was wrong. Every time I hit a rut, I could feel something moving that shouldn't have been moving. When I picked up my bike to run around an especially slick 180 turn and my rear wheel fell off, I identified the source of the problem. Somewhere in the first lap, my quick release had been flipped. In twenty plus years of riding bikes with quick release skewers, I have NEVER had that happen. In addition to my wheel falling off, my chain had derailed and wedged itself between my chain guide and my frame - another first. In my semi-hypoxic state, I fumbled with the wheel and chain for what felt like half an hour. I moved over to the side of the course and struggled with my bike while all the guys I had passed flew by. When I finally got my equipment together, I put my foot on the gas, but I must have forgotten to put my hands on the steering weel. I crashed about a million times.

The 2012 Cyclocross National Championships taught me a few things:

1. If you know that you will be called up at the back of a 100 person field, don't get your hopes up. Unless you are EXTREMELY gifted, you're not going anywhere.

2. To be good in mud, you must race in mud. Grass crits and mud races are ENTIRELY different beasts. I can fake it well, but at the top level, faking it doesn't work.

3. I'm sure more stuff will come to me as this experience sinks in.

After the race, I was not a happy dude, so Sarah and I got dinner and hit the road. Planning to drive through the night, I drank a sugar-free NOS after dinner. After 200 miles, Sarah became very uncomfortable in the car (remember - she's 27 weeks pregnant), so we stopped at a motel in Bloomington. Due to the NOS, I'm up at 2:oo am writing this blog post.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Stuttering in the Classroom

Have you seen this?

Elizabeth Snyder, a college professor, asked 16-year-old Philip Garber, a stutterer, not to speak in class "so we do not infringe on other students' time."

Are you kidding me?

I do not advocate giving stutterers special treatment, but the classroom should be a safe place for all students. It is where today's students develop the confidence and skills that they need to become tomorrow's professionals. If this student has something to add to the class discussion, he should be allowed to do so.

As a stutterer, I would tell Snyder to show kindness and patience. If Garber's experience is anything like my own, he gets knocked down enough without his professor adding to it.