I came into the new year motivated to get back to where I was a couple of years ago. I started piling on the miles, and riding long rides I never thought I could survive. Back to back 65 mile days, riding with fast groups, doing stilly stuff like riding my heavy gravel bike up Rist Canyon. By mid-March I was nearing 1000 miles ridden. 2020 race season was going to be my b*tch!
Then, well, a pandemic of a novel virus happened.
Like probably every American out there, I’ve watched as my life upended in the last few weeks. Races cancelled, permits pulled, group rides called off. As people battled for toilet paper, work situations became uncertain, and travel basically banned, athletes have had the struggle of what to do now.
It’s been hard, I won’t lie! I know (as I’ve read it on social media), a good chunk of society is like “get over it, it’s just a stupid bike race.” I think that’s trivializing the situation. First off, nobody can tell someone else how to feel, how to grieve, how to feel loss. Yes, are people dying, losing their jobs, etc? Hell yeah. But that doesn’t mean a cyclist can’t feel sad, depressed, angry, whatever about their situation. I use cycling to even out my mental health and deal with day to day stress. Cycling is how I connect with others, socialize, and just feel normal. That’s all been threatened. While the outdoors is not cancelled (yet), most group rides are. I feel isolated from my friends, especially ones I’ve finally reconnecting after years of blowing off riding a bike, and that’s hard. I do not spend forty hours a week with people who are cyclists, let alone athletes, so I have been living for the weekends this year. I’m also angry at myself for blowing off 2018 and 2019, and not riding as much and in a way feel like this is some weird karmic payback for largely turning my back on cycling the last few years (yes, I know irrational. Shush).
So what’s my plan? I’m forging ahead, sticking with my training plan and milking every day I can ride outdoors to the fullest. My yoga studio moved to a live stream mode. Kate Courtney is posting up fantastic videos of her strength routines (she wants to kill me I think, or so my hamstrings tell me). I reactivated Zwift when I want something more than the blue boxes of TrainerRoad and weather/daylight is not cooperating. I’m watching the food consumption. I’m plotting new routes I can ride from my house that I have never explored.
My goal “A” race for the year falls on June 6th, which is tricky. I will be absolutely, devastatingly heartbroken if it gets cancelled, but I also know eventually racing has to be allowed again. It’s easy to just throw the hands up and want to give up, but as I look at the crazy things I have managed to accomplish so far in 2020, I don’t want to give up the fitness I have regained.
For now… let’s remember some of the fun times of 2020.
So where exactly has 2019 gone? I guess it is true – time just keeps speeding up faster and faster the older you get. I’m already six races into my 2019 season, and haven’t written about a single one!
I kicked off 2019 with the Old Man Winter Bike Rally in February. I had planned on doing the 100km long course, but end of January my whole pre-season was derailed by a crazy sinus and respiratory infection. I played it safe, and bumped down to the 50km course. I was off the bike for a considerable amount of time, so really didn’t know what to expect. Unlike when I did Old Man in 2017, this year was cold (mid 20s) and sloppy. I was riding in a podium position for about half the race, but then bonked. My bottles froze, which is the downfall to running a purely liquid form of nutrition, so I also didn’t take in any calories. I would end up 7th place out of 97 women in 1 hour 50 minutes, which I find to be crazy impressive considering I was still on antibiotics and feeling like I was functioning with half a lung.
Then came a lapse in mental judgement, when I decided I would race some criteriums in March. Yes, criterium as in crit, as in those things I swear I will not race because they’re the most dangerous things ever. I dunno, I’m just as confused as you are.
March 23rd was the Louisville Crit, which seemed to have an okay course. I parked by my pro roadie friend Mel, and we rode to registration together. Cat 3 women would start with the P12’s, which is just silly if you ask me. I almost missed the start because I was too busy not preparing to race my bike. I was dropped in the first ten seconds of the race, so I began my 50 minutes of solo TT effort. About halfway through I started yelling at the Square1 folks and photographers about wanting a beer hand up, and behold, on the next lap, Barry was on course with a beer in his outstretched hand!!! I may have finished DFL in this race, but I won in fun had because I GOT A BEER HANDUP IN A CRIT! That is all. Also, don’t attempt to sprint against Ashley Zoener. Even my 800 watts was child’s play. Lesson learned.
Riding my beer handup high, I entered the Oredigger CSP Crit the following weekend. This race really isn’t very crit-y, and takes place on the Colorado Highway Patrol training track. So needless to say, all I did was wish I was ripping around it in a car. This time I hung with the Cat3/4/5 group for about two or so laps before I was dropped and began my solo TT for 22nd place, which was not last, for the record. Hey, I get the most of my entry fee!
Because I pretty much stopped formally training at the end of January when I got sick, my fitness was being very slow to coming around, and I was beginning a crazy intense block of travel for work. Boulder Roubaix was wayyyyy faster than the previous time I had raced it in cat 3, mostly thanks to young juniors who apparently can just sprint for hours on end. The gravel was fairly sketchy this year, and there were flats galore and crashes. I hung on for about half a lap before being dropped. I was in last place for awhile, but finally caught the girl in front of me and was able to distance myself from her. I stopped briefly to check on Heather who had flatted and was walking it out. In the end, I’d get 11th place. Not last. I got some tan lines.
Finally it was time to end the road racing nonsense with the CSU Cobb Lake Road Race in mid-April. Pulling in for my volunteer shift, I was pretty set on not starting the race. Less than an hour before the start, I pulled my bib numbers and walked to my car and got ready. I am so happy that I decided to start! I actually like this circuit course, and every time I race it I end up just riding solo most of the time, and I don’t mind it. Strangely enough, two laps in I was still in the front pack, which included Jennifer Valente (a Google search tells me she’s an Olympic medalist… so you know, not slow at all). Third lap of the six lap race I was dropped on the climb. That’s probably the hardest thing for me as I struggle with weight and regaining form is not being able to climb like I use to, so my ego cried a bit. I put in the work to try to catch the group, aided by Dejan, who was moto-reffing for the day, cheering me on during a crazy sprint effort when I recontacted the group… to have them all take off sprinting. Yeah, I don’t get road race tactics. Oh well, onward I continued. I was lapped by a finishing men’s category at the end of my 5th lap, and there were a few seconds of confusion while the officials debated if I had another lap to do or not. I didn’t want a DNF, so out on the sixth lap I went. Whew. Long race… I was last among the finishers, but there were three DNF’s. I am happy I wasn’t a DNS, as DFL is better than a DNS!
And then I started a crazy two weeks which included travel to Las Vegas, then straight to Florida, then back for barely 48 hours before heading to England and then onto Finland. No bikes, and sea level. Great combo heading into mountain bike race season!
The UW Cycling Team decided to host a race on the brand new trail system east of Laramie called the Schoolyard Scramble on May 4th, and I figured it was a lot better than getting my butt handed to me down in Castle Rock at Ridgeline Rampage. I get my bike off the car, and go to warm up, and immediately hear a loud, “liquid squishing” sound coming from my rear shock. I let Alan, John, and finally Dewey from the Pedal House listen to it, who confirmed it was blown, but “still okay to race on.” Greattttt. I silently thanked my lucky stars I never sold my other Epic (aka “the old race bike”) so I would have something to race the Growler on in a few weeks, and took to the starting line.
Schoolyard Scramble had the weirdest XC race start ever… where we just soft pedaled. I eyed Isabell, watching to see if she’d jump, but nothing. Finally with the single track appearing, I jumped in front, and pushed the pace, and she stuck on my back wheel and we dropped Melanie and the rest of the field. It was all going well until on a fast downhill I followed the guy in front of me off course, which allowed Isabel to jump into the lead. Dammit! So I took to just keeping my pace steady, staying upright, and not listening to the liquid squishing sound. I noticed my handling skills were quite rusty, and I wanted to over steer on every corner. Eek. However, I kinda felt like a bit of my old XC racer self, which was a relief! I’d finish second, a little under a minute back from Isabel, and about a minute over Melanie. And the best part is I got a UW cycling team kit as my prize!! Woohoo!
With my mountain bike race season started, I feel a new renewed interest in mountain bike racing. I know deep down I am shifting towards cyclocross being my primary discipline, but I think having last year off from an intense mountain bike season has rekindled my fire a bit. Though my season is really a 180-degree difference than the one I had planned, I still want to race a lot and just enjoy the fact I can race a bike. So needless to say, I’ve filled every weekend through June 8th with mountain bike races, including a USAC nationals qualifier (Battle the Bear), just so I’m qualified just in case I decide to race nationals for the experience.
Oh man, where has the time gone? I blinked, and went from cyclocross season to the beginning of March just like that!
First, I want to give ONE BIG SHOUT OUT to my amazing sponsors and supporters for my 2019 race season.
I am once again honored to be a part of 9Seventy Racing, a multi-sport racing team based in Fort Collins, CO (but with awesome teammates from all over the Front Range, Western Slope, and even Durango, CO… and then me in WY).
Also returning for 2019 is Tailwind Nutrition, the only fuel and recovery brand I trust for my training and racing – and all my adventures in between! I am so happy to be returning as one of their official Trailblazers for the fourth year in a row.
New for 2019 is Maxxis Tires. I switched to using Maxxis Tires in 2017 for my XC mountain bike race season, and never looked back. They perform great (hence why world champions use them), and are tough to stand up to whatever gnarly stuff the trails can throw at them.
And, last but not least, Dirt Components! Still nothing better than those pretty carbon fiber Thumper wheels on my fat bike during the winter!
My 2019 race plans have changed seemingly weekly as I figure out what I want from my season. I did give myself a taster of racing in February with the Old Man Winter Bike Rally, where I placed 7th out of 97 ladies in the 50km gravel race. Otherwise, my race season will begin in April with some early road racing (weather pending… we actually are having a winter this year!), and mountain biking begins in May!
I’ve never been a mantra type person. Never really had a saying or anything, except for some self-talk like “keep it smooth” or “don’t freaking wreck now!” in the heat of a mountain bike race. But this past cyclocross season taught me something, and morphed into the mantra I ended up embracing: Keep Fighting.
I really didn’t know what to expect from cyclocross this year. Honestly, it’s my favorite discipline and I was just very excited to get back to my little wacky cross family for a few months, but my fitness never seemed to recover to previous levels after surgery. Nonetheless, I decided I would attend every Front Range BRAC/USAC cross race, minus the three I’d miss due to my Iceland trip (I know, horrrrribbbbllleeee excuse!). I’ve never raced every single event in the season; in fact, I barely did any races in 2017. I also decided to supplement the USAC stuff with weeknight races at New Belgium and a few of the Southeast Wyoming CX Series races. Ambitious. Maybe crazy.
So after nearly a month off the bike and three weeks spent hiking around at nearly sea level, I dived into the 2018 cyclocross season in the single speed category.
The single speed women’s category grew… like double/triple from last year
It got super fast
Ummm, I barely ride a bike
The first race at Primalpalooza on September 30th was a disaster for me. I ended up finishing minutes off the back. I think I was just walking my bike at one point. It was miserable and heart wrenching. Immediately I thought “oh crap,” and stared at all the races I plotted out. Now, some might roll their eyes and think I only like racing a bike when I’m winning. Which hey, winning is super nice, but so is also not being like 4 minutes off the next racer. I thought I maybe jumped in over my head.
But alas, the skin suit came out one week later at CycloX Interlocken. It was rainy, which led to some slippery conditions which plays to my technical strengths. I had a decent start, and on the second lap was just about to contact 4th & 5th places when I got lost on course, rode the sand pit twice, and later got lost AGAIN near the end of the lap. So… freaking… frustrated. Luckily, I was able to make up a few positions, and ended up a mid-pack 6th, which was a relief. OK, it’s still there. Barely, and with some weird route finding issues, but there. But I did find myself whispering over and over “Keep fighting, Heidi, keep fighting!”
Next big weekend was the US Open of Cyclocross weekend at Valmont. I always race like poo at Valmont, but I do like the mountain bike-ness of the course, and the fact I can usually find something to launch my bike off of. I had a good start on Saturday, but for some reason decided to not turn my bike in a gravel corner, which caused me to panic brake and wipe out. Seriously, WTF?! I ended up 4th on the tough course that involve to many steep run ups, but one awesome jump I went off of every lap to spectaculars’ delight. Once again, mid-pack. Sunday’s conditions had me eagerly bouncing off the walls, with weather doing a 180 and dumping about a foot of snow on the course. Usually Valmont races are hot sufferfests, so I was all for the snow! I had a great start, but soon my shoes and my pedals each were balls of ice, which led to me having to strider-bike a lot of parts where Sarah could clip in and keep pedaling. The time I wasted trying to get my feet to even contact my pedals for more than 2 seconds meant a 2nd place finish. But finally, in my 6th season of racing cyclocross, I got my elusive podium at Valmont! Only took a ton of snow for it to happen. Lesson learned to pack some flat pedals in case of a repeat.
With a podium behind me, I dived into the following weekend, deciding to also race my women’s geared cat 3 category at Schoolyard Cross after the single speed race. Schoolyard was a bit annoying, as we started after the cat 5 men, which led to a lot of guys blocking the path. I sat in 3rd most of the race, but kept getting caught up in men falling over in front of me, or zooming around me on flat/straights and then slowing up horribly in the corners and blocking my way. The lost seconds added up, and I settled for 4th. Shoot. However, in the cat 3 race, I had an amazing start, and held on for 5th place, even though I kept forgetting I could shift on the bike. I hadn’t raced cat 3 in nearly 3 years, so it was a nice change. I split a hotel with my friend Wendy, just like we did “back in the day,” which was quite enjoyable.
CycloX Louisville, aka Bowl of Death, was the day after Schoolyard. My legs definitely felt the previous day’s efforts, and Bowl of Death is no cake walk. There were a few position changes throughout the race, and I knew I just had to keep pushing to hold onto my 5th place. Once again, that whole Keep Fighting thing came up. I professed my love to Meredith Miller as she lapped me. Sometimes the suffering just needs to end!
By now, it was end of October, and it seemed like we were on the downward side of the cross season hump. I launched into my first official week of 2019 training, motivated by ambitious race plans to get back to structured intervals and the trainer. I knew it can always be a challenge to juggle intervals and base training while still racing cross twice a weekend, but I felt up for it.
I’ve never raced the Feedback Cup before, and was nervous how the course would treat me, as it seemed very fitness based vs. skills. It was also hot in the morning, so I decided to race without gloves because I felt too overheated (I think this was the last time I’d think that this cross season). I had a great start, keeping on Errin’s back wheel. The course at race speeds ends up being a blast, and challenging. The field strung out a bit, and Michelle and I traded positions a few times before I could power away on a gentle climb. Now sitting in 3rd, I knew I wanted this podium more than anything else at that moment in time. I pushed and pushed to increase the gap, as I knew Michelle was quicker on the two sections that required being off the bike. Excitingly enough, I finished on the lead lap, and was not lapped by the open women! 3rd place, amazing podium hair, so excited!
Tired legs greeted me for Sunday’s race that weekend, the Republic Cycles Northglenn race. I had decided to do 15 miles of gentle mountain biking in Boulder County to kill time Saturday afternoon, and was semi-worried it was too much for my legs. Oh well… it was the Halloween race, and shenanigans were meant to be had! The course, which is rather flat aside from steep, loose hills on the backside, was fast. The start was fast and furious, and Sarah and I took to the front. I ended up rear ending Sarah twice on the first lap, which is the great thing about racing single speed… it’s really hard to break the bikes! Sarah would end up gapping me off the front, so I settled into maintaining my 2nd place position. This race made for the best podium photo of the year, with me and a giant bottle of vodka, Sarah with her winner’s jersey, and Melissa just posing completely normal with the two lunatics. OK, maybe the mojo is back…
So one of my biggest flaws that I’ve always had as a bike racer is mentally setting myself up for the outcome based on pre-registration lists and who shows up at the start line. You know, one of those, “ughhhh SHE registered, now we’re all racing for 2nd” type of mentalities. I’m bad about it at cross. I see Liz, Heather, and Errin (aka the Mosaic squad) roll up, and I know I’m racing for mid-pack-off-the-podium at that point. I don’t care how many times you tell me I’ve beaten them or hung onto their wheels, I won’t believe it. CycloX Sienna Lake started out just like that. It downpoured rain during our pre-ride, and while I was giddy to race in more crappy conditions, I knew the “fast chicks” were there. BAM! We start and I’m 3rd wheel. Umm… where’s Errin? Well, ok, they’ll catch me soon enough. Pedal pedal pedal, run smartly, bang mud off my cleats, clip in and GOOOOOO. Errin is back there, but I’m holding her off. KEEP FIGHTING DAMMIT! And so I did, oh so hard on the slick course. Second to last lap I gave up hope of securely clipping in and took to single speeding on essentially flat pedals as I knew I was losing precious seconds. I ran the run ups, and rode smart. 3rd place!!! Time to stop with the start line prophecies.
I raced in Laramie the day after Sienna Lake. 50mph head winds and bitter cold temps. My mom came out to watch which was fun. Laprele Park is horribly bumpy, and tumbleweed kept getting stuck in my cantilever brakes on my geared bike. I won the women’s category, and ordered a new geared bike the next day with disc brakes. Whoops.
Finally it was time for the most wonderful weekend of the year: CROSS OF THE NORTH!!! Seriously, I LIVE for this weekend every fall. It’s the closest I get to a “hometown” race for cross, and I love how many are out there cheering and heckling me. I decided to be ultra ambitious this weekend, and registered for SSW and SW3 both days. I had the new geared bike and I love the course/venue so much that it seemed smart.
Saturday’s SSW race took place at a chilly 8am. Like Schoolyard, we had the luxury of starting behind the cat 5 men. And by luxury, I mean headache. Another fast start, so we soon began catching them. Errin had a good, clean, impressively fast race, and took to the front, and never looked back. I settled into second, with Liz and Sarah stalking me from behind. I felt odd during this race, like I was experiencing it from out of my body, and never really felt like I was in it. But I kept on pedaling, enjoying the technical features that I’ve use to racing on between the short track and weekday cross series held on the same course. Eventually on the second to last lap Liz, Sarah, and I would all end up together, and I knew it would important to get my crap together for the final lap. Sarah slipped into 2nd, and I all out sprinted to maintain my 3rd place over Liz. In the end, I think less than 3 seconds separated 2nd-4th places! Such an exciting race, but that final sprint was horribly painful! Most importantly, I kept my COTN podium streak alive, with my 4th year of appearing on a single speed podium! (2015 – 3rd SS4/5; 2016 – 3rd SS4/5; and 2017 – 1st SSW). I took to some recovery, and enjoyed a sloppy SW3 race in the afternoon, still trying to figure out what I’m suppose to do with a shifter. But my new bike rocked!
Sunday’s weather forecast held up its end of the bargain for COTN, and snow greeted me in the morning. Once again, I was giddy to be racing in sloppy, icy conditions, and wondered what I did to appease the weather gods as Colorado cross seasons are usually 70 degrees, dry, and horribly dusty. The cat 5 men ended up being a huge ordeal to deal with, especially on the first lap. Sarah got off the front, and once again Liz and I battled out for our positions, with Heather sneaking up on us. By the last lap a curvy section of the course turned into an ice skating rink, and Liz and I took turns wrecking in front of each other numerous times, getting to be so comical I was just laughing. Finally I was able to stay upright long enough to create a gap, and hold onto 2nd place. Yessssssssssss! My SW3 race in the afternoon was the muddiest bike affair I’ve been part of aside from the 2014 Rumble at 18 Road. New bike was given a thorough mud coating, along with my mouth, teeth, face, and every item of clothing. I managed to fight to hold my 6th place finish after the next girl getting pretty close to me a few times. I’m getting better at this fighting thing!
Coming off 5 races of podiums and a great COTN weekend, I was optimistic for the rest of the season, but naturally cautious and still predicting my finish based on who I lined up with. CycloX Westminster was greeted with freezing rain. It was actually quite awful. I had a decent start, but suddenly my lungs gave me a big fact NO and I struggled to breathe in the moist, frozen 25-degree air. As racer after racer passed me in my category, I got a bit down, but eventually pulled on my big girl chamois and fought to stay not-last-place. Before the last lap I even had to toss my glasses as they had a thick ice layer over them. The bike was all icy, and even my chest and arms had an ice layer frozen to the fabric. I like bad conditions, but not freezing rain. I held on for 6th place, wheezing at the finish line and hightailing it home to set up an appointment with my doc. You need to breathe to race a bike…
The following day was the Wyoming Cyclocross State Championships here in Cheyenne. I hadn’t raced a state champs for Wyoming since 2015, when I easily pedaled to the win. I didn’t know what to expect this time around, as there’s some fast junior girls coming up in this area, and that sneaking fear Christy Olson could always appear, and I always am aware of the large target on my bike when I race in southeastern Wyoming. Luckily it was sunny, not too windy, and mid-30s, which turned Clear Creek Park into another mud fest. I swear I can’t keep the new bike clean! The course was very nicely designed, and utilized some good terrain features for off camber climbs and descents, sand pits, barriers, and tight turns. My plan was to go out hard, build a big lead, and then just hang on. Being non-USAC, Wyoming cross races tend to run a lot longer than the BRAC mandated 40-45 minutes the women see in Colorado. I knew I probably had an hour of racing to do. I executed my plan… and something totally cool happened… I finished on the lead lap of the open men! I wasn’t lapped by the fast dudes! Bad thing is I had a nearly 70 minute long race… but I wasn’t lapped! Wahooooo! Proud of this win for sure!
Then it was two weeks off before the Colorado State Championships. I briefly considered driving to Fruita to race the USAC double-header there to pad my CO Cross Cup standing, but realized I didn’t want to deal with I-70 traffic and wanted some quality family time (I’d curse when I’d see some SSW ladies go race it in the end… looked like an awesome course!). Kubo and I got out on the fat bikes for a ride, and otherwise we ate lots and relaxed.
The CO State Championships were at Salisbury Equestrian Park in Parker, where I rode to a 1st place finish last year on a muddy day. No mud this year, just hardback dirt and freezing cold temperatures. The single speed was at 4pm Saturday evening, meaning it was even colder, and getting dark fast (I’d finish after sunset). In what USAC is maintaining as “an honest mistake,” they intermixed the women in with the men, which meant one gal had a front row start and the rest of us were in rows 3-4. Not ideal and we all exchanged confused banter and looks at the start. I lucked out with a good start thanks to a parting of the men I could ride through and took off. I’d end up settling in 4th place, until the steep run up that was hard as concrete and slippery took my mojo and I was passed. So there I was in 5th, fighting, with a charging Liz, Sarah, and Melissa behind me. If this was a time to keep fighting, it was now with 1.5x cup points on the line, and a desire to at least say I was top 5. I once again came around the finish with Liz a few seconds off my back wheel and I nearly cried thinking of the pain of the COTN sprint. Luckily, it didn’t come down a full on sprint. Whew. 5th place!
Sunday of the state races I raced in SW3. I had the 3rd call up , which made me giggle as a junior girl thought they were calling her name instead. Big, tall 35 year old me in a sea of teenage girls! They took off fast at the start, and I hung to them, because hey, I have like 100 pounds of extra body weight which translates into one hell of a sprint and wattage cottage when needed. My great position ended at the steep wall run up, which everyone struggled to get up without slipping (100 extra pounds is a disadvantage when climbing straight up on slippery dirt apparently). So it was back to fighting for my mid-to-bottom pack finish. Racing with more than one gear available is super hard, and even harder on a fast course like Salisbury. On the last lap Lia would end up sneaking onto me, and into the tree portion coming into the finish she attempt to sprint past. I don’t know where I got the watts from, but I responded to the sprint and held her off through the sharp 180 turn into the finishing straight. Crap! I have to sprint again! Except we were sprinting straight into the back of the cat 4 winner who was posting up. Nonetheless we went for it, me getting the advantage in what felt like in my mind an impressive bike throw. I honestly wish I could’ve seen the finish line camera photo from it… cat 4 girl all posting up, two crazy cat 3’s behind her sprinting for 9th and 10th!
Finally the final race of the year… the Rocky Mountain Regional Championships. Though a bit fitness course, I do enjoy it. My race ended up not going as well as I wanted. I had a pretty solid first two laps, staying on Errin’s wheel in 4th place. I managed to power past her on the 3rd lap, and had a great gap until I slid out on one of the off camber, grass downhills. This completely killed my mojo, and my heart spiked to 196 as I ran up the hill. I’d proceed to fall back and back, eventually finishing 5th. But not before I took a double beer hand up on the last lap! So not exactly the result I wanted to have (and almost did, if I didn’t wreck), but at least I finished, which is more than I can say for regionals last year! My placing was good enough to land me in 2nd place for the third year in a row for the Colorado Cross Cup for single speed women!!
So that’s my 2018 cyclocross season in one long nutshell. A season that taught me to never give up, fight for every position, whether it’s a podium or not-last-place. To never look at the women around me and determine what place I’ll finish on their race resume alone. A season to use oxyclean to get out all the mud and grime, and to never wear drop-tail Pearl Izumi thermal bibs ever again. A season that finally gave me my mantra: Keep fighting. And that applies to so many more aspects of the world than a cyclocross race.
A long, ambitious cyclocross season takes a village. Though an individual sport on the course, no one can do it alone. To my boyfriend, who came and cheered and held bikes, and otherwise dealt nicely with the weird ass world that is cyclocross and competitive cycling, and my parents for dealing with another “no, I have to race that weekend, I’ll see you in mid-December” answer to planning time together. My team, 9Seventy Racing, and awesome teammates who also raced cross, or who would volunteer, cheer, etc. My extended cross family, that feels like a team though we all hail from other teams.. .from Feedback Sports jumping in to helping with wheel issues both days of CO States, Tricia loaning me a heart rate monitor, Without Limits for granting volunteer opportunities. The awesome, amazing, STRONG women of Colorado’s single speed category, who aren’t afraid to fight for women’s cycling and ensure we have a better playing field to play on. Tailwind Nutrition for keeping me fueled and recovered, especially on those crazy back to back weekends, or double race days. Anthony Zegan of BikeWyo (best bike mechanic ever!!) for keeping my bikes running smoothly. Patrick and the team at the Bicycle Station for getting me my pretty new Specialized Crux in an amazingly quick time. To Alan and Seth for posting “mediocre” on all my podium photos as an inside joke.
It’s time to rest, and train up for my most ambitious year yet – 2019.
I like reading other people’s experiences with things. I’m beyond guilty of searching for people’s blogs and race reports before events to get an idea of the experience and course. Sometimes it’s just nice to know others feel/see/whatever the same things I do. But one area is missing… and that’s finding out the experience of an early-30s-childless-athlete who had a laparoscopic total hysterectomy. So here’s my story… mostly just to document my recovery and story, and hopefully maybe someone else will stumble upon it as well.
The whole mess really started in the late winter 2016/spring of 2017 with nagging pelvic pain that would come and go. I trudged on, until the months of nonstop bleeding started occurring. I had been on oral birth control for nearly 15 years and had very regulated periods and what not, so I knew things were not normal. I finally scheduled an appointment with my OB-GYN in early August 2017, and she ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed a cyst on one of my ovaries and polyp in my uterus. I was put on “old school” high dose oral birth control pills. I stayed on the pills for about two and a half months, but then the side effects became too severe that I went back to my old, low dose formulation. My doc and I agreed on some watching and waiting, but by December 2017 the pain was becoming more intense. Another ultrasound was scheduled, and it showed the cyst was gone, but the polyp still remained.
I have never wanted to have kids, it was never in the cards for me for a multitude of reasons, so I was “ok” with having a hysterectomy, but my doctor did not want to jump to that right away. When I was 3 years old I had both of my ureters reimplanted onto my bladder, and she had concerns about anatomy and scarring that could make a hysterectomy high risk. So we agreed with proceeding with a hysteroscopy to remove the polyp and also take a better look at what was going on in my pesky uterus. I underwent that procedure in mid January 2018. Overall it was quite easy, I was ready to go home like 20 minutes after leaving recovery, and had just very mild cramping which I took ibuprofen for. The polyp was removed, but the doctor did see suspected fibroids.
Unfortunately the pain and bleeding increased significantly in the month following what was hopefully going to be a solution, so I decided to proceed with scheduling a hysterectomy with ureteral stents (to aid in visualizing my ureters so hopefully they would remain unharmed). By then I had waffled between “I’m not training at all!” to doing intervals on the trainer in the basement. Really my whole spring, and resulting summer race season, was in limbo and from an athletic point of view I was really lost at what to do. So I skied, kinda rode, and was lazy a lot. And naturally, I wasn’t feeling well, so motivated to really hammer on the training plan wasn’t there. A date was set, and suddenly there was just waiting. And hoping 5 weeks would be enough recovery to still race the Gunnison Growler…
Some people think that because I didn’t want kids that this was an easy decision to make, but let me tell you, it was NOT! It’s one thing to not have kids by choice, it’s another when it’s anatomically impossible anymore. I had more than several occasions where I seriously considered canceling the surgery, wondering if I was making too serious of a decision. I’m only 34, and have plenty of friends who had babies at 38, 39, 40… I don’t know what the future holds, and what might change. So it was tough. Luckily, I would keep both of my ovaries, which means keeping eggs so if I win the lottery, the chance is always there for a biological child. (Oh hell, who am I kidding… cats and bikes all the way!)
So after a hectic April of multiple work travel trips, personal vacation to Florida, one last ski day at A-Basin, surgery day came on April 20th. Pre-op was all the standard stuff, and soon enough I was in the OR and out within minutes. I woke up screaming that I had to pee and confused why I wasn’t on the beach anymore. My bladder was spasming awfully from the cystoscopy and stents. My amazing PACU nurse was quick to bring warm blankets to help soothe the pain and I finally really realized I wasn’t on a beach for reals, and that after months and months of tests, ultrasounds, pills here and there, and what not it was all over. There was no going back, it was done and done. Kinda freaky…
I eventually was transferred to my room that I would stay in overnight. So… I went into this surgery thinking the pain wouldn’t be any worse than finishing out a mountain bike race with a few cracked ribs, and that I would refuse all opioid pain meds after PACU. Ummm, chalk that up to one of the worse ideas I’ve had in a long time…
First time I tried to pee I was in tears due to all the trauma in my bladder and ureters. I wasn’t even really being bothered by my three laparoscopic incisions or the big one in my woman parts internally. Sitting up felt like everything was going to fall out of the bottom of me. I walked to the bathroom hunched over like a 100 year old granny with bad posture. I was pissed off I was in pain, but remained stubborn and took only Tylenol. By 6pm, a few hours after getting to my room, I finally agreed to a hydrocodone pain pill. I ate some dinner, and settled into feeling crappy, as the gas pains from them inflating my belly were starting to begin.
This was not some cracked ribs, or deep lacerations from decomposed granite, or even landing head first at 30mph.
So, pretty much, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I felt like a big baby. Dammit, I can push on and ride bikes and race injured, why couldn’t I handle a hysterectomy?!
I was barely able to get any sleep thanks to unnecessary things beeping in my room (I was a night shift surgical nurse for years, so that added to my grumpiness about all the unnecessary noises). Finally got some good sleep from 4-7:30am and woke up really excited for breakfast. I had taken myself (whoops… what does high fall risk mean again?!) to the bathroom a few times overnight and the pain was less and less (and also meant peeing less blood), and was feeling a bit better. My doctor came in right as breakfast came and took the bandages off the lap incisions and gave me scripts and instructions for home. Naturally I asked when I could exercise, and she told me not to even think about it. Sigh. (My doctor has no idea that I’m a competitive cyclist actually… probably should’ve told her – communicate this with your physician!)
My Boy and parents got me home by 9 or 10am and we settled in for movies and laziness. The gas pain was becoming my main issue, along with an intense fear on my part about becoming constipated (nurses are a bit poop obsessed if they’ve ever worked post-surgical). Luckily The Boy was ever so attentive, running and getting me meds, and feeding me, and helping me through intense bouts of pain when the gas would irritate the phrenic nerve and give me crazy awful shoulder and neck pain. Laughing hurt, I was deathly afraid of sneezing, and I thought my belly button was the grossest looking thing in the world.
Before surgery I had grand plans of returning to work by Monday possibly (reminder, surgery was on Friday), and just getting back to normal life immediately, but that just wasn’t the case. After all, I had a uterus, cervix, and both fallopian tubes removed, and those are like… you know… organs. The Boy took me on a mile long stroll in the park on Sunday afternoon in the sun, which felt good. Monday and Tuesday post surgery I slept in, laid around, and reminded myself that it was completely okay that I just sit back and rest. I’m a highly Type A “I must be doing something!” type of person, so this was beyond challenging.
Wednesday, post op day 5, I probably overdid it. I did 4 hours of work from home, and then walked 2 miles in the park by my house, cooked a decently big dinner, and this just wiped me out. Thursday I didn’t really feel well, so The Boy loaded me up in my car and we went out to Curt Gowdy State Park to enjoy the sun and warm weather and did a small walk on one of my favorite mountain bike trails. Which let me tell you, 60+ degree weather, sunshine, and my favorite mountain bike trail just meant I was super sad I wasn’t riding a bicycle. Seriously, why couldn’t there have been like two feet of snow during my recovery instead of sunshine and 60-70 degree weather?! Friday and Saturday was followed up with more hikes and sunshine, and by Saturday morning I was feeling a lot more like myself, with just soreness around my incisions on my belly. Sunday I decided to talk myself back to Gowdy where I walked Stone Temple Circuit for the first time ever, and saw so many things I miss while riding a bike… mainly a very phallic rock feature, but hey, whatever, LOL. I also scouted out some new lines on features I struggle with, so it was like training, right?
At my 1 week follow up appointment (post op day 10) my doctor removed the knots on the stitches on my belly. I asked about when I could ride a bike, and she told me to wait. DAMMIT.
And that kinda brings us up to current day (post op day 11). I returned to work, and realized having to fully sit up in a chair and wear pants was awful and created a lot of soreness. So I’m opting for dresses the rest of the week. Ever since post op day 3 I’ve been taking 800mg of ibuprofen twice daily for pain control, and occasionally heat packs. I’m feeling more of the “internal” stitches and trauma now, with dull pelvic pain. The incisions really only smart with clothing rub on them or I move in just the wrong way.
So yeah.. the cycling. It’s been an awful wait. The weather has been gorgeous and the looming Gunnison Growler keeps creeping closer and closer. I’m not sure when I can ride, and how it’s even going to feel. I’m thinking I’ll start with gentle road rides, or possibly even the trainer. I’m accepting that it is quite a real possibility that my first time back on a mountain bike will be in Gunnison. Is it smart to do a 35 mile tough as hell mountain bike race after not riding for 2 months, and 5 weeks after a major ass surgery? I have no idea, but I’m going with a solid NO. I do still have a few more weeks to cancel my entry if I have to. Life is in limbo, and I’m kinda just having to learn to live with that. You never know what you got, until you don’t got it anymore, and that’s where I am with the cycling nonsense. I wasn’t riding because I burned out and didn’t want to, and now that I can’t, I want nothing more than to ride a bike. Sigh.
That, in a long winded nutshell, is my story thus far. I’ve learned “hysterectomy” can be a dirty, or feared, word. I don’t like that. Women shouldn’t have to suffer through pain and other symptoms. Or wonder if they’re alone. So here’s my story. I’ll updated it as necessary. Fingers crossed for salvaged a meager race season with no expectations aside from fun and shenanigans!
Updates since originally written…
I returned to riding bike on Post Op Day 17. I was not cleared for exercise by my surgeon. Don’t be me.
I raced the 2018 Gunnison Half Growler five weeks post op.
At 6 weeks post op, I was cleared to resume all normal activities – exercise, lifting, sex, etc. I never once I had mentioned I was already back to racing a mountain bike…
The hardest thing for me after the incisions healed was dealing with my body returning to not being on birth control after 15 years. Technically I still have periods, just without the bleeding to tell me it’s arrived. Even two years after the fact, I get incredibly sore breasts during that time of the month, and I do fairly regularly get alternating pain from my ovaries during my cycle. I did discuss this with my doc, and a possibility was going back on birth control, which I declined because I felt like I can just deal with the tender breasts. I really had never had a normal adult womanhood period, as I went on the Pill my freshman year of college, so I was just not prepared for some of the symptoms I hadn’t experienced.
Other than that, now that I am almost two years out, I am doing okay. My bike fitness came back around eventually. I do occasionally have pelvic pain, which I blame my ovulating ovaries for, but it is not impacting my life like my uterus was.
I have had some comments about the sudden return to cycling. All I can say is this was MY experience and is absolute no way medical advice or guidance you should follow. I was a naughty patient, and disregarded instructions not to exercise (luckily all my bikes were lighter than my lifting restrictions after a week post op, ha!). Follow what your doctor tells you, and make sure you actually tell them if working out/cycling/whatever is a huge part of your life so they can have that understanding!
I haven’t updated since July… and really, my life seemingly did a 180 in that time span. My last couple of posts were about hiking a 14er and the need to do more than just bike bike bike.
So what did I do, July 2017 through today, January 13, 2018?
I showed up to a Laramie Mountain Bike Series race finally, mostly because they wanted the trophy back (the open series winner trophy is a roaming trophy that goes to the next winner every year). I won race #5 in complete surprise, and in one of the toughest battles I have ever had in a XCO length race. And I won thanks to my DESCENDING skills. Yes, I won on the descents. The DESCENTS. Hands down one of the best days on a bike ever. And marked the 3rd year in a row that I’ve won LMBS race #5 for open women. It’s MY race, clearly.
I ran a couple more 5k’s.
I learned the Steamboat Stinger is best raced not hungover.
I climbed Mount Massive, which is the 3rd highest peak in the contiguous US. 2nd highest in Colorado. I ate gummy bears, said embarrassing things about Slovaks, and enjoy more time with my great friend Lydia.
I ran up Medicine Bow Peak. RAN.
I skipped Dakota 5-O for photographing SCCA rallycross, which I haven’t been to since 2012. I got dirty and giggled like a little kid during ride-a-longs
I won 3 single speed cross races, and had poor results at most of the rest of them. I won at taking beer hand ups. Finished 2nd in the Colorado Cross Cup.
I raced in my first rallycross event and learned that mountain biking skills cross over to racing a car on dirt somewhat. And I wasn’t last in any of the races I did. #winning
I camped in the snow.
The Boy and I road tripped to Moab for my 34 birthday. He broke his hand 5 miles into the Whole Enchilada, and yet finished the rest of the ride (another 21 miles) by blowing me out the water on technical features. We camped. We off-roaded Fozzy and explored and drank Redd’s apple ale under the milky way. We finished off with a hike up to Hanging Lake.
I strapped on alpine skis for the first time in nearly 9 years and realized how amazingly awesome it is to fly down snowy hills.
I purchased a plane ticket to Iceland after planning for 4 years and having to postpone the trip due to changing jobs in 2017.
I’ve done yoga since mid-October every single week.
I sat on my couch a lot. I cuddled my cat. I worried what was happening because I was not constantly riding a bike
I lived life.
Hope is not lost for the bicycle. I think some people think this of me. I think I finally just learned balance… or got the bug to just have a crazy life that involves a lot of different activities.
For 2018 I will continue racing for 9Seventy Racing, a team of kick ass multisport athletes. I have registered for the Gunnison Half Growler for the 4th year in the row. I have plans to race LMBS, Gowdy Grinder, Lory XTERRA (relay again), and Erock Sunrise to Sunset. Maybe a little bit of road, though I’m not looking forward to renewing my USAC license. I am requesting a downgrade to cat 1 in mountain bike, because let’s face it, my desire to be pro is long gone. In between I will ski a lot, fat bike, avoid the trainer, camp, laugh, smile, sit on my ass if I want to, and furiously keep planning my 19 day trip to Iceland.
Here’s to 2018 and the adventures that lie ahead, regardless of if I ride bikes or not!
Because adventures in the mountains sound so much better than racing a hill climb!
When my new friend Lydia asked if anybody wanted to join her last weekend on a 14er hike I jumped at the chance, as I’ve been saying for years every summer that I’d climb a 14er. With an iffy forecast we set out for Camp Hale north of Leadville early Saturday morning to ride the Colorado Trail from Camp Hale to Holy Cross Wilderness. Luckily the weather remained goregous!
Camp Hale was part of the 10th Mountain Division training grounds during WWII. At the end of our ride we spent several miles riding around looking at the ruins and reading the information signs that were around.
This segment of the Colorado Trail was absolutely amazing! The Camp Hale trail marathon was going on, so our first few miles were shared with trail runners, but soon we had the trails all to ourselves. The trail gradually climbed up to Tennessee Pass, where we got to PET LLAMAS! Tomas and Carlos had just finished up a 115 mile hike with their humans. I love llamas, so this was definitely a highlight for me!
We stopped short of the wilderness boundary as the trail turned quite rocky and hike-a-bike. We didn’t quite realize how much climbing we had done until we turned around and absolutely flew all the way back to our cars! With the riding around Camp Hale, the ride came in at 30 miles with just about 3000 feet of climbing. Amazing day adventuring on the bikes with no pressure of going fast!
We swung through Leadville for some dinner, and then continued onto Buena Vista for a quick grocery store stop and then up Cottonwood Pass where we would car camp and get an early start on our Mount Yale hike
5:30am came quickly and we got dressed in the chilly morning air and ate a quick snack before setting out. Once again the forecast had called for iffy weather, so we hit the trail at exactly 6am in hopes of beating any bad storms. First thing we noticed was how damn steep the trail is… Mount Yale is no joke in the case of steepness!
We took our time summiting, stopping for snacks and to rest. Finally we reached the top, and it was so freaking amazing! The weather was great, with barely any wind and mild temperatures (for being at 14,200 feet!)
After enjoying a quick lunch on the summit we headed down. Going down is what I dreaded the most as it’s so hard on the knees (and whole body as I would learn). We found it easier at times to run, though it was difficult in big clunky hiking boots. I see the appeal in trail running a 14er now for sure! The last few miles were tough, and Lydia and I were total chatter boxes on the climb up and nearly silent the last few miles! I limped behind, totally not enjoying myself, but as soon as I saw my car I felt so accomplished!
I’ve done two 14ers, Mount Evans and Pikes Peak, via road bike and found that to be easier in a sense than hiking them. Plus the elevation didn’t bother me (backed by heart rate and power data) until about the 13,000 foot mark. Hiking was a different story… my fingers and hands swelled considerably and I had a headache on the summit and it remained until I was below tree line. I think hiking must use more muscles and oxygen demand was higher? And my dumbass purposely did not bring my trekking poles… I should’ve!
Total trip was 9.7 miles with 4,326 feet of elevation gain! Max elevation of course was the summit at 14,200 feet. Starting point was about 9,925 feet according to my Garmin. Not too shabby! Total time with stops was 7 hours 15 minutes, with a moving time of 4 hours 3 minutes.
I’ve already started planning future hiking trips even though I’m still oh so sore! Best way to prevent soreness is to do a lot of it, right?! 😀
Cycling has done incredible things for my life… from fitness and health to crazy adventures and places I never would’ve been, it’s been a great ride the last 5 years. However, due to a character flaw of mine where I have to take something, and then take it to the extreme, in a way I lost myself over the last 5 years. Riding a bike that was originally purchased to get me outside and exploring turned into racing full race schedules of both mountain bike and cyclocross, with a decent spring road season thrown in. Goal was cat 1 license… then pro license… then a UCI points chase to become World Cup eligible. I struggled to juggle life, the bike, goals, and missing out. Missing out. Missing out on fun rides because they wouldn’t be the “right” type of training, missing out on funner races because another race was somehow a better puzzle piece to the wannabe pro racer life, missing out on other adventures for fear of injury/taking time away from the bike, missing out on just hanging out. Dealing with guilt. Guilt when I didn’t ride, when I didn’t ride how I was suppose to ride, when I didn’t want to drag myself to another race.
Then 2017 came. I didn’t train like I usually do, but was still reaching FTP goals. Then I got sick for well over a month in the spring which knocked me on my ass. Nonetheless, I had a crazy successful road season in my first go as a cat 3. But I wasn’t happy. I had to sit down and revaluate what I wanted from a bicycle. I realized I liked the IDEA of racing a World Cup more than actually putting in the money time, effort to try to actually do so. I liked the IDEA of racing constantly but when it came down to it, the travel, time, money was tiresome. I was sick of putting guilt on myself when I didn’t ride. I hated feeling like I was expected, though not sure by who, to show up at certain races or perform a certain way. So I stopped. My mountain bike race calendar got chopped to fewer and fewer races. Sometimes I rode like shit (Gunnison Half Growler), sometimes there was the flicker of a well trained pro license holder (Erock Sunrise to Sunset). I decided to not show up to a Laramie Mountain Bike Series race unless I truly wanted to (4 races into the 6 race series and I haven’t been to a single one). I wasn’t racing any road hill climbs, even though I am a current national champion in that discipline. I decided if my heart wasn’t into it, I wouldn’t do it. If I decided I wanted to run a 5k instead of riding on a weekend, I would. I would take chances, experience new things.
I remember reading a blog years and years ago when I first started riding by an up and coming U23 pro mountain biker, and how she described just walking away from pro cycling after Sea Otter one year and I remember being so confused and couldn’t understand why anyone would do that. I judged her pretty hard honestly, mostly because at that time I would’ve given anything to be racing at world championship events and living the pro life. But I get it now, though I was nowhere near her level.
It’s not just about the bike. I am more than a bicycle.
I can’t say whether this is a permanent change or just a relief from the past several years of heavy racing and training schedules. But I’m liking it, and doing some new things! I’ve actually gone for a run at 6:15am. I’ve climbed a 14er on foot after setting that goal 5 years ago. I’ve gone on some long mountain biking adventures and petted llamas and ignored Strava. I’ve camped in Mr. Fozzy for other reasons than a bike race. I’ve mowed my lawn and watered it faithfully instead of letting it burn up because I needed to be riding a bike instead of moving a sprinkler around every 30 minutes. I’ve lived a more normal life where riding a bike is a part of it, NOT my entire life.
I’m looking forward to a healthier balance on racing, with a bit of Steamboat Stinger thrown in as a duo and hopefully actually enjoying Dakota 5-O this year versus just going through the motions. Naturally, I am tentatively planning on a full cyclocross season because cross is cross and cross is awesome, but really I am not committing to anything at this point. I actually am considering a trail running race even!
2017 race season is upon me… dang, that snuck up fast!!
It’s time to announce the wonderful partners I have for my 2017 season!
First up, my team for 2017, 9seventy Racing! We are a multisport team based out of Fort Collins, CO. I joined in September 2016 and instantly loved the small, close knit feel of this team.
This winter fat biking was made that much more awesome thanks to my lightweight, carbon Dirt Components Thumper wheels!
So honored and excited to be a Tailwind Trailblazer for the second year! I just wrote a blog post about my experience with Tailwind Nutrition and how it has helped fuel me for all my cycling adventures.
Back again for 2017 is ESI Grips, the best handlebar grips ever!
I was selected to a be 2017 Pearl Izumi Ambador, which is all about taking the ass out of ambassador and spreading the love for all things bike related, looking great while doing it! Pearl Izumi’s gear was some of the first items I got way back when I started riding, and I’m happy to be able to now represent them!
So what does 2017 have in store for me?
Off the bat this weekend is the Frostbite Time Trial, the annual foray into pain caving! I purchased a new-to-me time trial bike over the winter, and look forward to killing my legs over the course of 30 minutes (and getting to wear my “alien helmet”!).
I’ve had about 15 different plans for my 2017 race season, depending on mood and how my training was going. There hasn’t been a whole lot of training going on compared to previous years, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, either. Due to our unseasonable weather I have been able to get in some good outdoor rides, including two runs up Rist Canyon where I’ve taken over 8 minutes off my personal best on the climb!
So far the plan that is sticking is to focus on longer, marathon mountain bike races. Gunnison Half Growler, Laramie Enduro, and Dakota Five-O are on tap, and will be supplemented with Battle the Bear, Casper Mountain Challenge (8 hour version), Steamboat Stinger (duo), and possibly Ridgeline Rampage. I will do a handful of road events, including the CSU Cobb Lake Road Race and Boulder Roubaix. It’s taking shape!
I feel like there’s very little discussion of concussions in cycling, especially on the XC mountain bike side. It’s almost alarming how many people talk about “Oh, I whacked my head” so casually. So I thought I needed to share my thoughts and experience.
I’m now over 7 months out from the fateful day of June 18, 2016. The day of the Dad Dog Road Race, a race I really really really wanted to win in my hometown, and had an excellent chance of winning until an inexperienced male racer swerved for a flat, dead crow in the middle of the road while the peloton was traveling 30mph. I talked about my immediate post-crash assessment in this blog post.
What my blog posts reflect through the summer is a determined cyclist riding and racing on, climbing on a road bike less than 24 hours later while STILL ON CRUTCHES, and racing her mountain bike three days later. What I was going through was a different story.
I worked as an RN in orthopedics and neurology/neurosurgery for over 3 years. I have just enough knowledge and experience to be dangerous. I should’ve known to be smarter in my recovery, but in all honesty we don’t get too many concussion only injuries on the unit. After all, I just had a concussion. Just a concussion.
First began the sleep difficulties. I was working night shift at the time, but years of doing it left my body accustomed to sleeping at weird times, and I had been off of all sleep aids (melatonin and prescription Ambien) for months. The night after the crash I could not sleep. I closed my eyes and I could feel my head smashing into the ground. It’s actually a sensation I still feel time to time. Aside from reliving the unpleasant memory, I just flat out couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted, yawning, so tired, but sleep would not come to me. This grew into a problem that plagued me for months, and I had to resort back to sleep medications on most days/nights to get a good amount of sleep. I am just starting to be able to sleep naturally, and luckily a change to a normal job schedule should help this further.
The crash was on Saturday, and I was scheduled to return to work on Thursday night. All that week I was in a fog, and there’s a lot of events and conversations and going-ons that I have no recollection of. Though I have full memory of the crash and most of the immediate post crash activities (highway patrol tending to me, ambulance ride), I don’t remember big parts of the next few weeks afterwards. I arrived to work on Thursday night, sat in the break room, and had no idea how I got to work and why I was there. It was frightening. I received report on my patients, and a day shift nurse confided in my friend and charge nurse, “Is Heidi mad at me? She didn’t seem to be paying attention during report.” Nichole informed her I had hit my head and had a concussion. By 9pm I told Nichole I needed to go home. The fog was so thick I was in tears trying to figure out how many hours I had been at work to record in our payroll book. I could not figure out that 7pm to 10pm was 3 hours. I was counting on my fingers and coming up with all sorts of crazy things. I would end up missing another night of work.
No one warned me about the cognition changes. Difficulty thinking, figuring out things like simple math, and making coherent sentences. But it was alright, because I was back to winning mountain bike races… My emotions and moods were labile. I was all over the place. Irritable. Grumpy. Giddy. Unpredictable. I ended long relationships. I bought a new race mountain bike. Apathy. Apathy was the scariest. I didn’t care if I rode bikes again, I didn’t care about washing dishes. I just didn’t care.
I’ve never been the type to get headaches, and the headaches were excruciating in the period after the concussion, and I still have them occasionally to this day. It’s not the type that tylenol helps with, it’s more the type that a dark room and bed can only solve. And time. Lots of time.
Bright lights. Loud noises. Just can’t do them. I’m starting an office job and I’m terrified of the fluorescent lighting. I hope they don’t mind me moving in lamps. Smells that never use to bother me (which dealing with smells is important as a hospital RN), motion… now churn my stomach. I just got back from my first airplane trip since the crash, and I have never been so sick on a plane in my life during the descent into Orlando, and there was no reason for me to be (no turbulence).
The physical aspects are getting better. What isn’t is the fear. I become paralyzed with fear of crashing on a bike. During Cross of the North’s nighttime open race a young racer went over her bars in front of me and I stopped and starting choking up with tears. I panicked. I could once again feel the sensation of my head hitting the ground. Luckily she recovered okay, and I finished not last in the race. Later in cyclocross season a few of us were hanging out watching a men’s upper category and there was a crash during the start. I froze up. I felt tears in my eyes. I became incredibly freaked out. And this is the most awful thing. I don’t know how to get over it. I don’t know how to get that head smashing sensation out of my brain. I finally went on my first group ride a few weekends ago with three guys I fully trust. You know where I rode? Off the back and off the pace line so I could see the road in front of me. I tried riding in a nice pace line, but I couldn’t mentally handle not being able to see the road in front of me, even though I knew these guys would point out any obstacles. People might say I just need to jump in and do it more, but I don’t know how I’m suppose to accomplish that if I can’t do it with people I trust, let alone with people I don’t.
People don’t talk about these things. I’ve only found one blog written by Kate Ginsbach, that describes dealing with the aftermath of a concussion. It was actually a great read for me, knowing that others out there kinda struggled with similar issues. Looking back I know I should’ve let my brain rest. I’ve attended a neuro-trauma conference this past fall that taught me all about concussions, and I pretty much did everything wrong. I shouldn’t have been pushing to race so soon afterwards (but even my parents admit they knew I wouldn’t take being told no, and since the mountain bike racing is unsanctioned there’s no USAC officials to ban me from racing).
What I am thankful for is a really good helmet. If there’s anything I’ve taken a crash course in, it’s helmet technology!
These are just a summary of my thoughts and experiences since my concussion. Luckily most of the physical effects are gone, and I just have to work through the mental problems of the fear of crashing again and learning to trust in a road racing situation.
(A follow up to the other injuries: my left shoulder bicep tendon was split like string cheese. I finished over 2 months of physical therapy, and regained a decent amount of my range of motion, until I crashed at the state cyclocross fat bike race and reinjured it. My left calf muscle strain is all good, and the road rash gave me scars that impress no one.)