The Accidental Roadie

written by Michelle Lachmann

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A roadie? Me? Highly unlikely, but you decide….

I grew up in North Vancouver, BC. I have been riding mountain bikes for 20+ years, many of those years riding and racing on the North Shore trails. Sure, I have done the Vancouver Whistler 122 km Grandfondo the past couple of years, but calling myself a roadie would be a stretch. I rode the Grandfondo’s on a 15+ year steel road bike, which I had ridden a handful of times before each event. I ended up doing OK last year (finishing in the top 16% of all women), but my training consisted of 4 to 5 hour mountain bike rides on the North Shore trails, rather than spinning on the road.

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But that said, I can’t mountain bike at the moment. Near the end of last year (December 11, 2012), I sustained a concussion. I downplayed it a bit, because according to the literature and stats., I should be better soon  (approximately 80 to 90 % of concussions are resolved in seven to ten days). The stats, weren’t on my side. I ended up with “post-concussion-recovery-syndrome,” a soul-sucking condition that has recovery times all over the map (typically 3 months to 1 year or longer). Ugh.

After two months of hell (think dark room, no visual or cognitive stimulation, no TV, no internet, no reading, no movies, no work, no exercise), I slowly began to crawl out of the big, dark gaping hole that I had fallen into. I am now in month six and still recovering. It has been a bumpy road with lots of setbacks, but if I look at the big picture, I am slowly getting my mental and physical health back. I could write pages and pages on how I have been navigating a healing path through my “post-concussion-recovery-syndrome”, but a recent article in The Pique, sums it up well.  I can relate my recovery to a lot of the case studies covered in the article (see April 7, 2013 article, “Lives Unravelled…”) http://www.piquenewsmagazine.com/whistler/lives-unravelling/Content?oid=2455087

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But getting back to riding…..One of the tricky things with concussions is that recovery is highly variable. Recovery also depends on other things in your life and how much your life allows for complete “mind-body” rest (your job, your relationships, your health, your finances, your caregiving responsibilities, etc…). For me, in addition to shutting down visual and cognitive stimulation (i.e. no work, no computer), the top four things that have helped with my recovery include:

1)    Sleep (lots of it: think 10 – 14 hours a day)

2)    Breathing meditations

3)    Light cardio exercise

4)    Drinking lots of water

Thank goodness for #3, as it opened the door to walks outside and eventually onto the bike. After I was able to do 15 -30 minutes of low heart rate sessions on the bike trainer without headaches, I took to the outdoors. At first I tried gentle trails on my mountain bike (gravel paths), but any sort of bump, root or rock was too hard on my head. (My brain felt each bump on the trail like I was jumping up and down with bare feet on concrete with a hangover). Nope, the trails would have to wait.

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So I got on the road bike. I was spinning circles and the wheels were turning. The wind was in my face, I was outside and I was happy. I rode and rode and rode….and I slowly ended up going for longer and longer rides. I know the Seymour demo forest road like the back of my hand. It’s been great but I’ve also learned the hard way. I have to tether the desire to go fast, to push hard. I have to tell my riding partners that I will meet them at the top of the hill while I sit up, spin as easy as I can and crawl up the hill. Not my normal way of riding, but happy to be out on two wheels again.

But concussion recovery is a funny thing….over a period of time, it seduces you into thinking that you are healed. After a couple of weeks of feeling really good during road rides, my spirit needed to be untethered. My legs, heart and lungs wanted to go – so I thought that I would ride up Mt. Seymour. I had been feeling great, so why not? I pushed hard during the climb – it felt amazing. I felt great the rest of the day and I was on a high that I hadn’t felt in months. However, I woke the next day feeling like crap and that feeling stayed with me for two weeks. Heavy sigh….I was not quite healed.

So here I am, back to spinning circles on the demo forest road, keeping my heart rate low. If I look back over the past 4 – 6 months, I have come a long way. But I still have a ways to go. This is the type of injury where recovery is measured in months, not days or weeks. I hope to ride the Grandfondo again this September, and I am curious if all this road riding will improve my time. But, I also know that I may not be better by then to be pushing race pace for 4.5 hours, and I am OK with that. There will be another day to test my limits.

When I take a moment to reflect, I realize that I have learned a lot from this experience and I am sure that it will continue to teach me a few more lessons. I do not believe that things happen for a reason, but I do believe that you can learn from every experience. It’s a subtle difference but it removes seeing yourself as a victim and provides you with control on how you move forward with your life, regardless of the circumstances. Yes, my favorite past-time (mountain biking) and my career (I am self-employed) are on hold right now, but I have grown closer to my husband and my kids and I have re-prioritized things in my life. I also really look forward to my daily meditation practice (last year, I would have rolled my eyes at this). I have slowed down. I have had time to learn about nutrition (ride snacks are bananas, dates and home-made energy bars).

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So have I turned into a roadie? I don’t know. I recently bought a cadence monitor and I am looking forward to learning about cadence targets for road riding. I’ve also been thinking about buying road specific shoes and pedals. I feel like I have been riding enough to justify them. Over the past three months, I have gone on 30 rides and logged about 1500 road km’s. But, the other night I had the most fantastic dream of riding all the trails on Seymour and Fromme in one day! Since it was a dream, I always had water and food in my pack and the trails were perfect: buff, flowy and gnarly where they should be. My heart is on the trails. I’ll be there again someday, I am just not sure when. In the meantime, you will find me spinning circles on the pavement, slow and steady. I know that this is a race the tortoise must win.

Post-script: Two days before I got my concussion, my husband gave me a new carbon fiber road bike….Must be one of life’s little ironies.

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The Muddbunnies encourage and welcome female riders of all experience and skill levels to join them in getting down and dirty. Come on, ride like a girl!

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