There is no denying that Chris Akrigg is a bad ass. Not only is he one of the best trials riders in the world, but he is working himself back from a terrible wreck where he broke his femur. On the 1-10 pain scale, that rates a 37.
Ha, I really called it that! So heres a fun chilled edit to get me back into the swing of things, shot at home in Yorkshire over a couple of random days. I know i’m not firing on all cylinders just yet but i’m getting there. Thanks again for all the support people. I will be back….
More form Chris Akrigg as he recovers from breaking his femur. It really is spiring to see him out riding again…even on his trials motorcycle. It is great watch and a lot of his talk about thinking about the past and riding got me thinking about my own past on the bike.
A more in depth look at what i’m up to at the moment and a bit about what makes me tick. As you’ll see still not up to full speed but getting there….Shot and edited by Alex Rankin.
On October 2, 2011, some friends of mine and I headed up to Pisgah National Forest for a special ride. My wife was scheduled to have our first baby that coming Tuesday, so this was a chance to get out for one last weekend before our son came.
The weather was perfect, the trails were in incredible condition and everything was primed for a really good weekend out on the trails.
Except for one thing.
My back was starting to act up and in a serious way. This had been a long time in the making. What started off as a dull pain was starting to get worse. I shrugged it off as typical cycling pains for weeks and by the time we got to the top of the first climb of the weekend, I was seriously wondering if I was going to make it down.
At that point my back was in so much pain that even any simple sitting hurt. I couldn’t bend forward and pain was shooting down the back of my legs. I rode as softly as I could to the bottom and started my trip home for the weekend. My riding was done.
Over the next couple of weeks, we acclimated to our new lives as parents and I scheduled a doctor’s appointment to see what the hell was going on with my back. An x-ray pointed out that I had Degenerative Disc Disease in my lower two vertebra in my back. While this sounds more serious than it really is, the long story short is that the discs in my back are deteriorating. As they get smaller, they are pushing out of my spine and causing pressure against my sciatic nerve (the source of the shooting pain down my legs).
The treatment at this point…physical therapy.
The idea here is to do compression stretching to push what is left of my discs back into my spine, get them to set, and then strengthen my core to the point it acts like a back brace to support my back. The bad news…basically zero activity during this time.
The 141 Days of Inactivity
I wrote earlier this week what cycling was to me. It is more than just an activity. It is my source of health both physically and mentally. I would imagine that most of you reading this can agree with that statement. This 141 days was the longest period I have ever had off a bike since 1993 and I started to go a little crazy.
Luckily, I did have a new son that was keeping us pretty occupied and I was able to get away in the car for mountain passes to keep a little bit of adrenaline flowing through the body, but it wasn’t the same.
When you are off the bike for long periods, there is a disconnect with a life you once knew. What started with sharing experiences with friends turned into vicariously living them through pictures and posts on Facebook. While you say you are going to still hang out and keep in touch through times like this, the reality is that much of my activities with my friends were centered around weekday and weekend rides. I don’t blame them for not wanting to just hang out somewhere when the weather this winter has been insanely warm. I’d be out riding too.
The next couple of months consisted of going to the physical therapist twice a week. With a series of compression stretches, core workouts and electrical muscle stimulation therapy, we were able to get my back feeling better. But…I was starting to notice that the complete lack of physical activity was not only starting to make me gain weight, but that it could actually be making matters worse.
This week, I made the decision to break the 141 day off the bike streak and get out with two friends on the road bikes. This non-impact riding would allow me to not only test my back, but do so in a way that we were always close to a way to get home.
Out on the ride, my back felt surprisingly well. There were only two instances where I felt a twinge and it was on starts from stops. While on the bike and standing climbing, everything just seemed to work out ok outside of the fact that my legs felt like they had zero power. A little over 20 miles later, I was back at the car and had completed my first ride in months. It felt incredible and I slept better that night than I have in a long time.
The next day, everything seemed to flow as normal and I didn’t notice any increased pain. The plan now is to continue road riding and continue building core strength to get my body back into shape. The reality is that big drops to flat and other freeride maneuvers on the mountain bike are probably no longer in my riding due to back issues that are not going to just disappear and go away, but it is looking like my favorite style (big mountain AM) is within the realm of possibilities this year.
It was a long stint, but now I can see the light on the end of the horizon…and I can finally pedal towards it.
Awhile back, I wrote about not coming back too soon from injury or sickness. Making sure you are fulling recovered is essential to not making things a lot worse on your mind and body as it relates to your personal life and life on the trail.
But what about when you are all healed up and ready to get back out there?
That first ride back is tough. The amount of fitness you are used to your body producing is now gone. What you are left with is a shell of what you used to be as you struggle to claw and scratch your way back to your former glory. For every rider, this bar that has to be reached is different…but the process is the same struggle as you try to recoup the time lost spinning the cranks.
Getting Over The Fitness Hump
I wish I had some great insider secret that I could give that drastically reduced the pain and effort required to get back to that fitness level you are trying to achieve, but the reality is that there is no magic pill.
Coming off of my last sickness, I have been dealing with 2 months of being sick and not feeling good on the bike. This past holiday weekend, I decided to bite the bullet and get myself back to where I once was. I knew it was going to hurt…I knew I wasn’t going to like it…but I also knew if I didn’t do it I would keep on getting frustrated on the bike.
So what do you have to do?
You have to force yourself to be in pain a little bit.
This past weekend was planned with two rides. A long death march in the mountains on dirt Saturday (the group planned 30 miles) and then a 4th of July road ride we do every year the following Monday (a fast 52 mile route with some serious motors). Saturday was my day…the day I was going to finally get past the fitness hump that I have been battling ever since the sickness left my lungs.
The trick is simple. You have to take yourself to the point that your body wants to quit…and keep on riding.
The section of trail we hit is split into 3 sections (Pinhoti’s in north Georgia). After section 2, I could already tell the at my fitness level was starting to deteriorate. Section 3 is known for zapping the fitness straight out of fit riders, so it was going to be a struggle at best. Half way through, my body hit that limit. No cramps…no pain…just no power.
Instead of turning back and calling it a day, I pushed on. By focusing on pedal strokes and trying to keep things slow and smooth, I was able to keep the bike rolling forward through the mountains without too much un-comfort. This was slower than usual…but it was still moving and not giving up. While trying to keep my mental health in check (you know…that voice that says, “what the hell are you doing?!”), I tackled each 50 foot section of trail at a time and made sure I was managing water and nutrition correctly.
By the end of the 20 mile ride in the mountains, I was completely cooked, out of water and back at the car. It took much longer than it has in the past, but I was roughly 5 miles longer than my body really wanted to go without too much trouble. The soft spinning, power management and food intake worked even if I felt like I was moving at a rate that even trailside turtles could pass me.
So what happened on Monday after my slow but steady push on Saturday?
Power and endurance.
Monday felt incredible for the first time in months. The power was back in my legs, my lungs were using the oxygen provided and finally I felt like my old self (prior to getting sick) on the bike. The ride on Saturday combined with a day off in between brought my body back to where I am used to riding.
I don’t know why it works…It just does…
We all go through this at some point in time in our riding. It could be sickness, injury or just life getting in the way, but that period of time on the bike takes a little bit out of our fitness. Sometimes it is a lot…and other times it is a quick, small amount. I don’t have the specific reasons why pushing yourself slightly past the breaking point works, but…in my experience over the years…it just does.
If you are struggling to get back to a fitness level that you are used to and you are starting to get extremely frustrated, pick one ride and get it done. You will be surprised at the results. Just remember…don’t get on too early. Make sure you are physically ready before turning on mind over matter.
So “the other half” was pouring hydrogen peroxide on the back of my leg from a pedal stabbing incident at Windrock when she looked at me and said “can’t you ever not get hurt?”
I don’t know about you guys…but I thought it was hilarious. There is some truth to her statement, at least in her eyes. I do come home with at least something almost every other ride due to pushing something past its limit or from a freak incident.
Part of what I love about the sport is the adrenaline rush, and when you mix that with speed and unpredictable situations…you are bound to run into some problems. For most riders, it’s not if…it’s when, but that is why this sport is on the more “extreme” end. Hey, if you don’t want to get hurt…you could always take up basket weaving!
Soon…the woman in my life will be riding a Felt thanks to Chad at Red Barn Bikes. It will be interesting to see how she does. I am already predicting that she will probably be a better rider than me in the next year and I’ll never hear the end of it!
I posted this quote up on a local board (SORBA) and these are the responses I have gotten so far…I’ll update them as they come in.
The words and tone will change after you get married and have kids..
As Jenn was pouring hydrogen peroxide on the back of my leg…
“Next time go RIGHT when I call ‘On your left’…”.
“Now when can we take my new bike out again?”
Names have not been changed to protect the innocent.