It is something that has been in the back of my mind for the last couple weeks. It was hard to put my finger on it, but it seems to have crystallized in my thoughts. It leaves me feeling nostalgic and hopeful.
It is hard to grasp what you are learning through an experience while you are in the midst of it. Often the lesson isn’t obvious until after you have the opportunity to look back. I find that is the case for me when I look back at this last season.
I think I fooled myself into thinking that I was over my June 2010 accident. The fact that I was so quickly able to get back on the bike and even complete the 2010 Ride for Mike only a month after ditching my neck brace gave me the illusion that I would quickly be back up the speed. Surely an off-season and some good spring training would get me right back up there.
It didn’t happen. It was a very frustrating racing season for me. There were multiple DNF’s and I didn’t race nearly as much as I did the previous year. I was mentally out of it and not positive at all. Sure, there were flashes of power and the data showed that I was physically close to where I was in early 2010 — the best months of my life on a bicycle.
First, there was the lingering issue of my hip. I rode through the entire season with hip pain. While my legs were putting out power, my right leg would fatigue. Over the last month, I have started to notice a significant decrease in the pain. My ability to hold an effort has also improved.
Not sure what has caused it. Perhaps it is the shift in focus from big power intervals to more tempo riding. Perhaps this has taken some of the strain off my leg and has allowed it to heal. Then again, maybe it is just that time has finally started having its affect. Whatever the case, I didn’t realize how much of an influence that pain had on me until it diminished.
Second, there is a difference between strength and power. Power is what you can apply to the pedals to make the bicycle go. Strength is the ability to sustain that effort. I was able to return to the same power numbers pretty quickly. However, I just didn’t have the strength to maintain it.
This year I would go out to do intervals and I could match the same intervals as the year before. The difference was what happened after the interval ended? In 2011 I was aiming for the end of the interval. My guess (looking back) is that the big difference between 2010 and 2011 was that in the earlier year, I could have done much more with the time following the interval than in 2011.
It is just a feeling. Fact is I feel stronger right now than ever before this year. I feel like going out and doing an FTP test just to see if the feeling matches reality. The questions that swirled in my mind during the season are settling down. I’m not questioning my strength anymore.
Last, I’m just feeling much more comfortable on the bike. I realize now just how stiff I was on the bike. Now I’m finally getting my hands out comfortably on the tips of my hoods with my back flat. I’m able to bend my neck without becoming so quickly fatigued. My legs have a feeling that it is a supple power I’m producing instead of a chunky kind.
Again, had you asked how I was doing during the season, I would have told you that I was back. Now I realize just how much I wasn’t. It is a good feeling.
I realize this might all just sound like crazy talk to you. However, to me it is so clear. I begin to understand how a major accident can have long-term ramifications. Even when you think you have gone beyond it, there are lingering affects that just require the passage of time to bring you healing.
So, going forward I realize that 1) I should not fool myself into thinking I’m in some place that I am not. Don’t oversell yourself to yourself. Be willing to accept that you aren’t what you once were – yet. 2) I should look for the improvements. The diminishing pain, the flexibility on the bike, the suppleness of the legs — these are all encouraging signs. Look for more of them and focus on the confidence they bring. 3) I should focus on those things that allow me to improve – emotionally, physically, and mentally.
For now, I need to put racing out of my mind. Rediscovering the joy of the long ride, the anticipation of exploring a new road, and just riding my bike have helped bring back something I was missing. The fact that I am looking forward to the pain and suffering of the 2011 Ride for Mike is definitely a good sign!
What will 2012 hold? I don’t know. I’ll pedal over that bridge when I get to it.