Friday, July 14, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Full Speed Ahead Edition

I feel great.  I’d be lying if I said I was 100%, but being able to say I feel great and realize I still have some work to do makes me realize how bad I had gotten over the past year.  My maladies were both in body and in mind.  We’ve come a long way, baby!  I’m looking forward to the continuation of the journey.  It’s a journey that felt stalled on the side of the road in the middle of the desert for so long.  And now we’re humming along with the music blaring again.
Let’s start with the body and I’ll point out the mental landmarks during the tour.  Lemme take you back to 2010.  That was before I started obsessing over endurance mountain bike races.  That was the first year I cracked 5,000 miles on my bike.  Maybe I wasn’t eating well, but I was consistently getting more than 200% of the recommended daily activity and I felt pretty good.  We bought a house in Arvada, Colorado, and despite the troubles in the cubicle it finally felt like we were settling into life in the West.
Into 2011 I began yearning to race my mountain bike.  I started “training.”  At first all was good, but then I wrecked on the wet train tracks next to the Coors Brewery in Golden and tore the AC ligament in my left shoulder.  From a cycling standpoint, this was a minor hiccup, and I was back on the bike in no time.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that only an idiot ignores the doctor’s recommendation to follow through with physical therapy and get healed up right.
The next year I raced my first Leadville 100.  I had a good run up to the day of, and then it seemed like things fell apart.  I believed myself bulletproof even after DNFing around mile 87, but the reality is that I didn’t train well.  I didn’t change my diet, and I didn’t really know how to prepare my body for the grueling effort of riding a mountain bike over rough terrain for one hundred miles above 10,000’. 
After failing in the mountains west of Leadville, Colorado I kept pushing into 2013, through the stress and turmoil of a 1,200 mile move and career change, through family upheaval, spiritual crisis, and the realities of getting older.  I rode a lot and I rode as hard as a could all the time.  And yet on my second attempt in Leadville—while I crossed the red carpet and the finish line—I didn’t succeed in my quest.  I weighed the same, I was eating the same crap, and I was training in the same wretched manner.  The stresses of life kept mounting.  Through suicidal thoughts, deep depression, anxiety, and despair I kept on trying to find my footing and figure out a path to take in life.  It was dark, cloudy, and without the support of my amazing wife and companion I don’t think I would have made it through to the other side intact.
Somewhere as I headed over that dark pass I decided trail running was a good idea.  I threw myself into it in 2014 and kept trudging ahead into 2015 until my body had more than it could take.  I quit cold turkey after the Rough Trail 50k.  I wanted to keep doing it, but I knew my body couldn’t withstand the pounding I was putting it through.  I had fully focused on running for over a year and the bikes rusted and tires began to dry rot in the basement. 
I’ve slowly gotten back into mountain biking, though a return to road cycling at the levels I used to maintain is unlikely any time soon.  I aspire to get fully back into rock climbing, but I knew before I could venture into the vertical realm again I have to get my physical house in order.  But there I’ve sat broken down on the side of a desert highway for two years.  My back, knees, and other joints have frozen with rust.  My battery has drained and won’t hold a charge.  The gas tank is almost empty.  The cars that pass seem to be going too fast to want to help, or going the wrong way, and all that I can do is listen to the radio as the last few joules seep from the battery into the washed-out sky.
After debating it for some time and putting it off for no good reason week after week, I finally signed Mandy and myself up for community acupuncture with Wendy Bentley at Natural Bridge Acupuncture.  Wendy and her husband Craig own Red River Outdoors, which is the business my family established way back in the mid-90s and sold (I believe) in 2006.  Wendy runs her natural health center on the property at Red River Outdoors.

A little over a month ago, I found myself reclined in a chair in a yurt in Slade, Kentucky.  The scythe-shaped two-bladed fan caused the light coming through the center hole to flickered on the back of my brain.  I didn’t feel the needles in my body, but I felt the tension draining from me and a deep relaxation set in, softened my bones, and for the first time in years I felt like a human being again.
At first I think I was hesitant that revisiting Red River Outdoors.  It's a place for me that had been caught up in a dream that I consciously let go of.  But that first visit with Wendy and my first experience with acupuncture was the beginning of good feelings and a turnabout in my life.
There is a lot I’m not telling you (and not going to tell you) that has been going on in my life these past few weeks, but I think my physical healing has been supported by some emotional and spiritual healing as well.  After a couple of visits Wendy recommended that I come in for a full private acupuncture session, and I agreed that if community sessions were making me feel as good as they were then I was all in for a private session.
The first full session was great.  She focused on my knees and my back problems.  It was when she did cupping that (at least from my perspective) the real revelation came.  She’d put the cups on, and after only a couple of minutes she touched my left shoulder and asked if I had an injury there.  And because I had considered it healed it hadn’t occurred to me to mention the years old AC ligament injury until then.  A few days earlier in the midst of a really bad day of back pain and knotty-ness Mandy was using the massager on me and showed me a diagram of the muscles in the back asking where it was tight and I saw the direct connection between where my shoulder was injured and the spot on the opposite side of my back that gives me the most trouble.  Between that and the amazingly purple bruise left over after my cupping session in the same area of my shoulder I realized that the shoulder had affected me long after I counted it healed.
That was the week before we went to Colorado.  I felt quite a bit better that week despite being in the car a lot.  This week I signed up for Wendy’s Yogalign class.  I have the most atrocious posture, and I can say for certain that has contributed to my lack of core support and a lot of my persistent back problems as well.  Or at least my suffering is exacerbated by my posture.
Monday I took ol’ Fatter Than Average (my mountain bike) to Veterans Park.  Within a few pedal strokes, I felt stronger on the bike than I had in a long time.  The day after my knee didn’t hurt much, and it didn’t feel weak at all.  I rode again Wednesday and felt even stronger, though technically I was slower that day.  But on Wednesday it was much warmer and humid.  However, on Wednesday my limiting factor was cardiovascular, and not in my legs and knee.
This week we’ve also been working around the house.  We put in paving stones for a walkway and over the past three days we built an 8’x12’ deck in our front yard.  For the past two years, I’ve avoided doing these things because my body revolted when I even thought about carrying tools from the basement to the yard to begin work.  I’ve been piddling at trail building for the past two years.  Through everything I’ve felt as if I were falling apart.  But it wasn’t all the king’s horses and all the king’s men this time.  I’m not one to heap praise, but I have to say I think Wendy is finding the root of my physical problems and her treatments are helping.  And I’m a skeptic.  I’m one of those people that must be convinced something really works before I’ll endorse it.  This is one of those times when I feel strongly enough about something that it seems important to share.
I feel a difference in my body.  I can’t even begin going into where my headspace is these days, but it is on track with the improvements in my physical strength and stamina. 
What this all means is that for the first time in a long time I feel like I’m back on track for the future.  At this point I don’t even know where I’m headed, but I know I’m headed there and away from that spot on the side of the road where I’ve been sitting miserable for so long.  That’s all that matters.

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