Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Leg Goes "Pop:" That Means Stop

This has become my Everest. I can see the summit: I just can't reach it.

Saturday was beautiful. Sunshine and warm temperatures, but not blistering. A gentle breeze to keep bugs at bay yet not hinder my journey.

I was nervous as I prepared to leave my house, aware of the journey ahead, of the steep climbs and occasional rough roads. I knew how long I could expect to be on the road, to be sitting in my firm saddle. I would be sore as I crossed the finish line, and very tired.

Saturday was a great day for a 171K ride.

I had a plan this time, had learned from last year's mistakes of not eating or drinking enough, of not resting. This time, I had a schedule that I was going to keep: at each hour, I would stop, get off my bike, and stretch. I would eat—a Clif bar at one stop, fruit bars and dried mangoes at others. I would have one bottle of plain water, another one with a sweet drink: lemonade, iced tea, or a power drink. I would alternate sips, and drink a good amount every five kilometres or so.

In Perth, I was met by Lori, who had signed up for the Century Tour, 100 kilometres to Kingston and back. She checked in and dropped off her suitcase, but her true starting point would be further down the road, in Westport. But she waited for me to arrive, had a healthy sandwich and bottle of orange juice waiting for me.

After a 20-minute stop, with more stretching, I continued on my ride. Lori packed up and drove to Westport, where she would find a safe place to park our van and wait for me.

The hills that I found daunting last year were a challenge, but I climbed them with steady determination. Where last year, I was forced off my bike and walked it uphill, I stayed in the saddle or stood and pedalled. The only times I got off my bike were at the scheduled times where I ate and stretched.

The route.
At Westport, I was 55K from Kingston. I stopped for 15 minutes to eat a banana that Lori had for me, refill my bottles, and stretch. I felt good. I was riding a high. I knew I could make it. Last year, when I reached Westport, I hit a wall, was ready to give up, had asked myself what the hell I had got myself into.

Lori was fresh, ready to get going. But she was determined to stick with me and so was forced to move at my pace. Although I was feeling good and knew I would make it, I was moving slower than I had for my first 55K. Lori was also forced to stop each hour while I stretched and ate. Even when we both knew that we were less than a half hour from the finish, we stopped. My plan worked and I was not about to hold off, to risk undoing what I had accomplished.

I finished my ride in the same time that I did last year. But I had stopped more often. And I felt a million times better. And both Lori and I knew we could cycle back the next day.

Of course, Lori had planned to cycle as far as Westport, where she would put her bike in the van and continue to Perth, where she would collect her baggage and wait to feed me and see how I felt. If I felt good, she would wish me well and cheer me as I crossed the finish line in Ottawa.

The hills that I found challenging on Saturday were not as bad on Sunday. I had feared the hill leaving Kingston, just north of Highway 401. I had come down it at such a fast speed that I thought I would crawl up it on the way back. Not so. It was slow going, but not taxing. And the county road was full of ups and downs, but they were gentle. I was feeling good about my return journey.

And then it went badly.

About 20 kilometres into my ride, I started to feel a stiffening in my left calf. A slight pain felt centralized in one spot, like a knot had formed. Because we were close to the first hour, where I planned to stop, I told Lori that I would massage the spot when we pulled over.

The knot felt like a stone in my leg and it was tender. I rubbed for about five minutes, ate a banana, chugged some water, and continued. The pain had lessened but was still there, especially when my leg was fully extended in my downstroke.

When we reached Perth Road Village, the pain was back. Lori asked me if I wanted to stop at the general store, where some cycle-tour vans were parked, but I told her I felt I could make it at least as far as Westport, where I would assess the pain and decide if I could continue.

At the top of the second hour, the knot had grown to the size of a plum and the pain was worse. I massaged the spot, but it was apparent that my ride was going to end in Westport. I was frustrated because the rest of me felt great, felt like I could go the full distance. Once again, I thought to myself, I was going to end this trek without completing it.

I didn't even make it to Westport.

Four kilometres outside of the town limits, something in my leg snapped, like a broken spring or an elastic band that had been stretched beyond its limits. The pain in my calf was incredible. I shouted to Lori, who was only 10 feet in front of me. I hit the brakes, unclipped myself from my pedals, and came to a full halt.

"My leg is shot," I said, "I can go no further."

Lori said that she would fetch the van and come back for me. I limped to a shady spot on the shoulder and waited. Cyclists asked me if I was okay. To some, I said yes; to others, I said no but that help was on the way. One of the support vehicles pulled over, and after feeling reassured that I was fine, that Lori and I had talked by phone and she was a couple of minutes away, they moved on.

This was supposed to be my ride. This was supposed to show me that I could make the 352K journey. But it wasn't to be. According to my cycle app, my total distance over the two days only came to 221.5 km.

It's the farthest I've ever cycled in two days, but for me it wasn't far enough.

"Next year," others have said to me, but at this point, I don't know if I want to try again. I don't think I could handle another defeat. That said, the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour and I still have some unfinished business. So maybe, just maybe, I'll be back.

In the meantime, I have a leg to heal. I don't think the damage is too bad. When we arrived in Westport, we stopped at a pub for lunch, and I assessed my calf. The giant knot had shrunk a bit: perhaps the snap I felt was the knot suddenly loosening. The muscle was sore and I limped for most of the day, but after a long soak in a hot tub, and some Advil, the pain was bearable.

On Monday, the calf was stiff but it didn't prevent me from moving about at work. Several times during the day, I kneaded the muscles and rested. And took more Advil.

Later this week, I'll get on my bike and ride around the neighbourhood, see how I feel. Maybe, I'll even try cycling to North Gower and back.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll start training for next year.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry about the bad luck on Sunday. Definitely start training for next year now. I fully believe that to have a relatively easy and successful RLCT, one needs to do back-to-back long rides. This means riding 100 km two days in a row. And riding one or two shorter rides during the week. The back-to-back rides get your body and brain used to the sensations that happen during cumulative distance and time. Let me know if you have any questions - always happy to help. (Nice jersey!)