Wednesday, December 11, 2013

.....I want a left leg in my stocking this year

Here I am with the last race of 2013 in the books. This proves that you don't necessarily have to be having fun for time to fly. On the bike, this really was a difficult season for me. I have a real unfulfilled feeling after two seasons of racing well below my expectations and abilities. Now, even though that is a pretty long down spell, that feeling is something that all of us experience at some point. High high's and low low's. The biggest difference here for me is this.....I know that unless I have a surgical operation, that I will never return to form and in fact will probably continue to decline. This is the new reality. There is no forging ahead hoping that if you train smart and work hard, things will turn around. I can expect small gains here and there, but what does that really matter when you've had like 20% permanently chopped right off the top?

It is interesting to note how this has changed me as a rider over the years that I have dealt with this condition. It has created a complete 360 in the characteristics of my racing. When I was racing mountain bikes as a junior my strong talent was on the technical side of racing. I wasn't super fit but could make up a lot when the trail got rough and twisty. These characteristics continued right into my transition to road racing. My lower category racing was fairly pathetic. I could sprint fast but my sustained effort was way off the back.

At some point things changed. In the matter of a few years I had flipped around 180. I was racing road full time and signing my first pro contract. I was a legitimate domestic pro level all-rounder, but I was strong in the TT and uphill. Two things I couldn't do well enough to hang with cat 3's a few years back. When I dabbled in CX those days I found that most of my skills had been forgotten and I made do by just smashing the pedals.

By the end of my two short years with a road contract, unknown to me, things were trending back the other way again. Signs of this circulation problem were beginning to show up but I was still able to ride decent. Then 2009 is when an alarm bells really went off for me. I was set to race my first full season of CX with Richie and was doing some road events to prepare. I did my training as usual but I just couldn't do what I used to be able to do. It happened that way all summer long and was completely unexplained. This was before my days with health insurance (a lot of good it's doing me now!) so I wouldn't have done anything about it, but I may have thought about looking into it if it weren't for a successful CX season that fall. I found myself dredging those old skills back to the surface to add to what was left of my ability to push the pedals and I ended up with a good racing season.

There is that break from racing in there but since then I've lost more and more on the pedals and have been pulling out all the old skills I can find to make up for it. It is to the point now where I go backward on any given straight and have to get back with skill alone.

There is some positive light here. I have had to get those skills back. Because of them I have been able to notch a UCI win and a bunch of UCi top 5's in the last two seasons. If I ever am able to have this operation and can recover even a modest amount of my previous abilities I am going to bring those skills with me and end up better than I would have without this whole ordeal. Also, if a racing season isn't going well on the bike I still get to hang out with my friends who are also teammates and fellow racers. These are really great people and the weekends through the fall isn't ever enough time spent with them.

Looking forward from here, the fight on the bike may almost be over but the fight with beaurocrats for access to health care is far from it. As I pointed out above, the "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger" saying looks accurate for the bike, but unfortunately with regards to this fight I don't see how that could be so. I just need to put my head down and keep fighting this one.

Monday, November 18, 2013


I recently was overhearing a sort of doomsday conversation that I decided not to engage in even though I could certainly have added a few things to. It's actually a stance that I have encountered before and unfortunately I don't think it's a rare sentiment. It went a little like this.....

A guy was talking to a co-worker who is building up a store of food for the apocalypse. He has a year's worth of food stored and he asked if the other had any stored. The other replied no but that he had a year's worth of ammo cached though. The other said "Ha, you can't eat bullets!" at which point the other replies "No, but you just told me where there is a year's worth of food."

It's funny, but not. Funny in jest, but not so much when you think of the possibility of that reality.

It's a typical short sighted, individualistic approach.

When faced with the possibility of a grand collapse of the systems we currently rely on, you can either choose to educate yourself on ways to live without those things.....or you can focus on ways to prolong the supply of these things well beyond the death of the systems that produce them. I wonder what these folks think. An apocalypse is going to just be a temporary thing. Like everything is going to just fall apart for a year and then all of a sudden go back to normal. Who knows? Maybe. More than likely any major collapse will be extensive and re-inventive for humanity, in which case these people will shoot all their neighbors, eat all the food, and then die one year later.

No one can really predict how a collapse like that would occur. It could come from so many places, but one thing we can be certain of......banding together with a community is going to get a people much further than shooting and looting. However, I'm starting to wonder if I should be thinking about protecting myself from people like that. I feel like I would have a lot to offer a post-apocalyptic world.

Friday, November 15, 2013


To get back into the swing I attended a NYCROSS event in Troy, NY. Fun race. It wasn't as low key on my body as I had hoped though. I spent the whole weekend chasing back after breaking stuff. Broken chain and saddle on Saurday and then two flats on Sunday.

Since getting sick prior to Gloucester I kinda set the bike aside to recover a bit. I feel like I had to to rid myself of the virus and to get my head/face healed up, but I was starting to feel slow. Combining my lack of power coming from the left leg and some unimpressive form is not pretty. The first day at Vermont I came really close to being lapped, which has never happened before. I was crossing the line as Tim was entering the final straight. Fitness had gone downhill since then and I would hang on for a dismal performance on Saturday of Rochester and then scratch this whole getting lapped thing off the list on Sunday. Well, I got 80 percented. I was about to be lapped when Alan Atwood saved me from the misery of being crushed by my peers.

I was mentally injured but physically healed from my cold and injuries so i had to get going again. I had a weekend off and a couple weeks to squeeze in some training, which is exactly what I did. By the time Cyclesmart rolled around I had recovered a bit of fitness. I made the lead group of the race and looked pretty good as we road away from the chase group by a wide margin. I couldn't hold on with one leg when accelerations came but we had such a big gap over the chase that I safely came in 6th. Pretty happy with that.

I paid for the effort on Sunday and checked off another DNF. My feeling on that is if I am a little off and don't make the lead group and I throw up my arms and quit.....that's kinda lame. However, these days where my left leg is just not moving and I'm getting lapped, I'm really OK with calling it a day. In fact, in my case I may not be physically doing myself any favors by "toughing it out". When that leg doesn't have it and I keep pushing, other things have to make up for it. Usually my back. One side of it that is overworked and hurting as it is. I have no shame in pulling out of these situations.

Things looked decent going into HPCX. I had gotten back to some good training and recovering and this was looking like a manageable field. The course was not ideal for sub-par pedaling as it went up and down a hill three times a lap, but maybe they would be short enough that I could get up them anaerobic and recover on the way down. That did seem to be the case for two of the three but the first one was just too long and I started coming off the back there in the second half of the race. I was able to get back on via the downhill every time though. On the last lap I again was barely able to make contact again right before the final downhill. Basically too late to do much, except that a couple guys rode into each other and I went around smoothly such that it was then too late for them to get back by me. I picked up 4th for it. Happy with it, but races like that are a bit frustrating because I know how much I would have been able to crush it in the years past. I used to like climbing quite a lot. Especially punchy climbs in CX races. Used to love courses like that.

This brings us up to another weekend off. Well not "off", but off for those who stick to New England. This year seems to have spread the racing out a bit and we are ending up with some holes in the eastern UCI schedule. If I was going well I'd be likely to venture out but not under the current circumstances. These days I'll thoroughly enjoy another weekend off.

Baltimore through Providence

Gosh, I really haven't written anything for a while. My bike racing season has been lackluster, but all things considered not as bad as it could be. I have generally struggled on Sundays due to the floppy leg. My good leg can take a heavy load when the bad one lags.....but only for a while, and I pay the price on day two.

I had a decent result on Saturday of Baltimore with 4th place. In addition none of our team was robbed. Pretty good day. Day two I paid for the effort and lagged behind a bit.

Then things got interesting. I got a cold that week and didn't feel so good going into Gloucester. I gave it a good try Saturday, but I wasn't helping the sinus situation. I pulled off into the pits and called it a day. I watched the finish and went about my post race day as usual. That night, after dinner with my old teammate and buddy I was leaning on Chabanov's car just chatting when I started to feel dizzy......kinds barfy.

Then after what was an undetermined amount of time I found myself pushing myself up off a granite curb, bleeding out of my head while Brittlee ran over shouting "Oh my god, are you alright?". WTF? Apparently I just lost consciousness and fell straight down to the curb. Well, I had a pretty good gash in my brow and a big smack in the cheek. Nothin like a good ol trip to the hospital. Not that this means much, but at least I now have health insurance. They put in some stitches in my brow and did all the test they are supposed to do.

Everything came back fine, but a question lingered amongst everyone around. Did this have anything to do with the bloodflow problems in my leg? That teammate I was chatting with happens to also have the Iliac artery endofibrosis. His case is actually the first I had ever heard of this back in '07. Well, the best option was for me then was to DNS Sunday's race and head home. Everyone was very worried about me driving and I'm not gonna lie that I wasn't a little wary. I stuck around half the day to make sure I was OK and went home to see my doc. After reviewing all of the data from the tests it was concluded that this had nothing to do with any problem in my leg and this was just a case of dehydration, hunger, fatigue, etc. I was skeptical. I have been WAY more depleted in all those departments over the course of my career. The reason it was believed to be unrelated to the artery problem is due to the fact that this restriction is only at high blood flow situations. I'm still a bit skeptical here as my low flow leg showed up in a zoomed out view of my thighs while I was half asleep, laying down on a table. It seems to me that if it is noticeable there then it MUST have SOME effect in everyday life. I don't know, I'm no expert.

Well, after that debacle, I was given the OK to skip Providence altogether.


The Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region of New York State took a bit of a hit last week. Another election decided by financial gains. Across the region not only were pro-hydraulic fracturing folks folks elected to town boards, but a proposition passed to bring in a bunch of massive Vegas style casinos to the area.

This makes me wonder if the zombie apocalypse isn't some imaginary catastrophic event in the minds of certain weirdos, but it is actually a process that is happening in front of us right now. The folks that are looking at our future and concerned with our well being, are continuously steam rolled by a mass of brain dead zombies who mindlessly lurch after any and all capital gain. What is scary about the whole thing is that these people are just doing what our system says they should do. Money good, no money bad. They never questioned it. I don't know what it is that causes some people to just fall into line right over a cliff and some to step back and question what's going on, but as someone who has stepped back......way back, I can see, plain as day, that capitalism is creating a false incentives to do the wrong things.

First off the system is based on rapid and continuous growth. I am in awe of the fact that this aspect of capitalism is ignored. It really doesn't take a smart person to point out that continuous growth can't happen. Collapse at some point is inevitable.

That's the obvious problem. However, I think the most alarming trait of capitalism is the fact that the real value of everything has been replaced with profits or losses and that drives most of our decision making. The fracking debate is a good example of this. This is something that none of us would consider if it weren't for financial gains. Rape our own land for the benefit of others? Let's put it to a test in a hypothetical situation. A capitalist finds an apple tree. What do they do? Pick every last piece of fruit on the tree because each apple is a certain value in dollars to be earned to them and then starve with a fistful of dollars. To the human animal and all other life on earth who comes upon this apple tree they see nutrition. They eat and with every bite they would be thinking of how to sustain this sustenance. They would not eat too much because they would not have any for the next day. Our lives are full of decisions like this that capitalism makes for us. We all march forward chasing dollar bills while the ground crumbles beneath our feet. Unfortunately it seems things won't change until the whole thing collapses and we find out that no, we cannot eat money. If we were strong, we could break free of the addiction.....bring it local.....let things hold the value that they really have. Unfortunately, this is very engrained in our everyday thinking and there are many people who are really benefiting from this system who are very unlikely to change.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

health care update

Things are certainly looking very challenging for me this season on the bike, but maybe even more challenging in looking for a remedy for my leg problems. I have spent a good portion of my summer keeping the process moving along, only to be denied coverage by my insurance coverage recently. To be more accurate, I was denied coverage for this operation out-of-state. I have been informed many times by any expert I can find that I should see a specialist for this operation, indicating that this is not a simple run-of-the-mill operation. The specialists seem to all be out-of-state. Out-of-state specialists are expensive so the insurance company would rather I go on down to the butcher and see what they can do.

Well isn't that just dandy.

Green Mountain CX

I really can't say for sure at this point, but after the first races and the training for them out of the way, it's my perception that things are a little worse in the left leg blood flow department. It's hard to say as bike/shoe/cleat set up is always a big factor for me in the beginning of the season as well. Either way, things certainly could be worse.

I just finished up the first weekend of racing up in lovely Williston, VT. Day one was a good training day. Bout all I can say to that. I was in the mix on Sunday, particularly lap one. I know, I know. Who CAN'T be in the mix on lap one? True, but I felt really comfortable. Like my old self.

On lap two things in that leg went downhill and lap times plummeted. I just pinned that stupid leg and drove the bike as fast as I could and hung on for tenth. Actually I upped it on the last lap and made a ridiculous last corner pass to make up two spots and sneak a UCI point from, of all people, my old teammate who is perpetually 11th. I owe him one. two was fun and it's really nice to see everyone again.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

moving forward

Despite the dead leg diagnosis, I have been able to gather myself pretty well and get back on my program with coach (Pointway Performance). I just finished up a 3 week block of training that went well, all things considered, and I'm into another build toward the first racing this fall. Just this week after some rest and a week to get back on the pedals, I have seen some improvement.

While it is pretty much confirmed that without operation, I will never be what I once was, I am fairly confident that I will be able to have a decent CX season this year. It is hard to say, but since this condition is usually a slow progression, it would seem that I am no worse off than I was for last falls CX racing.....and I feel like last year was pretty OK. I was hoping for better but was happy to finish my first year back with a UCI win and some podiums. My outlook for these next years after getting back up to speed was to put together the fitness I had road racing in years past with the skills on the CX bike that I picked up since then. This plan will be put off a bit longer. That fitness of years past looks to be dependent on surgery and post-op PT to straighten back out.

Back to the original point, things are still looking decent for this year. Last summer I was not aware of what was going on with my leg and I put myself into a big hole training. I knew what I used to be able to do and would use that as a gauge. However, things work real weird when I train now though. The training stress is really concentrated in one leg....even when it doesn't seem like I am pushing it. If I don't really watch it it goes right over the edge. Now I am aware of all this and hopefully I can avoid that stuff.

Additionally, I have a good amount of UCI points going into the year so I wont have to go into the random draw for start call-ups that often put me back on the back row. In those situations at a national level race, I would never even get to the front. In second tier races I could get there right about when things were going down and I'd have just put myself into serious red zone to catch on.

Another addition, being acquainted with my equipment makes quite a difference for me. Last year I had     my shoes ahead of time but the saddle and bike were new to me (since 2009). This year I am coming in with plenty of time on shoes, saddle, and I can transition onto the CX bike hopefully pretty easily.

Oh, another point.....I have been on the mountain bike more this year than I have since the 90s. Enough that I am starting to go fast downhill and break stuff. I haven't been comfortable enough to push the bike in a long time. I'm thinking that these skills will transfer over and maybe make up some for what I don't have in the straights.

All in all, things are looking good for this year.....and if I can jump through a bunch of hoops for the insurance people so that they will pay what I anticipate to be an unfathomable amount of money that I imagine I could probably survive on for the remainder of my life, to a surgeon for a couple hours of slicing me open, and a hospital to shuffle paperwork around while I wait out my mandatory time in a bed eating jello, then maybe even better seasons lay ahead.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Endofibrosis stenosis diagnosis

That's a lot of sis's

Just one month ago I wouldn't have had any clue of their meaning. However, now I do because it's been a few weeks since medical professionals have put those names to the issues I have been having on the bike, especially in the last year. Bare with me as this is all stuff I learned just in the last few weeks but what this means is I have narrowing (stenosis) in my left iliac artery, likely caused by endofibrosis. Endofibrosis is basically a build up on the outside of the artery. It builds up protect itself from the constant un-natural kinking that the iliac goes through when cycling. Particularly cycling in aggressive aero positions. This build up is good for protecting my artery, but bad for the blood headed to my poor left leg. The more build up, the more the artery is restricted from expanding to meet the blood flow needs of hungry muscles. This thing is actually fairly common in bike racers, yet somehow it flies under the radar. Someone threw out a figure that 20% of pro tour level cycling have or had this condition. I don't know that it's true, but now that I have had to do the research and pay attention, there is a decent sized list of domestic racers I race with or used to race with that have had the condition. Some of you may have heard of it as the "dead leg syndrome".

Now it seems there is some grey area. Determining how long this has been going on is one of those areas. I suspect it has been going on for a while. I recall back in 2008 people starting to see a noticable difference in the size of my legs. I didn't think much of it cause I was still doing ok on the bike. Also, it was a little hard for me to pinpoint the symptoms I think because the condition in my left leg has been degrading gradually over time and my body just came to recognize this as my limit. It took a while for the condition to get bad enough for me to notice what wasn't hurting. Last fall I felt like I just couldn't push the pedals. Something felt missing and when I really tuned in it felt is if there was something off balance. That's as far as I could nail things down at that time. Then this spring getting out for the first bit of hard riding with only fitness from indoor riding, things were very noticeable. It was as close as I have been to real "dead leg". I can only describe the feeling as suffocation. My left hip/groin area felt numb and tight and my left thigh would just burn. My left leg would be absolutely pinned and my right would be maybe at tempo. I'd have no choice but to slow down. But thing is, it felt normal. The body adapts to the conditions I guess, only I was just going slower and slower and slower as the condition worsened over the years. Now I can connect the dots and see back through the years and many un explained symptoms seem to be lining up with this. The size difference between legs is likely in part due to the lower leg just not getting blood. My lower back problems are focused on the right side (the side that works with the left leg) and that muscle is over sized and over worked from trying to make up for what the leg isn't doing. My left foot that goes numb is likely not because my shoe is strapped too tight as I usually determine. And there's the funny numb feeling in my left hip area that I have had for years and years.

Quantifying deficit is another grey area. I did an ABI test, which is where they measure blood pressure in all limbs at rest and exertion. This was significantly off. I wish I could remember the numbers. I then had an MRA that showed a pretty dim and narrow flow of blood down to my left leg as compared to a nice bright and thick flow down my right.

Naming the causes is a real big grey area it seems. In my case the concern is how much worse will it get if I were to never touch a bicycle again and remain naturally on foot for the rest of my days? How much worse if I take up RAAM? It is the acute kinking of the artery that causes this, but it seems some people are more prone to the problems than others. Some people can spend their whole lives riding in absurd time trial postions and be totally fine, while other people do a couple years of triathlon and the condition progresses to the point the walking up the stairs is a problem and then go back in for the other leg too.

For me the biggest grey area is with the solutions. This is not a health risk for me and surgery is the fix. I can be average joe just fine. I can even go on racing with the limitation that I currently have just fine. I managed ok last fall and during a period last summer even with the condition. Of course nobody can tell me if it will get worse and when. I could have surgery and return to my abilities from 6-7 years ago that are, at the worst, well beyond the best I have managed at any point in the last couple years. That would be nice. Or, I could have the surgery and, like many folks I talk to, return at about 75-80%. I attribute that to the body needing time to balance back out. Things adapt around this condition and they have to adapt back out of it. Or, I could have the surgery and also, like a few folks I've read about, have a re-occurrence of the condition and have surgery again. Of course, the worst case scenario, with any surgery, for anything, is major health risks from being cut open. These seem minimal in these days of modern medicine, but none-the-less a concern. People have died from all kinds of surgery, but many, many people die from crashing cars and I don't seem to mind hopping in the car to get to a bike race.

My thinking on the whole thing now is mostly concerned with post-cycling. I would really, really like to get back to previous levels on the bike and race the rest of my career, achieve my goals and all that. However, when I'm done with all that I would like to be a recreational athlete. Probably a runner. I can go out and enjoy running through the woods no matter how fast or slow I'm going, but I would like to be able to do so without a major hindrance. Especially a hindrance on one side only. I'm sure I will want to compete on some level also.

I have not been able to make a clear decision yet, but as you can probably see from the above text, subconsciously I have definitely been leaning toward having the treatment done. In the mean time I need to find the motivation to stay on the bike because I will be racing this fall either way and I am capable of doing ok even with the condition as long as I can keep it out of my head. I have been riding and racing the MTB a bit and I think that is the route I will go for the next few months. At least on the MTB I can have fun and make up in the techy stuff a little of what my legs won't do.

I wish I had better news, but hey at least it got me to write again.