What a ride I had yesterday with Werner and Harsh, two of my athletes here in Seattle! It was probably the best workout I’ve had in years. The forecast called for rain, and we got it. The ride was an 80 mile loop that was pretty flat during the first half, with some good climbing in the middle. These days, for me, long rides are hard workouts. Each long ride is a test, as I am dealing with the latest challenge in my recovery from surgery.
In my last blog on January 6, Back in the Saddle Again, I had just come back from a successful ultrasound, providing great hope that my third (and final) surgery for Iliac Artery Endofibrosis was successful. This means I am finally getting adequate blood flow to both of my legs, for the first time in over 5 years. I have been slowly increasing my training volume, with some encouraging results, but also some new frustration.
For the past several months I have been struggling with getting the left side of my body to move properly. I have a huge imbalance between the left and right side of my body. I still have a great deal of numbness on the skin on my upper left thigh, and my left leg just feels heavy and non-responsive. It has some similarities to the way it felt when there was minimal blood flow, but it’s different. Over the last few months I have suspected that I might have some sort of motor nerve damage in addition to the sensory nerve damage from one of the three surgeries. Last month I contacted a local neurologist, and he discovered that I had no patellar reflex on my left leg. He then ordered NCV and EMG tests done, as well as an MRI. The tests confirmed that there is damage to the femoral and obturator nerves, there is an interruption of the sensory and motor impulse transmission to the muscles. At this point my doctor said that this is not operable; it will either self-repair over time, or it won’t.
Right now, it’s as much a mental game for me as physical. One key challenge is convincing myself to keep working out each day, knowing that there’s a chance that this nerve damage is permanent, and I might not be able to improve from where I am today. On the other hand, I am thankful that I can ride my bike, run for thirty minutes, and swim. Before all of the vascular issues started, I never had any doubts that if did the work and was smart about my recovery, my body would continue to adapt and I would see improvement. Through the years of problems with the iliac artery endofibrosis, I was able to do all my training, but I wasn’t able to see the rewards for all of this work on race day. The damage done to the iliac artery and femoral artery would cause them to collapse while on the bike, due to the combination of the aggressive bike position and increased blood pressure from the intensity of the race.
The nerve damage poses a similar challenge… will the hard work ever pay off for me? The key difference is that there is hope that the nerves will repair themselves and get better. So now I am training on faith; faith that my body will respond in time. Faith and patience. Faith, patience and determination.
Yesterday’s ride was encouraging to me. For one thing, the forecast called for rain all day, so it would have been easier to do an indoor trainer ride. But I was excited to show this ride to Werner and Harsh, because it’s a beautiful new route that I wanted them to start doing. At about four and half hours into the ride, we stopped to get some more water for Harsh. It was raining. I was soaking wet, filthy dirty and my boots were filled with water. I was ready to be done with this ride, and I knew we were 45 minutes to an hour from home. As we started riding back, a chant started going over and over in my head as I was screaming to myself “Attitude is everything…. Attitude is everything…. Attitude is everything.” I have no idea where this came from. It wasn’t a conscious decision to say it, it just started playing in my head.
Pretty soon I could feel my mood start to lift. I started thinking about all of those weeks and months, lying in bed, recovering from those surgeries, when the one thing that I missed most was days like today. The days that weren’t perfect, where I had to really find something within myself to keep moving forward, days just like today. In that last hour of the ride my body was feeling tired but the thoughts running through my head and my determination to finish this ride strong were getting stronger and stronger. I have come to realize that one of my strengths I have as an athlete is that I am able to convince my brain that I am very comfortable being uncomfortable.