Cyclocross the line

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One step up and two steps back

February 19th, 2009- by Kelly Hobkirk - · No Comments

I did my two weeks of 45 minute rides. Put in my time, never pushing the pace. High revs, no big gears. I made some real progress for the first time in months. Follow doctor’s orders, and guess what? It works. Go figure.

Then, I had to undo it all.

I had to ride close to 2-1/2 hours last Friday to pick up my car from the mechanic. The ride was great, for the most part. I was stoked to finally get a decently long ride in, and my body was holding up fine. And then, it wasn’t.

I felt great for about 2-1/4 hours, before getting a touch of tendonitis in my left knee, which got worse and worse until I wondered if I would make it at all. I had visions of sleeping in the grass beside the trail in sweltering 42F heat, with my bike as my ultra uncomfortable pillow.

I made it to the mechanic’s shop, got my car back, and started the drive home. Somewhere on I-5, I got hit up hard by some massive pain in my right arm. It was not quite as bad as the pain of a bone break. The pain subsided about 30 minutes later, but it never really went away in the following five days.

I got an acupuncture treatment on it today. The diagnosis? Tendonitis. In my arm. I didn’t even know that was possible. The acupuncturist told me no riding for at least two days. She told me to avoid using my right arm altogether in fact, not an easy limitation to deal with since I draw and write for a living.

My neck has been killing me for a couple of days now too. In two days, when my no-ride restriction is up, it will be a week since my last ride. I am allowed to ride the windtrainer, as long as I’m sitting up. Mmmm, windtrainer. It’s still better than nothing.

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Taming the Nincompoop on the Bike

January 17th, 2009- by Kelly Hobkirk - · No Comments

When will I ever get it through my thick noggin that Rome was not built in a day? Or that I’m not Rome? I am sort of famous among my friends for pushing my pace just a little too hard, or going a few miles too far. I’ve trained like that for 20 years. Everyone seems to know it except me. Inevitably, I wind up injured from these indulgences.

It feels good to go hard, and even though I know the consequences of that action, I somehow always believe that my body has become stronger and can handle it. I don’t know if it’s the endorphins or what, but I am exceptionally skilled in the destructive art of pushing my body beyond its capabilities. Doing this while recovering from injury, however, seems like the work of a master nincompoop.

I know full well what happens when I do this. One season, I pulled, tore, and strained muscles left and right all season long. Just as I would reach peak racing fitness, I’d strain a muscle. During one team time trial, I could not get off the bike after the finish because I had torn both hamstrings. I didn’t feel it at all when it happened during the race. Instead, I was treated to copious amounts of pain every time I had to walk during the next four weeks.

My old coach used to get incredibly frustrated with me because I strained muscles so often. Just when he was about to see the fruits of his labor, I wound up injured. Darn near every time.

I went to see my PT, Erik Moen, a week ago because my wracked neck muscles were prohibiting normal sleep. I couldn’t ride because of the pain, which also made it harder for me to sleep. His new PT, Jason Steere, did some amazing work on my neck muscles which shepherded me to a blissful twelve hours of sleep, and nine more the next night. Erik told me to ride 45 minutes per day. 45 minutes, no more, for the next couple of weeks.

I did as he said, churning out 45 minutes the next day, and another 45 the day after. It felt great, and I got tired enough to sleep well both days. A couple days later, I was feeling pretty good, and I met a friend for a ride. I knew I needed to turn around after about 20 minutes, but just like every year for the past 24 years, I thought, ‘Ahh, I can go a little further today.’ I wound up riding for eighty minutes, and I felt great the entire ride, but by the time night rolled around, my sad neck muscles were stiff and sore. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since. My chiropractor just straightened me out, so I am once again ready to ride.

45 minutes, no more, for two weeks.

My good friend Jerry Baker has always said it’s better to go shorter today so that I have the energy to ride tomorrow. He says it’s better for the body to ride every day and slowly build endurance than to ride long one day and spend the next four days recovering. Makes good sense.

Tomorrow’s ride? 45 minutes, easy. Maybe one of these days I will figure out why my brain goes numb on the bike, and then follow the advice of wise friends.

One thing I have learned over the years is that cyclocross is so hard that it is the perfect discipline of cycling for me. It’s the only one where I am physically unable to push myself to the point of injury. Gotta love ‘cross.

Hope JP gets to race World’s.

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Motivation and great health care are the keys to overcoming injury

November 19th, 2008- by Kelly Hobkirk - · No Comments

Motivation has been a tough thing this year as I struggled to regain strength in my strained and weakened neck muscles. I suffered two crashes in 2004 that significantly weakened the muscles and one crash in 2007 that also injured my hip. These injuries put an abrupt stop to over 20 years of racing. I have always found it difficult to attend races as a spectator because I would really rather be out there racing. This year has been no different. I didn’t watch even one night of track racing, and I have seen only one cross race this year, yet I ride my cross bike on the road, making me what must be the ultimate cyclocross geek poser.

A great health care team can help motivate you
I have had plenty of motivation to get heaps of chiropractic treatment, a little physical therapy, and some acupuncture, all of which have helped a great deal. Just a little PT goes a long ways. Same for acupuncture. The chiropractic has mostly been utilized to alleviate stiffness and pain so that I can work without pain, yet it has also steadily helped in strengthening my neck muscles so that I can ride with less neck pain. I guess starting from a correct anatomic position is very important. Go figure. Erik Moen at Corpore Sano did some adjustments to my bike position that dramatically reduced neck pain. He also managed to get me past some serious hip pain in just two weeks (after five months of enduring extreme pain). Jennifer Londergan and Natasha Ayers, chiropractors at Wedgwood Center for Natural Medicine, have brought a great deal of flexibility and strength back to my neck. Laurieanne Nabinger at Enerqi provided some excellent acupuncture with electric stimulation that did wonders for my hip.

Neck muscles are apparently quite difficult to strengthen once they are injured. The exercises I have been given are nothing like my normal types of exercise. The movements are so subtle that I can sometimes barely feel any effort occurring, while other times they are just too difficult for me to handle. When I can’t feel the effect of the efforts, I am not motivated to make them. I’ve never been a “going through the motions” type of person, but if I can see or feel the effects, I am super-focused and motivated to work my ass off.

Haven’t we been here before?
I broke my arm in three places and damaged the radial nerve in a bike race crash in 1991. Some guy fell right in front of my at about 30 m.p.h. right before the final sprint, and I was surrounded. I crashed hard, and immediately could not move my hand. That was a scary time because I couldn’t work as a result. After four months, my surgeon started talking about tendon transfers to get movement back in my hand, but the very next week I was able to move the tip of my middle finger literally just a hair. It seemed almost as if the threat of more surgery provided the motivation for my body to speed recovery, and it enabled me to flip the bird to the idea of more surgery.

The reality was that I had been working my tail off in physical therapy. I had sessions three times per week, sometimes twice per day, and I did my exercises at home religiously. The really cute PT probably didn’t hurt my motivation, but more importantly, I wanted to race again that year. It took seven months for me to regain full movement and strength in my hand and arm, but I did it. Ten months after the crash, I was back to racing.

That was then, this is now
I had more focus and self-discipline back then than I do now. Now, I run a successful branding and advertising agency, meet with clients, design print and web graphics, write novels, business books and blogs, partake of the social networking, twitter, take care of a house, cook food requiring more involvement than did pasta back in the day, read tons of books and online resources, and work on my other startups. I have more strong pulls on my time than at any other point in my life, often splintering my focus and all but crippling my ride time. Now, I want to get my body back to race fitness. That means losing about five kilos, riding my bike 4-5 times per week, and very slowly ramping back up to 3-4 hour rides and eventually back to 5-6 hour rides. First things first, however.

I turned 40 last month. My last race was four years ago. I’ve never been one for taking it slow, but age has taught me that taking it too fast will cause injury and keep me from reaching my goals. On goes the heart rate monitor for every single ride. It’s hard to get motivated for a 30-60 minute ride because it’s so short, but it’s better than not being able to ride at all, and it’s about all my neck can handle at the moment. With a concerted effort, I think I can be up to three hour rides by about February or March. Eyes on the prize, which in this case includes stronger neck muscles and a healthier body.

In conclusion: Find motivation everywhere you can
Having great health care practitioners has healped me a great deal. When there is no pain, everything in life is better. Losing the neck pain is motivation enough for me to once again work my arse off in the face of adversity. People tell me my neck will never stop hurting, but that just makes me want to work harder to prove that I can make it happen. Ah, more motivation!

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Less Cowbell! FSA Starcrossed kicks off U.S. cyclocross season

September 22nd, 2008- by Kelly Hobkirk - · 3 Comments

Adam Craig hopping the second of two barriers on the last lap at the 2008 FSA Starcrossed.

The last time I saw a rider throw his bike down in disgust was in the 1997 Tour de France. It was ’96 winner, Bjarne Riis, who threw his bike into a ditch halfway through his time trial. It did not help his time.

Saturday night, under the stars and just past the beer corral, cyclocross superstar Ryan Trebon at least waited until he crossed the finish line to throw his bike down in total disgust, after claiming second place. It’s tough being one of the fastest riders in the country, especially when you are overtaking slower riders right near the end of your race, and they take you out. I was positioned about fifteen feet from him when he lost his temper, but I didn’t snap the shot. It just didn’t feel right. His ride was much more impressive, and he later apologized (to someone), so all is swell again. I was glad to see him laughing on the podium later.

I came to Starcrossed to see the best cross riders in the country duke it out at the velodrome under the night sky. Muddy legs never looked so fast, as the venue and the riders did not disappoint.

A veritable army of cowbell-wielding spectators were out in full force, often drowning out the announcer. They were so loud, in fact, that race winner Jeremy Powers did not know he had won until he was nearly a quarter mile into his “extra credit” lap. I’m not sure if that was due to the quiet P.A. system, a small lap board, or the mud in his eye, but he pulled away from everyone quite quickly once they stopped pedaling.

I was shooting photos for the first time in twenty years, and being a little rusty, didn’t quite get my settings right. 180 mostly blurry shots was a bit frustrating, but I didn’t throw my camera down. I had a blast watching these guys carving corners, mashing the mud, and powering the long slippery straights.

The women had a tight race at the front, with Portland rider Sue Butler coming out on top over Canadian national champion Wendy Simms.

The men’s race was animated by the worst course conditions of the day, with even the best bike handlers sliding out around the tight corners and braking far more than usual. At least the rain had let up.

What left probably the biggest impression on me was Adam Craig’s surges and last lap bunny hops. After crashing and coming through the start/finish about 200 meters back, he powered his way up to an attacking Trebon and Jeremy Powers in the short span of about half a lap to briefly join the two leaders before another untimely mishap. On the last lap, he bunny hopped two barriers in succession to loud cheers from the happy crowd. National champion Tim Johnson seemed like his usual hard-working, gritty self on his way to third place, while Barry Wicks and Russell Stevenson also had impressive rides to finish fifth and sixth respectively.

Good crowds, a good Seattle drizzle, slick mud, good beer and sausages, old friends, and great riding. What more could I hope for in a night of cyclocross? Well, maybe some clearer photos. Next time.

→ 3 CommentsTags: cyclocross

Cyclocross = Life

September 22nd, 2008- by Kelly Hobkirk - · No Comments

Why is cyclocross so damned fun? Maybe it’s the mud, or the bruises, maybe the beer, or the loose semblance of camaraderie. I think what it boils down to is that I feel more alive during a cross race than at just about any other time. Cyclocross is the most intense hour of effort, pain and joy I have ever encountered. I’m attracted to cross because I can put everything I’ve got on the line for 60 minutes, come out of it totally exhausted, covered in rain, mud and grime, perhaps with a trickle of blood running down somewhere, craving ibuprofen, blowing mud out of my nostrils, placing top 30 if I’m lucky, and loving every minute of it.

Cross gives me a good reason to clean my bike every week and to keep riding as the weather gets bad. If I could give cyclocross a hug, I would.

Cyclocross is like a mostly healthy recreational drug (not that I would know about such things). The slipping of wheels, slamming of hips and faces in mud, gritting of teeth, and the sheer pain of it all feels oddly good.

A cross race is the perfect place to wring every ounce of energy out of your body for an hour, all for the unique feeling of total physical and mental elation for having finished.

Cross is great to watch too. Most bike races are not terribly spectator-friendly because you don’t get to see the racers very often, or the races are a long drive from anywhere, but cross is different. Spectators get to see the racers pass by every few minutes, often from multiple vantage points, and the races frequently take place at venues that are reasonably close to metropolitan areas. Bad weather is often a factor, but it never causes race cancellation. I’ve raced cross in heavy hail storms, snow, 10-inch deep mud, and below freezing temperatures.

I can recall my best placing at the district championships was fourteenth in the senior category B race, and I was happy with that. Why would any competitive person be happy with that? Cross is just so damn hard that sometimes finishing is a great reward in and of itself. A lot of people set the goal of not getting lapped.

One of the best things about cyclocross is the attitude. Gone is the testosterone-induced yelling and uber-competitiveness. Everyone seems to respect each other, no matter how talented or strong or skilled they are. Everyone cheers for everyone.

I will never forget my first cross race. It was back in the early 1990s before Seattle had enough racers to field more than one race each for men and women. I was about forty-five minutes into a sixty minute race when I heard a friend who was near the lead of the race, coming up behind to lap me. “Uh, Kelly?” he calmly asked. “Yeah?” I replied in between gasps of air. “When there’s room on the trail,” he said, “Could you please move to the right a little?” I said, “Sure,” and I moved to the right about ten yards up the trail.

That kind of understanding, laid-back attitude simply does not exist in any other aspect of bicycle racing. It’s as if each rider out there understands that everyone is going through the same grueling hell of an effort, and because of that awareness, there is a strong sense of empathy, and believe it or not, manners. As uncivilized as cyclocross can appear to be through all of the mud, sweat and rain, it is perhaps the most civilized form of bicycle racing. It’s definitely the most fun.

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