Tweaking the Formula

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I have to admit that the last two years of my cycling life has been pretty challenging.  I was hurt pretty often when I initially started racing.  Probably not that much more than the average 100+ day bike racer, but since I nearly always tried to participate at the end, in the sprint, I tended to be a little more scraped up than the average guy stage racer.

Then I had a pretty long time where I was relatively healthy.  This was while I was racing MTB bikes full time and then just dappling in road racing.  I was still probably doing 50 road races a year, plus the MTB stuff, but other than a few puncture wounds that needed stitching, plus the occasional broken rib or separated shoulder, I was pretty good for close to 20 years.

Then 3 years ago, I crashed at Joe Martin and really separated my shoulder.  Bad enough to nearly warrant surgery.  Then the other shoulder in Madison at cross Nationals, which did require rotator cuff surgery and finally last year breaking my hip in Davenport.

Anyway, I tried to stay pretty optimistic about the whole process, knowing I’d done it all before and a body heals pretty good normally.  I had historically came back about as good as I was before I was hurt, but sometimes it took a while.

Now, I’m not so sure about coming completely back.  My hip is still bugging me pretty much on a constant basis.  I limp every so often, especially after doing some weird movements, climbing up and down ladders all day, or climbing Snake Alley 20 times as hard as I can go.

And my right shoulder, the bad one, I’m pretty sure is never going to be the same.  If I had to do it over, I probably would skip the surgical repair of that shoulder and just let it be.  I think the whole shoulder is a mess and is probably going to be an issue for the rest of my life.

Both these things apply to how I feel bike racing.  I used to pride myself at being pretty good, better than average, at all aspects of the sports.  If I felt I was doing something sub par, such as riding in the mud on single-track, I’d concentrate trying to ride with guys that were better than me on muddy single-track and see what they were doing better, so I could improve.  Same with the road.  If I was cornering badly at a race, I’d follow the guy that was going through the corner the fastest and see what he was doing differently than anyone else, why he was going so fast.  Then I got better.

So, I can still do that.  I don’t spend as much time hanging out at races, riding with the best guys, so my relearning of each skill sometimes takes a bit longer now.  It is pretty hard trying to stay on a high level of each aspect of the sport at all times.

But this rediscovering of my body, that is a different deal.  I’m having a hard time acknowledging, to myself, that I have a couple of chinks in my armor, things I used to be able to rely on, now they seem gone.

One is my acceleration on the road.  My jump stinks.  I really haven’t done any specific training to try to see if I completely lost it, or it just took a hiatus, but right now, the last few criteriums I’ve done, it ain’t there.  But, I’m still racing like I have a pretty okay jump and that doesn’t really work.  Eventually, I’ll figure out whether my jump is coming back and then I might have to change-up my tactics to try to win races and not finish 3rd or 4th.

Off-road riding is a little different.  I feel pretty okay riding mountain bikes.  You don’t have to have the big accelerations, which is nice, since I don’t have them.  But turning to the left, especially on rocky terrain, kind of spooks me.  I’m slowly getting over it though.  I really don’t want to end up taking a direct hit to my left hip right now, on a big rock. Intellectually I can take it, but emotionally I don’t want any part of it.  Eventually it is going to happen and that will hopefully be a good thing.  But now, I’m avoiding it by being somewhat of a pussy on gnarly, rocky descents.  I’m getting better at it, just slower than I’d like.

Anyway, I’m not waving the white flag on any of this.  I’m going to keep at it, trying new/old things again, over and over, until I know whether I still can do these things or whether I need to tweaking the formula in other ways to make up for the lost skills.

Cycling is so cool in this regard.  There are always ways to make up for physical, and mental, losses.  There are so many facets to the sport, that no one possesses them all.  So, if you lose one, there is always another one to be discovered.

Diamond-Symmetry-And-Facets copy

21 thoughts on “Tweaking the Formula

  1. Bob

    The facet you don’t mention, the 800 pound gorilla in the room, is your age. You will have more aches and pains, not less. Your body won’t respond or recover from hard training like it did. Great technique and ability to read a race will only go so far. So the same story that has played out with every other great sport star will happen eventually to you as well.
    So then the question becomes, will you continue to race, when instead of placing in the top ten, your placing 30th or 40th, 50th?
    I would think the next time you have major bike racing related injury, which will take even longer to heal, you will say, enough. Of course you can ride a bike forever. I’m just commenting on bike racing at a high level, and your expectations.
    Sorry to sound so negative, but I think if a few of the cycling coaches at the Olympic Training center just read your blog today, this is what they would tell you.

  2. Ron

    Steve it seems that you are kind of in “no man’s land”. What I mean by that is “most” of us race in age groups against our peers of fairly equal abilities. As for yourself, there would probably be little to no challenge to that. Unless you were racing against guys like Ned and Tinker. Most “elite” level athletes such as yourself hang it up long before they reach your age. You are one of those guys that doesn’t know when to say when.

    I don’t know why you don’t chase something like the NUE series? Also, contrary to your belief, one doesn’t have to race on the road to have fitness for off-road racing. All you have to do is add some structure to your training.

  3. gehry

    Wish I could be in my fifties, taking second place in Cat 1/2 Omniums, a year after breaking my hip. In my world, I’d call that pretty darn good (jump or no jump).

  4. H Luce

    Back when you started racing, you saw tons of kids out riding bikes. Schools had crowded bike racks, bikes were commonplace. Now, you rarely see kids riding – you see people riding expensive bikes, but it’s rare to see them on the streets, or kids (or anyone else) riding them. Now, why would this be of interest to an aging racer? It’s the fact that bike racers should be a relatively minor part of the population using bikes for getting around town and going places, just as in Europe. The fact that the number of bike-car crashes is increasing is probably related to the fact that few people ride bikes, and that drivers aren’t used to seeing them and adjusting their driving accordingly. And because few people ride bikes to get around, there’s less of a population from which to get future racers. John Lieswyn, back in Gainesville, FL, started his racing career on the bike – complete with bike rack – which he used to ride to school every day. And I’ll bet that this was a common thing, this progression. What I’m getting at, is that at some point, before you end up getting crippled from another accident, you should call it a day, and start doing some other form of bike advocacy. You could probably write quite a few books about bike racing, bike maintenance, and riding technique, you could teach at clinics, and suchlike. Right now, you’re obviously having a good season, and if you call it your last as an active racer, you would have raced for 40 years, twice the racing lifetime of the great majority of riders. Your recovery times will increase from here on out, and at some point, sooner or later, you’ll no longer be competitive. I think if you did a realistic cost/benefit/risk analysis, you’d call it a day, and take up some other aspect of the sport.

  5. Donald J Trump

    Steve, it’s me again, The Don. Steve, you’re not a kid anymore. Do you know what I would do to have good hair? And I’ve got tons of money Steve. I’m a rich man. Did I tell you that? America knows that Steve. But let’s face it, Don ain’t gettin’ any younger. So do you know what I do Steve? I marry younger women. And I can Steve because I’ve got a ton of money. Doesn’t help my jump, can’t corner any better, uphills are a beyotch, but I’m happy. Just wish I can feel the wind blowing through my hair.

  6. Rob

    Eventually, father time catches up with all of us! Until that time, do what makes you happy!

  7. Ken

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now. What I come back for again and again is not your placings in races – I couldn’t care less, really. It’s the “bike life” I’d love to live – friends, travel, great food, interesting places to ride, and being part of the tribe. You’ve carved out something unique that has nothing to do with whether you finish 2nd or 102nd. Back east here, I look at guys like Paul Curley the same way – just keeping on. Don’t stop enjoying that.

  8. gehry

    If Steve had gotten one more point this past weekend, he would not have written this post.

    Most of the rest of us would have been ecstatic to have achieved that result back when we were 21!

    Time to take inventory dude!

  9. Michael KIng

    When I arrived in Italy in ’84 to ride at the dilettante level , just under profi , I was given 12 rules to obey to be a cyclist ; not just a bike rider . #1 was : brush your teeth slowly . I didn’t need to read the the next 11 .
    Tilly , focus . Get massages ; acupuncture , stay off your feet if you want your jump back .
    You’ve only got one body . How do you want to treat it ? Because that’s how it will treat you . Best .

  10. Randy

    I admire your perseverance. You are an individual who ” wired to win”. It is your nature. I think if you were able to give up painting houses you could totally focus on maintaining your desire to ride and race. I have a friend in Boulder who is 55 and she can “clean the clock” on most people her age, male and female. She understands her physical limitations and now focuses on fewer races with some maintenance training and healing between. She loves being on the podium and does so often. She now enjoys this different rhythm and her body thanks her. Keep doing what you love and ride on!!!

  11. Jay

    It does jump out of you that when Steve posts the entry sheet for the riders he’s competing against–he could be the dad of at least half of them. He’s remarkable in keeping the fires going all these decades.

    However, the risks associated with racing a bike make it seem to me more like boxing–or an extreme sport–than like running or swimming. I don’t know Steve other than I think he’s an interesting writer, but I truly don’t want to hear about him getting hurt again.

    As much as racing obviously means to him, there are other things in life also. He should count his blessings that he’s still relatively intact and perhaps not push his luck to far.

  12. Robert E

    As we age there are so many times when the mind say yes and the body says no! Maybe try more recovery and a fewer events per year. Sure enjoy your blog. It is a treasure!

  13. john

    Hey Pussy –
    Good luck in Lutzen. Hard to believe you are still in the Midwest on those trails.

  14. JB

    Steve, you took about a year off of racing? Of course the most physical part of cycling (jumps/sprinting) is lacking. I’m guessing you will have to specifically work at getting that back.

  15. Adam

    Steve – haters gonna hate 🙂 Keep at it and keep kicking butt. Just because some guys lose the fire doesn’t mean you need to. You’re an inspiration to us younger racers!

    Always enjoy racing against you.

  16. Brian

    Dang! So many concern trolls out today and yesterday. Live free and do what you love, brother!

  17. Jeff D.

    Steve the three things I’ve read that us older guys loose are: 1) aerobic capacity, 2) gain body fat, 3) muscle mass. I’d think w/ you high intensity racing # 1 and 2 wouldn’t be a problem, but maybe a little leg work in the gym might help w/ your jump/sprint. Just a thought.

  18. Jeff

    I rarely post but read (and learn from) your site often. I marvel that you have such enviable results at any age, always clean, and with sportsmanship and class. I used to work with a 61 year old journeyman bricklayer, and you almost never see such “old” ones, because like cycling, it is incredibly demanding. I view both of you as the super studs that have learned how to Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome.

    Here’s to many more years of you inspiring the rest of us punters.

  19. Mike Rodose

    Terrific racing and results Steve!

    Keep racing in whatever category you choose. Thanks also for sharing your world with everyone.


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