** No photos in this post. That's the drawback of riding the graveyard shift, 4am-9am: No Media Support **
Greenville, IL to Sullivan, IN. Hardest shift ever for me.
It wasn't because of the weather. We actually had really nice weather. I believe our shift started at 4:00am (local) time, and so the temperatures were nice. Temperature range for the shift was 66-89, with an average of 73, which is pretty cool by this years standards.
It wasn't because of the traffic. Not many drive at this time of morning (thankfully).
Yeah, I was a little fatigued. I hit a max HR of 165 (drown from 186 on Shift 1, showing that even the heart as a muscle does get fatigued this deep into a race), but I was at least consistent during all my pulls, averaging just under 25mph.
Groggy? Yeah, a little.
Motivation: Still high, but who is exactly amped at this hour?
I took the first pull of the shift, and wanted to ease into things. In other words, not floor it out of the gate. The first pull was exactly that. Eventually we made our way onto the frontage road of I-70, and it went on for a very long time (couple hours). Things were OK for me, but my left hip was 'noticeable'. It wasn't until we took the right at Effingham (no, I'm not cursing Ham, but Hammer does say it kinda funny), which provided a nice, flat stretch of road where I should have been absolutely ripping, where things started falling apart.
My left hip went from noticeable, to absolute freaking pain. I was literally screaming out loud in the middle of the night because of it. Now, screaming out in the middle of nowhere in RAAM (and in training) is not something new to me. I admit, I do it when necessary, and it makes me feel better. Somehow. But now, it wasn't helping. This was a different kind of pain.
I hadn't mentioned any of this stuff to John or really anyone really, but after doing an exchange, he said to me "Is everything alright? Your pedaling didn't look all that great, and the Follow Vehicle called and said they could hear you screaming." The cat was out of the bag.
Subsequent pulls were done with my left leg being a passive stowaway on a battleship that refused to go down. It was there for show, comraderie, physical balance and minor work output, but other than, it wasn't doing much.
I learned a few things about myself in 2010, when I went into the race injured, and actually developed another injury over the course of the US of A. I mentioned the issues I had during the race to people, but I didn't complain. I gutted it out across the country because there was no other option (in my mind anyways) when the team is counting on you and your friends and family are cheering you onthousands of miles away. This year would be no different, and I knew this would be a test of mettle.
I started learning how to pedal differently. When I engaged my glute muscles, my hip hurt a lot. When I didn't engage them, things were a lot less bothersome. So, I started pedaling more with my quad, hammie and calf without my glute. Admittedly, this produced some conflict. Part of my PT in 2010/2011 revolved around re-engaging my glute muscles when pedaling because over the course of time, they basically turned off when cycling. I was a total leg masher at the time. I put those thoughts aside for the meantime, and just focused on what I could do go as fast as possible. Learning a new cycling movement. Engaging different muscles. Keeping my head a little lower. Focusing on right leg strength, while not overburdening it. Keeping a positive mindset.
Fortunately, Airey was feeling like a rock star and did more than his fair share of pulls (it ended up being a 60/40 split). His claims of riding endurance pace at 28mph took huge pressure off of me to just focus on doing the best I could, without worrying about average speed dropping.
The end of the shift came, and it was a little bittersweet. The sections of road we were on were built for speed. Of the 48 miles I road, I gained a mere 646ft. It was borderline Fiesta Island flat. I was a bit ticked that I couldn't just floor it, but there's nothing I could have done better. Fortunately, even our competition was a full 1mph slower than us for that stretch, which gives a lot of credit to the Hammer for carrying the load when his wingman was down.
My thoughts post-shift went immediately into figuring out how to solve this problem. I wrote some emails to Ryon and my former coach, and also talked about options with our crew chief. Admittedly, there were a few times where I had 'resorted' to thinking about how the team would take it if I asked other riders to ride more. Not my first, second or third choices, but to be objective, we had to consider all possibilities. Barrie fortunately, was already one step ahead of me, and drawing up scenarios using that idea.
Ultimately, we decided it was best to contact my ART doc and get some guidance. After a 10 minute conversation, her sage advice was to focus on rolling/massage my left IT band, rather than focusing on the hip. It instantly clicked. She wanted me to focus on the likely cause, not the effect, that I had been focusing on. It was a lesson learned over the course of PT a few years ago, and it instantly made sense.
In the back seat of our suburban, I would do 15 minutes "on", and about 45 minutes "off" when it came time to rolling it out with The Stick, and using a lacrosse ball (ow!), which went on for about 6 hours. The effort didn't stop once we got to the hotel room, when I was eating my obligatory Cheeseburger and Fries. I even woke up extra early before my last shift to try and loosen up the muscles.
I was hell bent on being as best as I could for what might be our last shift, my last shift in RAAM.