When I finished the first day of Jingle Cross, I burst into tears. Not from pain or discomfort, but from sheer joy.
8 months ago when I had surgery, I believed I was super human. I believed I could heal faster than anyone out there. I believed I would get back out on my bike and start racing by late Spring, early Summer.
I believed rules didn't apply to me.
I believed if I did nothing for 2 months, I would heal and be good to go. I believed I could race in June. I believed I was special. Word to the wise.
You're not special.
I've blogged about my recovery, I've instagram'ed it galore, I've tweeted, I've posted on Facebook. I tried to keep my posts as positive as possible. What wasn't seen, was the ocean of tears that I shed in the first 3 weeks of recovery, and again at 3 months. I struggled with wondering if I made the right choice. I struggled wondering if I would ever get back to racing. Every feel I felt in my hip, it made me cry. I struggled, and I struggled big time.
I almost threw in the racing towel...many times. I didn't think I could do it. I had a midlife crisis amidst my recovery (what am I doing with my life?!). No matter what someone may think, until you do this on your own, you don't know what I went through. You don't know how special that moment was when I finished my first UCI race back, and I finished in 10th. I shed more tears across that finish line, from a smile one second to a complete break down, knowing the hard work I put in the past 7 months paid off. Knowing that all my questions were answered after that 1 race. Yes Courtenay...you CAN race. Your body knows exactly what it needs to do.
Someone asked me last weekend what my recovery and time off the bike looked like. In retrospect I knew it was a lot of time off and I knew it was hard (obviously, I lived it), but once I said it out loud to someone who wasn't there, I realized...it was A LOT of time off. For the first 3 months post-op I wasn't allowed to ride longer than 1 hour, easy, flat roads, no hills, no standing, NO sprinting, only spinning. At 3 months I was allowed to slowly add time.
This brought me joy.
At 3 months my back blew up and I couldn't move. I was scared to get out of bed. I couldn't sit, or lie down on my back without extreme pain and discomfort and pressure through my low back/sacrum area. My back muscles went into spasm. I couldn't stand without extreme pain. I iced, I heated, I did modified PT exercises. My hip flared up. I was relegated back to the trainer, no more riding outside.
I found my spot back on the couch, and I cried. I cried out of fear, frustration, and sadness. I was scared of what I did to myself, I was frustrated that my body was failing me at a time I needed it most, and I was sad because I felt my recovery came crashing down.
While my back pain improved, it was always there...for way too long. Close to 4 months, I stubbornly decided it was time to ride outside again. I started at 1 hour, flat, easy, spin. My back didn't like it, but my mind did. I continued to press on and ignore my back, hoping if I got back to more "regular" things, it would settle itself out.
At 4 months my surgeon released me to slowly start pushing it. I was given the green light to start running again (with a return to run program), I could start to ride longer than 1 hour (since that didn't happen at 3 months), I could ride hills, I could stand, I could try sprinting (don't worry...I didn't).
In June I started building. I rode every other day while I tried to get my back to continue to calm down. I tried my mountain bike, I started a return to run program (1 minute intervals 5x). Mid June I went for my first 2 hour ride, I couldn't even average 15mph, and my heart rate was sky high. July 4th I went for my first 3 hour ride on my mountain bike. July 27th I did my first LT effort. That first week of August, it marked my return to real intense, hard training.
Mid August when I tried my first dismount and fake jump over barriers, it occurred to me, my hip wasn't ready. Into the gym I went, 2-3 days/week working on my range of motion, trying to mimic the motion of a remount as much as I could. I worked on my plyometrics, proprioception, jumping, take off, landing. I started on a firm, predictable surface, and worked my way to unstable surfaces. I started with flat jumps, and worked my way to jumping onto platforms. I taught my hip everything it used to know, but needed a reminder on how to do it.
Just because I was able to do these things, didn't mean I could jump right in and be okay. Every time I tried something new, I had to rest the day after. Every time I did a "new" (to my hip) thing, it left it achy. I spent months reintroducing my hip to things that used to be second nature. You see, when you have hip surgery (or any surgery for that matter I'm sure) you can't just assume you can pick up where you left off. You have to build yourself back from the ground up, starting with a very dedicated Physical Therapy program.
I should have logged all my PT hours during my recovery. I spent well over 3 hours/day of physical therapy work for many months. Between my exercises, stretching, rolling, muscle stim, acupuncture, physical PT appointments, chiro visits, and massage. I'm 8 months out, and I STILL dedicate at least 1-2 hours/day to PT work (hip mobs, stretching, rolling, glute activators). My hip became my life, and when I couldn't put my energy into training, I put my energy into healing and rehab.
I'm sure there were times Chris wanted to punch me for my dedication. He rolled his eyes and chuckled at every new PT tool that showed up, because I "needed" it. I dedicated our office to my PT room, I wrote my PT out on a giant white board. Nothing mattered to me, except my PT, my healing, and getting to where I needed in order to perform at the highest level of the sport.
My surgeon told me I would be fine to race by September. He told me I wouldn't have a good season, and that it wouldn't be until NEXT year that I would notice a difference in my hip. He told me have no expectations. I told him about Lea Davison's comeback from the same surgery in 2014, and he told me that would never happen to me, he told me that's not normal, that I shouldn't count on being very fast and fit. My coach (who has had a similar surgery sans labral repair) told me I would be where I needed to be when the time was right. I put 100% of my faith into my training. I worked harder than I ever have, because I learned physical activity is a gift to not be taken for granted. Even though my lungs and legs burned from the efforts I put forth in my training, I pushed harder, I dug deeper, I craved the pain that comes along with training. I craved the fatigue, mental and physical. Every ride made me smile, and every ride felt like a privilege.
When I crossed the finish line on that Friday night, the past 7 months flashed before me. The tears, the joy, the struggles. For me, every race this year isn't about being the best. It's not about standing on the podium, it's not about trying to win. My racing this year is about the journey I spent getting to the start line. My racing this year is about racing form my heart because I love it, not because someone is making me do it, not because someone (i.e. myself) is "pressuring" me to do well. My racing this year is about the gift of being capable. It's about the hard work I put into rest and rehab to be the best I can I be. My racing is about the comeback journey, proving injury isn't debilitating and even when someone says the odds are against you, you can be the 1% to prove them wrong.
When I was riding in 10th on the last lap at the Trek World Cup I almost cried that I was there...within the last 1 minute of the race I slid out and lost 2 places. Last year me would have been frustrated and it would have been the only thing I remembered about my race. This year me, smiles with extreme joy because it showed me anything is possible. It proved to me I CAN, and I AM capable.
This journey has proven to me, when you put your mind to it, anything is possible. Dream big, don't let anyone hold you back, smile, cry, persevere. This is YOUR journey.