An unpredictable season

Whoops, I haven't blogged since the end of September, and as we're past nationals, I thought it would be the perfect time to post!  

Cincy CX "Pan Am Plunge" Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

Cincy CX "Pan Am Plunge" Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

First off, can I say "Happy New Year" to my readers!  It's 2018,  so insanely baffling, I'm 32, going on 33 in March, where.does.the.time.go?  Seriously.  I remember in 5th grade receiving a white sweatshirt that said "Class of 2003" on it, and had everyones name that was enrolled in the Mercer Island School District in my grade on it.  At the time, they were the coolest things ever, and I remember thinking 2003 was SOOOO far away (after all, I think the year was 1996), and here I am nearly 15 years after graduating high school wondering where the time went, not really where I envisioned my life, but wouldn't trade it for the world.  

2017 was a wild ride.  It started off with a bang at Cyclocross Nationals, finishing 5th, making Worlds, going to Europe, finishing 15th at my first World Championships in the snow and ice.  10 days later I went in for hip surgery and so many things changed.  Spring was hard, Summer perked up (except for the news of needing another hip surgery on the opposite side), and then racing commenced!  I committed myself to a lighter schedule at the start of the season, not knowing how either of my hips would fare, and wanting to have the ability to focus a bit more on training at the beginning of the season versus racing, since my training was a bit delayed compared to others.  The season started out with a BANG!  Seriously, I was shocked, a top 10 in my first UCI race back, a C1 leading up to the Jingle Cross World Cup with top international talent.  At that point I knew my season was going to fare better than I anticipated, but I still held my reserves.  

Nationals Photo Credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

Nationals Photo Credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

August 2nd I sat in my surgeons office reviewing my MRI from my left hip (the non surgical one), discussing options, and we both agreed that because I had been feeling it since the previous Fall (you can read about it here), and it didn't get better with rest (you know the 4 months I spent doing nothing after surgery), then it probably wasn't going to get better, and surgery would be my best option if I wanted it fixed.  Given how well I responded to the first surgery we agreed it would be a good option for me, but first, we race.  Time and time again he told me my hip wouldn't feel good, I wouldn't feel normal, and I shouldn't expect a very good season this year, and that I should look forward to the following year to have a good season.  I believed him.  Call me a fool, because I know myself better than that.  When someone tells me I can't, I tell them I can and I will.  It's just my nature, it's who I am.  Well, since believing him, and having very very very low expectations for the season (like hoping to get a top 30 in the US World Cups), I originally planned to have surgery in December on my left hip.  I figured that way I would get some racing in, and get a jump start on my recovery for the following year, which would mean I could get some mountain bike racing in!  Plus, I had met my deductible already, so it all just made sense...at the time.  

Life is never what you expect.  

Winning Day #2 at Boulder Photo Credit: Ethan Glading 

Winning Day #2 at Boulder Photo Credit: Ethan Glading 

Turns out, I kinda kicked ass for having had hip surgery in Feb. and not really starting any formal training until July.  Season goals changed, and I realized I was going to salvage this season I thought was a lost cause.  An outsider looking in, someone who doesn't know the back story, a stranger to the cycling world, my season would look normal, just about right, lighter racing schedule than last year, but you could say it was on par to last years season, or even slightly better.  This person wouldn't refer to my season as magical, like I do.  Magical, like a unicorn.  A fairytale story with a weird tragic ending for a twist.  

World Cup racing in Europe in muddy.  I love the mud.  

World Cup racing in Europe in muddy.  I love the mud.  

The past 5 months have been nothing short of magical, and I'm thanking those that have been a part of it, those that supported me, believed in me, and helped me get where I am.  The last year has been a journey, a challenging experience (I'm so lucky to do AGAIN, but we can talk about that later), and while I wouldn't wish it upon anyone, yet I wouldn't change it for the world.  Looking back on my post from September, I raced with more heart this season than ever before.  I had more fight than ever, and more to smile about than anyone else out there.  I stood on 7 UCI podiums, raced in 4 World Cups (1 to go), won 2 UCI races, I finished 4th at Nationals and have been selected to race World Championships in the Netherlands in 2 weeks, all within less than 1 year post hip arthroscopic surgery.  This didn't come easy, but I proved to myself that I could do it, I can be the 1% to come back stronger, better, happier.  The odds weren't in my favor, I was told I shouldn't count on anything.  I look forward to my final 2 races of the season, and I anticipate another challenge of coming back from yet ANOTHER hip surgery.  It's not something I want, but it's a story I'll hold onto for a long time, it's a part of my journey to become the best I can be.  

The "I did it" face to Chris.  Photo: Cathy Fegan-Kim

The "I did it" face to Chris.  Photo: Cathy Fegan-Kim

A journey of tears, joy, work, and perseverance

They say a picture is worth 1000 words.  This...there are no words.  Photo credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

They say a picture is worth 1000 words.  This...there are no words.  Photo credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

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.  

Photo Credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

Photo Credit: Cathy Fegan-Kim

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).  

So proud of my hip for jumping over those barriers like a champ!    Photo Credit: Bruce Buckley

So proud of my hip for jumping over those barriers like a champ!  

Photo Credit: Bruce Buckley

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.

Photo Credit: Jeff Corcoran

Photo Credit: Jeff Corcoran

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.  

This is the spot I slid out on during the last 1 minute of the race.  Oops!  Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

This is the spot I slid out on during the last 1 minute of the race.  Oops!  Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

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.

It was a hot one in Waterloo!  Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

It was a hot one in Waterloo!  Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

My scars of strength

Exactly 1 week Post-Op.

Exactly 1 week Post-Op.

I have two scars on my right upper lateral thigh, at one point they allowed access to my hip capsule.  Like every scar on my body, they have their own tale.  These scars don't tell the tale of flipping over my handle bars on the mountain bike.  They don't tell the tale of that one crash in that one race.  These scars, they aren't like the one down the middle of my shin from falling off my bike at 12 years old, or the emotional scar I was left with after being hit by a car 1 month after that.  These two tiny itty bitty scars, they remind me of my strength, not just my physical strength, but my mental and emotional strength.  Every time I look down and I see my scars I'm reminded how far I've come.  From the first day of pulling off those Post-Op bandages and being scared of what I might see, to holding back tears prior to my first race 1 week ago. 

The day I was allowed to stand on 2 feet. 

The day I was allowed to stand on 2 feet. 

These scars, their tale is that of persistence.  Persistence of watching myself walk in a mirror (over and over and over again) and not allowing myself to walk with a limp when I got off crutches.  Persistence of never giving up when at 3 months everything hit the fan, I couldn't lie down, stand up, or sit without excruciating pain in my back and consequently my hip flared up.  Persistence of building back everything I lost, and building it back better than it was before.  

These scars, their tale is that of dedication.  Dedication of going to the pool when I truly despised it so I could get my Range of Motion in when Chris was at work (those silly circles).  Dedication of hours of PT work to gain muscle function and strength back.  Dedication of daily foam rolling and stretching to keep my hip feeling "loose".  Dedication to following my surgeon's protocol to a T.  

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These scars, they have a tale of patience.  No, you can't do that yet, be patient, was something I heard way too much.  Patience of not doing too much when all I wanted was to go for a 5 hour ride in the woods (still haven't done that yet).  Patience of listening to both my surgeon and my PT.  Patience when I was finally allowed to ride outside, but only for 1 hour.  Patience for that 4 month mark when I was finally allowed to start "pushing" it.  These scars, they learned patience, and gained a lot of it.  

These scars, they remind me I'm not that speedy, agile, athletic (and totally emotionally unstable) 15 year old anymore.  I'm no longer that 22 year old Group Fitness Instructor doing crazy fancy tricks (it's probably what killed my hips anyways) in the gym.  These scars tell me I'm not 25 anymore and I can't ignore a nagging pain in my hip and think it will go away.  These scars remind me I'm 32, they remind me how much I love myself, how proud I am of the strength they gave me. Of all the scars I have on my body (there's a lot...trust me), these are my favorite.  They tell the story of an emotional war I had with myself for months.  These scars, they tell me I'm better, more fit, and happier than I was at 15, 22, and 25.  

Every time I look down and I see my scars, I smile, because these scars, they make me proud of what I went through.  These scars gave me strength I didn't know I had.  These scars, they showed me persistence, dedication, and patience.  They allowed me to love more than I knew I could.  They taught me gratefulness, be grateful for the body I was given, the activity this body allows me to do, and grateful for the team behind me.  These scars remind me I'm stronger than anyone thought I was.  I have scars of strength, and when I line up for my first big race of the season (7 months, 3 weeks + 1 day post-op, but who's counting anyways) in 4 days, I'll smile, because I'm lucky to have my scars of strength.  

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