Tag Archives: recovery

Not So Fast …

The new ride

The new ride

After a long seven weeks off, I had been looking forward to yesterday’s doctor’s appointment. My expectation and hope was that we would X-ray the hip, see that it is healing, and move on to the next step towards my recovery.

My hopes were dashed by the results. Unfortunately there were no signs of healing.

Stress fractures are strange and perplexing injuries. They often will not show up on X-rays. Mine didn’t show up initially, and we didn’t know it existed until I had the MRI. When a stress fracture is healing, there are visible and distinctive signs that will show up on the image. Mine showed nothing, which means I’m not there yet.

The fact that there were no signs of healing does not mean I am not healing. I know just from the way I feel that the hip is improving. All we know is that the process is a little bit slower than we had hoped. The fact that I am still experiencing soreness, walking with a limp, and having popping instances, all show that the healing process is still ongoing.

The doctor advised me to take another month off. As he put it, I need to ‘respect’ the hip. He looked at my walking gait, and found it to be unnatural. “Is that how you normally walk?” he asked. Nope. Even though crutches are no longer necessary, he suggested using a cane just to keep weight off of it.

While this was disappointing, it was somewhat expected. I could already tell a couple weeks ago that healing was taking longer than I had hoped, which was the reason I canceled my plans in France this year. That turned out to be the correct move. This is a process that I have to be patient with. I’ll follow the doctor’s orders, and hopefully everything will continue to improve.

This sets back some of my spring plans. My heart is set on completing Mitchell, and I will optimistically register next week. However, if the news is not better in a few weeks, I may have no choice other than to be smart and back out.

I can’t complain too much, as there is always someone out there facing tougher odds. Today I heard about Christian Haettich, who is taking on both Haute Route challenges. And by the way, he’s missing an arm and a leg. By comparison, coming back from a measly hip injury seems pretty insignificant.

Time heals all wounds, and this one will be gone eventually.

Breakthrough Week

It has now been nearly seven weeks since my last ride. The time off has been a roller coaster, sometimes with extreme pain, sometimes with absolute boredom. Fortunately, it looks like I am finally closer to the end of my recovery than the beginning.

After two weeks of making hardly any progress, major strides came this week. On Tuesday, I noticed that something felt different. I had more flexibility, mobility, and less soreness. A dull ache existed, at times worse than others, but it was drastically better than it had been a few days before. That was my first breakthrough day. It became even better on Wednesday, Thursday, and then Friday. It feels remarkably better now.

I’m not out of the woods yet. On Monday I will visit Dr. Ekman again, probably get an X-ray, and a direction for treatment. It is possible I’ll need another MRI (Ugh!). My guess is that the fracture has mostly healed, but there are some other soft tissue issues underneath the labrum that still need to be dealt with. There is some lingering soreness, and I can tell that my hip still is not quite right. I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll be able get everything working in harmony again, and that I can begin training on the bike soon.

In two weeks, I will register for the Assault on Mount Mitchell again. That seems like a bold commitment at this stage of the year, but one I am prepared to make. Even if I cannot train like I have the last couple of years, this is the ride I want to do every year. I’m banking on having enough carryover fitness to make it to the finish line, however slowly, without focusing on time. Any training I can manage until then will be a bonus.

Speaking of Mitchell, my friends in the southeast might be interested to know that I am now blogging for the 2013 Assault. The first post is up now, and more will follow. Much of my material will not be new to readers of this blog, and a few things will be cross-posted over the next few months. I’ll be an editor of sorts as well, working with a few others for different perspectives and tips, varying from beginners to professionals. Even if you do not ride in the Mitchell event, you might find the material useful to prepare for any sort of endurance event.

Finally, I’d like to give a couple shout outs. It was a tough decision for me to bail on this year’s Haute Route plans, even if it was the right decision. I want to thank Wes for backing out with me. We had planned to do the ride together, were going to train together, fly together, and be roommates during the entire event. We both deferred our registrations and plan to participate in the 2014 event.

The final shout out is to the Vicious Cycle team. Wes and I left them in the lurch by backing out. Fortunately they were able to find a couple replacements rather quickly. Keeping in the spirit of internationalism, they added Julian from Edinburgh, UK, and Patrick from Sydney, Australia. They now have a great looking kit, which I’ll be following for this year’s event.

Inspiration Comes When You Least Expect It

It has now been over six weeks of recovery, and my next visit with the doctor (and probably X-Ray) will be Monday. This week, the hip has shown some improvement. I was going to write about my progress, but I’ll save that for another day. I’d rather share a couple things that have inspired me.

The greatest inspiration this week came from Wayne, a regular blog reader since nearly the beginning. He and I have met once, and corresponded over email a few times over the last couple of years. Unfortunately, he suffered a severe accident early last year.

Actually, severe is an understatement. His accident was devestating. He spent 1.5 months in the ICU, and another month learning to walk again. While he was in the hospital, he mentally committed himself to getting back on the bike.

Nearly a year later, he is back on the bike again.

I may be injured, but what I’m dealing with is nothing compared to the obstacles Wayne has had to fight with over the last year. He generously shared some words of wisdom in the comments of my Haute Route withdrawal post.

“I would suggest that you don’t forget why most of us start and still ride.”

I’m with Wayne there. While for me it is partly about the fitness and wellness, it is also about being outdoors, getting in tune with nature.

“Be sure to smell the roses or wildflowers as they drift by on the side of the road. Be careful about always having your head down trying to muscle your way up ever bigger hills unless the race is what you seek. I like climbing the hills also, but I like stopping at the top of the hill to survey the world from the top of the hill where I’m standing.”

I can get behind this statement completely. Part of the thrill of climbing hills is seeing the world below your feet. I’ll never forget the spectacular views from when I was on top of Mount Evans, feeling as though I was walking on the clouds with the mountainous heavens below me.

Wayne is now back on the bike, and just recently rode from a few miles inside Fort Jackson. To most of us seasoned cyclists, this wasn’t a ride for the ages, but for Wayne, there could not have been anything more satisfying.

“You could have wrapped my grin around both ears, it was so big.”

Keep on pedaling, Wayne. And make sure you keep in touch.

The other story that inspired me came from Robert Armstrong, aka Coach Rob, and the Vicious Cycle Team Leader. As you know, I recently dropped from the team due to injury, but I have gotten to know Rob and the others during this process.

When discussing training, we had talked about some of his success stories. One of them was Peter LeClaire, a guy who had found himself with a few extra pounds more than he had intended. Rob just recently posted a blog post with Peter’s reflection of his transition. He set a goal of riding in the Etape du Tour (pretty much a single TdF stage event). Not only did he succeed in his goal, but once he shed the excess weight, he kept going and transformed into a beast. Just looking at the pictures that Rob shared are awe-inspiring. Way to go, Peter!

These two tidbits of inspiration have different messages, but both apply to me, and they put this little hiccup in perspective. Sure, I’ve been off the bike for a number of weeks, which has been annoying and uncomfortable. I’ve had to deal with my share of pain, but it has mostly passed, and I will continue to get better. Nothing I’ve had to deal with compares to the recovery that Wayne has made from his accident. The fact that he kept going is, frankly, awesome.

Peter, on the other hand, assures me that no matter what fitness I lose and weight I regain, there is still hope for me to become that tiger again. With some focus and determination, it’s amazing what a person can accomplish.

Thanks for sharing the stories, guys!

The Plans, They Are A Changin’


Today I made a big decision. The Haute Route is not going to happen, at least not this year. It was a difficult decision, but ultimately the right decision.

As most of you know, I’ve been recovering from a stress fracture for the last several weeks, and had trained on it for a few months prior. The sports medicine doctor had told me that the potential recovery timeframe could work with an event of this scale, but at that point, the injury did not seem as bad as it was. The thought was that I would be relatively pain-free, not need crutches, and get to cross-training (swimming) fairly quickly. None of those wishes came true.

Although there has been minor improvement, and the crutches are no longer necessary, the healing has been slow. The crucial moment was just a few days ago when I swam for the first time. Everything went well during the swim, but soreness lingered for a couple days afterward. The doctor advised me that I could continue swimming, but only with a careful amount of rest in between.

With each week, I have been losing valuable training time. Since I’ll have to resume slowly and carefully, it will still be awhile before I can really push the intensity. The reality is, a lot of training is required to succeed at an event like this. It is not the considered the highest and toughest cyclosportive in the world without reason.

I will heal, and if I pushed, I could complete the Haute Route event this year. The only problem is, I would not do nearly as well as I would like. The experience would be more suffering than it would be otherwise, would take more time on the bike, and simply not be as fun. Not to mention, my team has been training this entire off-season, and most likely would be well beyond me come August.

Most everyone I have talked to agreed that this was the right move. As Coach Bobby put it, this injury is most likely a one-time thing that needs to heal. At some point I will bounce back and be strong again.

As of present, I am looking into my options, but most likely I will defer my registration to the 2014 Haute Route. This gives me the comfort zone to focus now on my recovery without worrying too much about the training I’m missing, while not ruling out this amazing event for the future.

As for the rest of 2013, I have no doubt that plenty of adventures are waiting for me. There are lots of cycling playgrounds in the world. We’ll definitely have another big vacation, possibly another sojourn to Colorado, maybe a trip to France, maybe California, or maybe somewhere else entirely. And of course, I will spend a lot of time in the Blue Ridge, hopefully exploring some new areas.

For now, I’m being smart.

Taming the Tiger

As I’ve said before on this blog, I have one speed — GO, Go, GO! I’m my own worst enemy, as evident from this injury that has forced me on the couch for the last several weeks. That’s the tiger within me, screaming to get out and devour what it desires. For me, I yearn to devour the nearest mountain, conquer it and plant my flag.

More on that in a moment.

This injury has been confounding and unpredictable. There have been days where I have felt amazing, and others where I have felt like it would go on forever. Just the other day, frustrated with my lack of progress, I decided to just stay shut down until my next doctor appointment.

As it turns out, I spoke too soon. Seemingly from the moment I pressed the publish button, things began to turn around. They continued to improve dramatically during the week, which culminated with some amazing news yesterday.

I am FREE! The crutches are gone. I am walking.

Yesterday was my first day walking under my own devices. At first I walked gingerly, favoring my left side. Even with that, my right leg became sore just from the inactivity of the last few weeks. At times it felt like I might need the crutches again (they were in my car, just in case), but as the day progressed, it felt better and better. Not only am I walking, but I am walking without a limp. A day later and I can say with certainty that the crutches are gone forever, at least for this injury.

I also received some good news from the doctor. I’m allowed to get in the pool and get some exercise. I can swim or water walk.

This came at the perfect time. The time off has not been enjoyable, but as of late, it has really taken a toll. That tiger has been growling incessantly. When I don’t work out, I get stressed more easily, and am generally not as happy.

Tom, a good friend, gave me some terrific advice:

Aaron, having worked for 12 years as a Personal Trainer, be careful – there is a huge difference between a traumatic injury (crashing) and an overuse injury. Just remember “overuse” is very subjective. An extreme example asking a person that walks everyday, than to run even a mile. You will of course get better – but don’t go get better than your body can. Just knowing you, that’s all. I learn a long time ago a coach is not there to tell you to do more – but to hold back. It’s the fire in us sometimes it helps if it is held back.

Tom does know me. He has seen that tiger roar as it climbs over a mountain. Others have echoed that sentiment. Chill out, Aaron, they say. Let yourself heal. Baby steps. They are absolutely, positively correct. I have to go slow with this recovery. My friends may have some epic rides planned that make me drool, but I will need to stay at home and ride 20-30 miles. I’ll live vicariously through them until I am able. And when I am able – Watch Out!

Fortunately Coach Bobby believes in this sentiment. He will push me when needed, but he will also make sure I get my rest. My goals this year are to heal, climb Mount Mitchell and then become an official finisher at Haute Route. If I let that tiger out too early, none of these will happen.

The Freakish Femoral Neck

First off, thanks to all those who reached out to me after the injury news. I received a lot of encouraging comments here, on Facebook, Twitter, and a lot of text messages and emails. Whether the comments were simply well-wishes or constructive advice, they were all appreciated.

Now that the shock of the diagnosis has worn off, I’ve been able to come to terms with the injury.

One thing I discovered pretty early is this is a freak injury for a cyclist. I scoured the internet for examples from others, but found only a legion of runners. Unlike running, cycling has no impact whatsoever, so it is boggling that any type of broken bone can occur. Even though I had run a couple times leading up to the climbing events, it was not nearly enough to suffer an injury of this nature. There is no other possibility than for this to have happened while climbing, probably out of the saddle as the doctor suggested.

Here is the best description I found of the injury.

Another common subject that came up when I talked with others was that I trained on the stress fracture. While it would be easy for me to brag about riding around with a broken bone, it really was not as impressive. The symptoms of the injury were more like tendinitis. When my body warmed up, I often would feel very little, if anything. There were only a few situations where it hurt during the activity. Six Gap was notable. Beyond that, it often hurt quite a bit after the events, but would improve with rest.

Speaking of rest, that’s what I’ve been doing, and will be doing for the next number of weeks. Kelli worked with me to find the best vitamin recipe to get the Vitamin D, Calcium and Magnesium to help heal my bones. I’ve been making it a point to eat things that are richer in nutrients, specifically calcium. I’m also walking around with a crutch for the time being. I could function with a slight limp, but the doctor thinks it is best to keep weight off the hip as much as possible.

I feel pretty good about the recovery process and getting back on the bike. So far I have not noticed a significant difference, but that’s to be expected. Bones are slow to heal. One thing I noticed when reading a lot of the testimonials from runners is that it is difficult for them to return to activity. Fortunately I will not be running. I found many examples of runners that will cycle to get their legs into running shape. Even though the doctor hasn’t told me this, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to start some light pedaling after the initial healing process. That’s a good thing. Climbing may have to wait awhile.

On the brighter side, my friends at Vork Cycling showcased their amateur Photoshop skills to make light of the injury. This was hilarious.

aaron recovery

Diagnosis: Broken Hip


Today was the day I would get the results of the MRI. After doing plenty of internet research, I figured that the best case scenario was further inflammation of the same hip flexor strain that my General Practitioner had diagnosed months back. The worst case scenario would be a tear somewhere in my hip labrum. Depending on the severity, that could require surgery. Whatever it was, I was looking forward to getting an answer and starting the path towards recovery.

It turned out to be neither of those.

“How does the hip feel?” the doctor asked. A little sore today, but not as bad as this last week.

He came right out and said it. “You have a Femoral Head Stress Fracture.”

Wow, I thought, not really understanding what he said. It turns out the fracture is in the plate of my hip, the right side, not far from the socket (labrum) that connects to the pelvis. He said that the labrum is also off, which points to another injury. Whatever I did to that poor hip, I did it real good.

He asked questions about my activities, trying to figure out how this happened. I never noticed a snap or any moment where this could have happened. He said that it’s more common with running because of the impact. When we discussed some of my rides in a little more detail, he said that it could have happened when riding out of the saddle on a steep climb. That is when I would be most at risk for this type of injury. That jives with my Grandfather Mountain theory.

The only prescription right now is rest, and lots of it. I will not even think about treatment for the next six weeks. The only activity that is at all acceptable is swimming or upper body exercises.

My first question was whether my plans in France are still possible. Yes, he said, with some work. We’ll revisit this again at the end of January, and I’ll work myself back into shape slowly. The goal is to resume training sometime in March. Since the event is in the late summer, my recovery fits within the training timeline.

Even though this is somewhat of a bummer, I am relieved. Finally I can stop training and aggravating this injury, which to be frank, has not been a lot of fun. The next time I ride, it won’t be on a broken hip, and it’ll feel a lot better.

Whatever happens, this story ends in the Alps.