Monday, September 17, 2012

In Pursuit

Peehi Manini, what the hell is that? Sounds like peepee mankini, or Piri Weepu... No, stop thinking about peepee or mankinis you dirty, dirty Kiwi, it's actually a street name in Waitahanui near Taupo. Hutt local girl Bex Houston pointed this out to me on the way to the Day Night Thriller, you'll never hear the end of it now girl! 

Well, it's been nearly 6 months since I last put pen to paper about mountain biking. So here we go, I'm back on the bike and racing again. The mystery illness that screwed me up for a solid 6 months disappeared almost as sudden as at arrived. Bastard thing. 

Fortunately for me, this subsiding illness coincided with Tony "Tiger" Keith asking "What are you doing with your riding?" to which I admitted "Nothing..." and he swiftly suggested "Right, lets get you training again". Although I was hesitant and very rusty at first, Tiger persisted at keeping me on the bike, prescribing drinking time on Fridays, 'easy cunnie' spinning days, 'ghey roadie' Mondays and smash it out Wednesdays. This is the training I absolutely love. Tigs, I can't thank you enough for getting me back on track and making racing fun again. I don't think 100 Lamason coffees could even repay you, but it might be a good start.

I have done two races since I started training properly again in May. The first was PNP #1 at Wainuioumata. My approach to this race was completely different to the past - I stayed out til midnight the night before catching up with an old Dunedin mate, rocked up to Wainui and did a 5 minute warm up, and hung out at the start line. I didn't feel nervous at all, had no plan of attack, no expectations and no worries. My only goal was to be smooth the whole race and enjoy it. 

And that I did. It was the best race I have ever had. It wasn't the placing that made it the best - it was a combination of my frame of mind and physical performance that did. When I was hurting, I told myself to push it harder. When I was quick downhill, I pushed it even faster. I was railing, pumping, jumping and hucking all with a big smile on my face. In the past I have often shied away from hurt, and dug myself into a hole because of it, so embracing the hurt is a real success for me.

My second race was the 12hr team Day Night Thriller. This race our aim was just to have fun and enjoy catching up with everyone - because at the end of the day, that's how we all started - sifting around with mates, having a few laughs and just riding bikes. I did 7 laps  and I felt incredibly smooth and strong. I stormed the short climbs and pushed it to the absolute limit, with the same frame of mind I had in Wainui except I was absolutely fizzing to ride more laps!

In the past four months I've found my racing mojo again - I can't begin to describe how happy I am. I'm not aiming to be fast, make the worlds team or win races. I just want to race, and that's fine by me. It's the love that counts.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

18th April, 2011

Today a year ago, I was lying unconscious in a Mercy Hospital operating theatre at the hands of Dr John Dunbar, about to undergo a knee osteotomy to realign my left patella. It's not often I remember what I do on certain dates, but this day I will never forget.

At the time it was the most painful, uncomfortable and horrible experience I had ever had. I spent every minute of that time wishing so hard to be able to walk, ride my bike, or even write an exam.  I hated everything about the situation.  What I hated the most was the transformation from racing around the country at Nationals to not even being able to walk - it was really difficult for me to accept the fall from grace.

Today I reflected on everything that has happened since that day last year. What I didn't know at the time, was how that one experience would set me on a path I had never even thought was possible.

Sometime after the surgery, I decided to turn my thinking around. I decided not to hate the situation, and instead treat it as an opportunity, to see what I could learn from it. I began learning about the procedure, studying surgical text books and asking John endless questions about what he actually did. I was trying to figure out how I could get back on my bike as fast as possible, but in doing so I become really interested in the Medicine itself.

Fast forward six months since the surgery and I had fractured my clavicle in a road crash, sustained a concussion and attended to various friends in mountain bike accidents. Hospitals, ambulances and injuries were popping up everywhere; I was no longer afraid of needles and spent more of my time learning Physiology instead of Macroeconomics...

It finally occurred to me that all of these situations and experiences were occurring at a remarkable rate, as if something was trying to direct me towards the Medical field. It was in November when I discovered an opportunity to join Wellington Free Ambulance as a Volunteer. It was something I knew nothing about; I didn’t think it was possible I’d get through.  Quite frankly it scared me, and that’s why I went for it.

Reflecting on this past year, I’m so glad to have finally discovered my passion. Without that experience in surgery, fracturing my collarbone, fracturing my wrist, sustaining 3 concussions in one year and attending two mountain bike crashes, I don’t know I would have gone down this path, but I’m so glad I did. 

Next week I’m catching up with John to discuss whether I should study Paramedicine or try for Medical School…. Who would have thought?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Change of Pace

It's that time of year... Smack bang in the middle of the Nationals season. In fact, just yesterday it was National Champs in Nelson - congratulations everyone on what I have heard was some pretty hard racing, great battles and even better weather! 

From a personal point of view, it feels very odd being in the middle of a season and having raced only once - In November, and in more recent times, I have only ridden my bike a handful of times over the past couple of months. Suffice to say, it has been very quiet in the biking department lately. Riding my bike everyday is like having a right hand, without it I don't feel like myself. While I'm still in touch with everyone, I miss being a fully functioning part of the extended family that seems to form around XC racing in NZ. 
Reason being for all this - I am injured yet again, but not in the traditional sense.

Periodically and sporadically, last season I had episodes of training where I could only ride 30 minutes then physically not be able to pedal. My heart rate would sky rocket riding slowly on flat terrain, I would sweat a lot more than usual, get strange chest pains and generally feel awful and severely fatigued. This happened one day training in Rotorua, I went back to the backpackers and fell asleep for 6 hours and didn't remember the morning! I never got to the bottom of it at that time, and it usually disappeared within a few days.

Lately however, this started happening more than once or twice. When it did happen, I'd take a few days off, try and ride, and feel terrible again. This had been going on for four weeks before our mountain biking holiday in Taupo at New Years, but it was here I realised something was truly wrong. We planned to ride the W2K, but I couldn't even pedal downhill let alone up - and my vision would blur every time I pedalled up hill. It was here that Harriet suggested I get a blood test. Finally I realised that this was not just fatigue - it was something a bit more deep-rooted. So I booked in with the Doc I met while out riding in Dunedin to see what was up.

After going through my symptoms, Dr. Medlicott was stumped and decided that indeed it would be a good idea to have a blood test. He ordered a full blood count as well as Electrolytes, Ferritin and the Eppstein-Barr Virus (to eliminate the idea of glange). My tests came back fine for everything - except Ferritin. 

I can see how this all happened now and I should have known better, I'm a bit pissed at myself I guess. Being a female endurance athlete, my iron is never really too shit hot. But what happened that tipped me over the edge was that I gave blood a couple of months back. Naturally, me giving blood would have reduced the level of red blood cells in my body and when these cells were slowly replaced, the new cells had reduced hemoglobin because I don't have enough iron to facilitate the process. As they were being replaced and trying to find iron, my iron stores went downhill and the process repeated. So at this point in time... My bods got shitty bloods with bad oxygen carrying capacity which explains all my symptoms. Dumbass me. Can't even walk very far without getting exhausted.

So what am I doing about it? I'm not anaemic, but iron deficient. So I'm taking some supplements, kicking back a bit more and eating a bit more red meat. I don't know how long this process will take to rectify itself but it could be a couple of months yet. I'm aiming to race the Crazyman in May with Sam as the runner, so will start training for that once this episode is over. 
So while this has written off my season, I'm focussing on my induction into being a Medic for Wellington Free Ambulance. This is something outside of biking that I'm super excited for and keen to learn as much about as I can and get good at it.

I'll be on the other side of MTB racing for once - patching up all you buggers who come a gutser!

Enjoy the ride..

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mojo, Derek and Me

It's been a while since I last broke something, probably 6 weeks ago, so it is high time for an update on the situation..

Lately a lot of stuff has been changing - life as I know it really. It's already the end of Semester 2 and I leave for Wellington in 28 days. Scarfie life by it's very nature is always changing and I absolutely thrive on it. You never know what's going to happen next or who you're going to meet...

I've decided I am not racing or training in the traditional sense this year. I'll be reccie racing purely for the fun of it - like the old days, with no expectations, no pressure, just great rides with even greater people. This is why I started racing in the first place and I feel I need to get back to that place and just enjoy the freedom that is mountain biking.

Initially I thought it would still be possible to race and train at the high level but it would take quite a bit more than I'm willing to give at the moment. When I was off with the broken collarbone I was going out running rather than sitting inside on the windtrainer like I "should" have been, which was a pretty good indication of where my heart truly lies, no matter what I tried to tell myself I should have been doing. I have since sold the windtrainer, casual hundy buckie right there, cher boy!

So instead of training I'm going to accept I may not be as fast as I could be, but that's ok. In fact that's great, because it means I can go tramping on the weekends, go running up Ross Creek with my flatties, start road running again, go on 5hr epic rides, race club races and ride with the girls again. It also gives me more time to appreciate the fading days that is Scarfiedom,  Six60 days in the sun, great parties, and even better mates that come with it. We have a truly unique lifestyle down here in Otago and I'm pretty proud to have been a part of it. 

Carpe diem baby!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What Was I Thinking?

Following the Sheila Dikshit travesty of 2010, Paul Henry suddenly found himself thrown into an abyss of scandal, culminating in accusations of racism, and ultimately his resignation. During the ensuing spare time he found he suddenly had, he wrote a memoir called What Was I Thinking detailing his methods of madness since childhood. Love him or hate him, I fucking love him so I don't care what you think.

I too find myself in excess of time, broadcasting this story to you considerably glazed over by Codeine and writing with one hand only, having been shunted from my MTB by a gust of wind on Saturday. I hit the road with my head and shoulder at 47.5kph. I lay on that road and I thought, well, I'm alive, but I should probably get off the road so I stay that way. When I got up, my shoulder was quite sore so I came to the natural conclusion that I had broken my collarbone. Which is the natural self-diagnosis when your shoulder's sore, eh?

I was very fortunate that a chap called Nick stopped and helped me out after seeing me on the side of the road. He walked over to me and stood there asking what was wrong before I finally realised that I needed to actually talk to him. So I told him I had broke my collar bone, so he took me down to Port Chalmers to meet an ambulance.

Nick was a great story teller. A war veteran himself, he told me stories of terrible pain he had experienced from broken bones, which in retrospect was quite funny. By the time the ambulance arrived the adrenaline wore off and shock set in. My face was sweating profusely. I couldn't stop shaking, and started hyperventilating. But I didn't cry.

The officers were lovely, one was a competitive road cyclist herself, so she told me all about her crashes. Some people just feel so comfortable confiding their traumatic experiences in me. While enlightening me with her stories, she gave me nitrous oxide to inhale, which I didn't like, because it made me feel like I was going to pass out. Strangely enough I became calm and announced that I was intolerant to all opioid analgesics, Morphine, Tramadol, Oxycontin and Pethedine, that my blood pressure would be low because I'm an athlete, I need to call my Mum, I didn't cry when I crashed, and I have a test on Tuesday for Economics. They just laughed and gave me more of that nitrous shit.

Having been through this state of affairs quite a few times this year with knee reconstruction surgery, a suspected scafoid break, concussion and now a broken clavicle, I've started to reflect on risk. A good friend of mine explained the nature of risk, comparing it to a clock, where the numbers change as risk changes. He said I should avoid risk when racing. I told him I simply can't think about risk when I'm racing because it will slow me down. The last time I thought about risk on the mountain bike was before I let go of the fear associated with losing control and hurting myself. That's when I became faster.

Can we slow down? So often, as mountain bikers, we put ourselves smack bang in the middle of a catch-22 situation. On one hand we mitigate risk to ourselves by wearing helmets, gloves and glasses. On the other hand, we put ourselves in that very situation where we are completely exposed to risk. Every time we storm down the singletrack, we are riding that very thin edge between brilliance and disaster. Sometimes we slip and catch the edge just in time. Sometimes we don't.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Land of the long flat white

Lance is right. It's not about the bike.

It's about the coffee.

Since when was it ever about the bike? Silly, skinny, misguided roadies.

I digress, as part of my feeble quest to become a 'legit' roadie, I have been pondering the remarkable correlation between cyclists and coffee consumption. Perhaps the ability to shot consecutive short blacks is the weak man's substitute for failing to grind a 32-16 up 3 Mile Hill? Even if you have mastered this mean feat, becoming a coffee connisseur is an essential rite of passage in becoming a legit road biker, mountain biker, downhiller, 4X'er, singlespeeder, fixxie, trackie, commuter, poser... whatever.

My limited statistical training cautions me however, in being quick to imply causation. It would be ridiculous to infer that we drink coffee because we ride bikes. That's like saying Rodney Hide was rolled because ACT lacked leadership..

We drink coffee because we ride bikes. Merely a correlation?
Not quite...

Last September, my flat and I conceived a cunning challenge: Sacrifice September. We each had to forego a terrible habit for the month, with the sorest loser shouting a round of drinks on the 30th. The sacrifices ranged from the meek to the essential. For me it was coffee (essential), an un-named flattie, sexual exploits (a meek sacrifice indeed), and everyone else... somewhere in between.

Unnamed flattie failed on all accounts, and I survived a week before sliding into an all-consuming abyss of...well...having to buy drinks at the end of the month, by a long shot (scuse the pun).

My justification? I couldn't function without drinking it. Why? My weekends consisted of this:

Saturday: 3 or 4 hours of training. Coffee,Carb, Protein. 5 hours of study. Dinner, Study, Bed
Sunday: 3 or 4 hours of training. Coffee, Carb, Protein. 4 hours of study. Dinner, Movie, Bed

Other than studying on a Saturday night being pretty pathetic, can you see what is wrong with this equation - what would happen if you took coffee out? The whole damn thing would fall apart! X hours of study would be substituted for Y hours of a pathetic attempt to stay awake, copious amounts of lethargy and worst of all, wrong answers. I would have failed for sure.

Hypothesis proved. Honours in Statistics firmly, but politely declined.

Despite my newly acquired short-term disability, my demand for coffee is still highly inelastic. For you lefties out there, pick up any Economics textbook and have a good hard look at what this means. In fact, so inelastic that this morning I spent the good part of 20 minutes home barista'ring these puppies for my parents and I, courtesy of some Caffe L'affare Primo:

The secret to a great brew

The big one's for Dad. 2 sugars, stirred with love.

Next in my coffee blog series will be an analysis of Wellington's finest. Not only is it home to Rt. Hon John "I'm The F*n Man" Key, but it is also the coffee culture capital... of the land of the long flat white.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My first meeting with a Nun

Exactly 2 months ago today, I was racing at the National Champs in Dunedin. Precisely at this time... I would have been helping Wilson clean Carl’s bike ready for the podium, before heading off to the celebratory BBQ. Well done to my team mates Carl and Katie - both National Champions, and everyone else who braved the Dunedin cold. It’s not called Sunny Dunedin for no reason!

In the 8 weeks since National Champs I’ve been on a training break, in which I have undergone reconstructive knee surgery. The foreseeable future is a long time not training, and I really miss it. I miss spending 2+ hours a day with my bike, my Polar dictating those two hours by minutes, kilometres, and heart rates.

Prior to my knee surgery, and since the final NZ MTB Cup round in February, I’ve had my left arm in a cast, my ass in hospital for concussion, an eye infection, a nasty cold and now my left leg is in a knee brace for six weeks. My surgeon said to me “You’ve really had a bad time lately, haven’t you?” A few other people have said the same thing, but I’m starting to look at it a different way. A lot of my friends are a hell of a lot worse off, some have injuries that are permanent and affect their bike racing in a huge way. They keep going. The one thing I have learned from their experiences, is you can’t really control what happens to you, only how you react to it.

It would be easy to feel sorry for myself, not being able to ride my bike, drive my car, or even just walk without crutches. At the end of the day, though it seems like it now, it’s actually not that bigger deal. In 6 weeks I will be huddled next to a fire at a pub with my flatties, sipping some Emersons, laughing with them at how scared I was the morning of surgery. In 6 months, I'll be nearly finished my degree. Tomorrow I will forget what I did today, and tomorrow I will be one day closer to getting out of the knee brace. It’s all relative, and important to keep it in perspective in order to avoid frustration.

Let me tell you about hospital. I had the most peculiar experience at Mercy. The last thing I remember before going into surgery is giggling uncontrollably at the radio playing in the theatre and telling the theatre staff that they looked like they were from Shortland Street. They told me they don’t have nearly as much fun, then I feel asleep. I woke up a few hours later in the recovery room and sat straight up before being pushed back down on the bed, then fell asleep again. The next thing I knew, I was in the ward with my family. It was great to see them, but it was a real struggle to stay awake, so between talking to my parents and sending txts to people I drifted back to sleep.

When I finally woke up, I tried to eat something. I ate half a chicken sandwich and a yoghurt, which I threw up an hour later. I was then given some morphine and tramadol which made me a bit delusional and nautious. The night was rescued however, by a Nun. I have never met a nun before in my life, so naturally I was intrigued by her sudden appearance. I felt like I was in the Vatican. And in Sister Act at the same time, which is clearly impossible, Whoopi Goldberg would not be allowed anywhere near the Vatican with her grasp of the “French” language.

The surgery itself was a complete success in that my knee was reconstructed. Basically my knee cap was sitting 15 degrees out of the socket, causing my knee to be instable and dislocate randomly (which it did, 3 times over 3 years - don't recommend it). John Dunbar is the brilliant surgeon who performed the surgery. He is a very funny guy who does things his way, his own pace, and says the funniest things. He performed the surgery laparoscopicallu on two areas of my knee, where he released and reattached the lateral ligament, and shortened my VMO muscle, attaching it directly to my kneecap for stability. The most involved procedure however, was detaching my patellar ligament with some shinbone attached, and reattaching it back to my tibia with two screws, more medially. it's called a tibial tuberosity. Gross. But all of this stuff basically means my kneecap is back in the right place and will hopefully stay there for the duration... hopefully...

I’m actually happy to have gone through this. I was irrationally medically sensitive and used to have a big fear of injections and needles, to the point where I avoided taking blood tests a few months back because I was too scared of the needles. Last week I was given 7 injections in 3 days, and after crying at the first one I didn’t get scared of the rest. At all. So without the surgery, I would still be scared of needles! Proof that I didn't freak out at my IV:

So.... where to from now? Well, I’m approaching the whole saga like I would approach training. It’s all about numbers. I have 5 more weeks in a knee brace. So for the next 5 weeks, no I can’t ride my bike, I can’t walk, but I can study, learn about new things and do things I wouldn’t normally do. Once my 5 weeks is up, I am going to focus solely on aceing my exams and rebuilding my body. I will have some ridiculous muscle imbalances that will need to be corrected, and then I will be working on building strength and regaining base fitness for some exciting events next year. I'm moving to Wellington next year to start work as a fresh faced graduate which puts me in a better position to train and race. Secretly I love Wellington far too much and need to go back. Oceania’s in Rotorua will be the peak event in 2011, I will also be doing my first road tour, the Tour de Femme in December and tackling my first Karapoti in March.

Exciting stuff, but for now, I’m going to enjoy being a student.