The Knee Injury
2013 was my best year of cycling.
Every day after work, I'd hop on my Specialized Tarmac and ride into the country. By mid-summer, I was riding at least 140 miles a week. Each Saturday, I'd hit the road at 6:00 a.m. and ride a 60-mile loop. Door to door, I'd average 18.5 mph; and that includes slowing for stop lights, pee breaks, and refilling my water bottles. Maybe averaging 18.5 mph over 60 miles isn't a pro-level performance, but I was still impressed with myself because of the grueling intervals and mini time trials that I did on those rides.
At first, it seemed like I couldn't put a pedal wrong that summer. I started eating more veggies and got faster. I quit gluten and got faster. I started eating beets and got faster. I lost 20 pounds and got WAY faster. With all this speed in my engine, I decided it was time to race and started looking for the right cycling discipline to tackle first. Since I didn’t know about any road races in Indiana and the criterium scene seemed too scary for my experience level, I decided to take a cue from one of my cycling heroes, Tony Martin, and enter a time trial.
2013 had been a landmark year for pro cyclist and world-renowned time trialist Tony Martin. Tony won at least a dozen time trials that year including the world championship, the German national championship, and stages in the Tour de France, Criterium du Dauphine, and Tirreno Adriatico. The man was unbeatable. Every weekend, I’d watch the highlight reels as Tony sliced through the air, conquering the world on his mouthwatering Specialized Shiv. With my tall, slender frame and tree trunk legs I hoped that one day I’d be able to emulate Tony’s time trial prowess (at least on the local level).
Initially, I had planned to make my time trial debut during the prestigious Colavita Time Trial Series, but I couldn’t make the race dates work. I finally settled on a northern Indiana gem, the Tour de La Porte. This multi-day event, sponsored by the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte, features time trials, fat bike races, road rides, and runs. I signed up for the time trial in the Merckx-style category and had my eye on the century ride the following day. With the Tour de La Porte as my carrot, I started training more than ever before. Then, a month before my competitive debut, everything began to unravel.
My right knee had caused me problems earlier in the season, but a day of rest usually resolved any pain. Now, with the Tour de La Porte just a few weeks away, my knee pain had become more persistent. A short run felt crippling. Physical activities became so debilitating that just riding my bike at 10 mph brought me to the brink of tears. Every bend of the knee sent pain shooting up my right leg. I scoured cycling websites and forums desperately trying to find a solution. Some articles suggested that it was a bad bike fit so I started experimenting with my seat height and cleat position. Other articles suggested that I wasn’t eating enough calories and suggested that I up my portions. Unfortunately, all the results were underwhelming, short-lived at best. The one suggestion that I feared the most was that I had an overuse injury and needed to take an extended break from cycling. Sadly, with none of the quick fixes producing results, I hung up my helmet, mourned the loss of my hard-earned bike legs, and canceled my entry in the Tour de La Porte’s time trial.
On the day of the Tour de La Porte, I sulked in my apartment. Unwashed and ugly, I tracked event updates on social media and choked back tears as I realized that I could have won my category. Defeated and full of sorrow, I was surprised when my best friend knocked on my door and gave me an engraved cycling trophy that she had planned to give me after the time trial.
Growing up, I always dreamed of wining trophies and medals, but I never had the parental guidance to teach me how to improve. Mom would sign me up for sports, but Dad never took me to the park to practice the fundamentals. Every year was filled with heartbreak from not winning in ball and stick sports. Internally, I think that the Tour de La Porte was such a big deal to me because I was viewing it as my chance at redemption and to finally win a trophy. As my friend handed me the gifted trophy, she told me that I had recounted my dreams of winning so many times that she didn’t want my first race to go by without recognition. Even though my knee injury kept me from racing at the Tour de La Porte, she still wanted me to have the trophy to mark the drive, determination, and growth that really defined my 2013 cycling season.
Five years later, I keep the trophy on top of a bookshelf overlooking my home gym. Every day, as I do my cross-training, I look at that trophy as it both taunts and cheers me. The trophy reminds me of the failure that ended my 2013 season while cheering me to remember the strength that I once had and can have again. The past five years have been a struggle as I’ve tried and failed to overcome the knee injury. At last though, I’m healthier and have a more mature view of cycling. I’m ready to give bike racing another try.