“Back” to Reality

As I mentioned in my post earlier this week, my back has been giving me trouble the past few weeks. I’ve been blessed with many virtually pain-free months since my back surgery last April, which has been incredible. After 12 years of nearly constant pain, it seemed like a miracle when it finally went away. I pretty much went back to living like a “normal” person and took my back more or less out of the equation when it came to daily activities.

When I started my marathon training plan for Casper, I wanted to work my way up from running 3 days a week (which I did for the first 6 months once I was cleared to run after surgery) to 4 days a week, which is the maximum number of days my surgeon recommended. I alternated running 3 and 4 days a week and built up to consecutive 4 day weeks, and everything seemed to be going well. I felt confident, refreshed, and excited to be back on the road.

About two weeks ago, that changed. I started having some aches and pains during field work, but I chalked it up to being on my feet, trekking through swamps for 8-10 hours a day. Since I don’t do field work all that often, doing this every other week on top of my escalating mileage seemed to catch up to me pretty quickly. When I woke up this Monday, I couldn’t bend over at all. It took me more than 10 minutes to put my pants on…and then I had to head out for another week in the field.


If I’m being honest, I haven’t handled this well. In fact, I would say I’ve roughly followed the 5 stages of grieving:

  1. Denial – Refuse to believe there is actually anything wrong with my back or any reason to cut back on workouts. Carry 35-pound backpack on long, tough, hike to prove strength.
  2. Anger – Pitch daily, private hissy fits about how unfair life is. Rage about why I can’t be “normal” and workout like a “normal” person. AJ reminds me that “normal” people workout way less than me and that I may have a mental disease if I think otherwise.
  3. Bargaining – Promise to cut back on workouts during Argentina if I can just keep up my volume til then.
  4. Depression – Decide to quit running forever and write poetry.
  5. Acceptance – Realize that I may have to modify my schedule a bit. Consider taking more rest days and nearly vomit at the thought, but still consider it.

The reality is I might need to back off running 4 days a week all the time, as much as it pains me to admit it. I may be able to handle it occasionally, but not every week, or maybe just not at this level of mileage.  When I started thinking about how I can switch up my workouts, I realized that the obvious area with room for improvement and escalation is the bike. Right now, I am mostly doing just easy rides, so I decided to consult The Bicycling Big Book of Training (get it here) to figure out ways to step up my training on the bike and limit the impact on my back. As much as I love cycling, I do not consider myself a cyclist. I find the sport downright confusing and overwhelming most of the time – there’s so much gear, many different types of races, billion dollar bikes, and so on. Running just seems so much more simple! So picking up the book, I was a bit intimidated but eager to learn more.


The book pitches itself as providing “everything you need to know to take your riding to the next level,” but I’m not sure you could say my riding even has a level at all right now. All my rides are done at the same speed, and while I have completed a century ride and several metric centuries, I still don’t really know what I’m doing although I have a decent level of fitness. That’s where the book comes in. It starts with the basics and goes through everything from the physiological ways to measure training efforts, to the different types of rides and races, different types of cycling (road, mountain, cyclocross, etc) to training plans and more. The thing I like most about it, besides the training plans (which are very non-threatening and doable), is that the book provides information in a way that is easy for beginning cyclists to understand. Even when the information is very technical, there is often a “low-tech translation” at the bottom of the paragraph. I love that! Too much detail or information and I start to get overwhelmed.

At a time when I’m feeling a little defeated and disappointed (ok, a lot defeated and disappointed), I’m looking forward to beefing up my cycling a little bit in hopes of taking part in some fun cycling events this summer. Who knows, maybe a triathlon is even in the works?

Do you have any advice for me on how to deal with this setback mentally? 

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of The Bicycling Big Book of Training for free. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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