Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Life, Injury and Suffering at the MOMAR Burnaby

Firstly, it has been a long time since I updated this blog. 2009 to be exact. I think the lag was due to me not wanting to spend so much time in the virtual world of social media and actually doing more things that I enjoy. Like most of us, I spend my working day behind a monitor (two 24" monitors for me) so the thought of getting home and sitting behind another monitor yet again has become less and less appealing; so much so that I try to keep my weekends completely internet free. That being said, I am going to try to keep my blog relatively up to date as I do appreciate a blog's abilility to allow others to follow along with what I've been up to.

2010 was a busy year for me with moving back from Norway, buying my first house with Kim in the beautiful village of Brentwood Bay, doing tons of cycling including partaking in the Island Series mountain bike races and, of course, the Squamish and Cumberland MOMARs.

Moving to Brentwood Bay meant that I would in-effect double my cycling commute from 22km to 45km round trip. So, needlesstosay, I was putting in lots of distance on my commuter bike plus lots of mountain bike riding on top of it along with running three days a week. Then, one day in November, a couple days after a mountain bike incident and the day after I was shovelling snow, I woke up and my lower back hurt. The next day and for the next week I was doing the hunched over old man walk and literally could not stand up straight. This eventually subsided but still left a constant numb pain that would not go away. I saw a physio, two chiros, and a massage therapist over the next five months who all helped alleviate the pain but were not able to solve the problem. The only diagnosis that I was given was that it was likely a herniated disc and it would simply take lots of time to heal.

During the five months, I could not bike much, could not run, and paddling was ok but I could not go for too long before aggrevating my lower back. I was on the bus almost everyday and was becoming depressed (the never ending winter didn't help either). Also, I have had some minor injuries in my life but never something that kept me down for so long. My back would start to feel great but then suddenly, I would find myself back in a relapse. It was a very trying time.

Then, about five weeks ago my doctor recommended that I see a physio who is a back specialist. His name is John Hunter, works out of Shelbourne Physiotherapy, and he saved my life. Ok, well he helped to fix me!

A month ago I was unsure whether I would be able to do Raid the North Extreme let alone do the MOMAR or any other events as I had yet another relapse. I booked an appointment with John but I was not overly optimistic that he would be able to do much. Within a couple of minutes working with me, he explained exactly what my problem was, how he was going to help me fix it and that I would be on my feet running and cycling fine in as little as a week or two! Every other practictioner up to that point had provided me with treatment that termporarily relieved the pain but didn't diagnos or solve the problem.

So, the diagnosis... my upper back was not very mobile and my hip (particularly my right hip) was very tight (both likely due to the excessive amount of biking I was doing at the time leading up to the injury). All this tightness meant that one area, my low back, was doing all the mobility (hyper-mobile) and when I tried to bike or run, my low back would be aggrevated. So, no herniated disc and easy to fix. The solution? Roll out my upper back, stretch my hip area and get some IMS therapy to help release these areas. IMS is like accupunture except the needles are stuck in trigger point areas of muscles and are pulled out after the muscle spasms. Yes, it is a bit painful and yes, you do go into a full sweat but I must say, it definitley works!

After the first IMS treatment, I biked back from the clinic with no low back pain whatsoever. I was sold. It completely made sense to me now that the pain I was feeling was from tight muscles in my hip 'pulling' on my low back during exercise and my tight upper back was putting extra stress on my low back during mobility. I did the exercises he recommended, went back for some additional IMS treatment, and three weeks later I was feeling great. During this time however, I wasn't running but was biking more than usual.

For the MOMAR, I made a decision not to race on the Tuesday prior to the race as I told myself that it would be stupid to enter and potentially re-injure myself. Me to Gary Robbins:

Hey Gary,
...haven't told anyone this yet, but I am not going to be racing. I am doing super well but can definitely not put in a performance that I would want to put in and since I cannot not race, it could be possible to set me back in terms of injury which I don't want to risk for RTNX.

On the other hand, I knew that my injury was not a serious thing (nothing was really broken) and my body was functioning how it should. And besides, I got in two 'solid' runs, one of which was a 4km run on a track (longest run in 6 months), that week so that should prepare me well right? I also hadn't taken my mountain bike out in three months but that's no big deal right? So, two days after sending Gary my race 'resignation', I somehow turned things around in my head all the while Kim is looking at me in disbelief. She has a lot of sense that girl but for somethings, you just have to go with instinct (or have to be missing something up top). Either way, two days before the event, I replied to Gary:

Hey dude.

Will be racing tomorrow. Feeling great and my back has given me no issues over the past week which is the longest it has been in 6 months! Pretty stoked that I finally figured this all out.

That was my long winded catch-up intro from my life going into this past MOMAR. So, yeah, wasn't really prepared for this one, but I was just going to have fun right? I don't NEED to race. I can just hang back and have fun right? Apparently, I can continue to fool myself into this thought which immediately disappears come race time. To be fair, I knew that I would be suffering regardless and was secretly hoping that I would be far enough back that a podium finish would be out of the question and then I would just get through the race and have fun; this is how the race started for me.

I showed up with a regular fibreglass sea kayak and after the gun, fell into a decent pace behind Brent and Sara getting a nice draft off their double Passat. All was going well until about a 1/4 way into the paddle, my right foot went to the bulkhead, and my kayak turned sideways into a traffic of boats. My rudder cable snapped and with that, I had to paddle the rest of the stage rudderless; this wasn't a huge deal as I own a rudderless boat myself but lean turning does not work so well in a boat designed for a rudder and thus, I had to do lots of sweep strokes to keep myself going straight. Bart Jarmula was a rocket on the water and I was glad to see him so far upfront; this made me relax, not to worry about the race or pushing too hard, and so I continued to chat with Brent and Sara.

I came off the water almost 13 minutes behind the Bart and many other racers. On the bike, my legs felt a bit stiff but decent. I did manage to get in 120km on the bike the week prior so knew that the biking would be relatively fine but that I was going to suffer on the runs. The first bike stage was going fine until we hit the steep gravel climb. My bike is currently setup as a 1x9 with a 32 tooth single front ring. While I love this setup on my Salsa El Mariachi 29er, I simply did not have the fitness to use the lowest gear. Thus, I was relegated to walking all the steep pitches and trying to pedal where I could. Having passed several teams, I made it to the first orienteering stage in good time and proceeded to pick off the checkpoints. I had a relatively clean run but could not really 'run' any of the uphill sections as I knew that if I tried, my legs would explode on me.

Coming off the 'O' stage I was informed that I was now in 2nd place! This was both good news and bad news. The good news was that I cut the gap to first place from 13 down to 5 minutes. The bad news was that there was lots of course left and I would now go into full-time suffer mode as I was now officially racing for 1st.

On the bike and into the singletrack, I came around a corner confronted with a trail walker. I looked up, lost my concentration for a split section, and went down hard on my hand and right quad after my front tire just barely hit a small log sticking out from the side of the trail. This incident left me with two lost water bottles full of race fuel and from that point on, the rest of the race started to take on an inebriated blur. I recall riding down the trails 'gear jammer' and 'lower snake' continually saying to myself outloud 'stay focused', 'relax', 'flow' as my concentration began to wane.

I hit up the trek stage and for the first time, had Bart in my sights and as he turned off of the road climb onto the gravel track service road, he saw that I was chasing him down. I passed a walker shortly after who told me it looked like Bart was hurting. I think he said that before he looked how pathetic I looked. We came into transition almost neck and neck with Bart having a slight lead out on the bike. A short time into the climb up and my legs began to sieze. Time for more electrolytes; I was popping them like candy to ward off the creeping cramps that kept wanting to shut me down. I don't think I've ever taken so many in such a short time (about 40 by the race end).

Bart and I continued to battle it out with him gaining on me on a couple climbs that I could no longer muster the strength to climb on the bike. Two checkpoints before the final 'O' stage, we were together going for the control when Bart could not locate his passport and had to turn around on the bike to find it. I felt really bad for him and did not feel great if that was the deciding factor that determined the race winner. However, with nothing I could do, I went on into the final section of the race.

At this point, my mind was crumbling so much so that I did not realize that the final bike portion had been cancelled (no one told me) but this should have been obvious as the O stage was the final leg of the race. I stumbled around picking up checkpoints as I tried to run in my bike shoes and helmet, which I had forgotten to change, and was afraid that if I stopped moving to do so, that I would be down for the count. Going for my last control, I then realized that I had yet to get the now infamous control 'G' which was on the extreme opposite side of the map. At the same time, I found out that, yes, this was in fact the last stage and I was about to be done... minus control G.

I put in the best run I could muster and because the control was an out and back, I knew that if I saw Bart coming the other way early on, that there was no way that I would be able to catch him. I kept running and running and eventually saw the control with no one in sight. Either Bart had picked up this control first, or he had yet to get it. It turns out the latter was correct as on the way back, I passed Shane Ruljancich, who was flying on his feet and determined to podium, followed by Bart and Normon Thaibault (all going to control G). I knew at this point that I simply needed to get to the finish in one piece to take the win. I constantly was looking over my shoulder to see if someone was coming after me and about 500m to the finish, started to have tunnel vision as I was about to pass out.

I literally was about to collapse. I don't mean this lightly nor am I trying to be overly dramatic. Mentally and physically, I was at the end. I had never suffered this hard in any other race and my body was about to shut down on me.

I entered the finish shoot and for the first time in a MOMAR, I turned my run into a walk, gave a pathetic little fist pump, and didn't crack even the slightest smile. Gary was at the finish trying to get that great finish photo, but it just did not happen. I walked a bit away from the finish shoot after a zombie finish photo, decidedly crashed on the ground and didn't move for over 10 minutes. Not sure how I came from not racing to racing to winning other than I dug into a place that I didn't know existed. Regardless, I'll take it!

It turns out that Bart made the same mistake with control G as myself which, had he not, would have surely taken him to first. Shane worked his way up to a solid 3rd overall.

Somehow, after everything, I was still able to get hammered and shut down the bar with the rest of the die hard MOMAR after partyers. Was a good night.

Bryan Tasaka put on yet another great event and continually shows why his events are always rated so highly. Gary Robbins' course was definitely MOMAR worthy and I hope to see more people at the start line next year as the terrain around the SFU campus is very nice indeed. Don't be on the fence next year!

Race Fuel:
Carbo Pro 1200 and powder
1 gel with caffeine
1 fruit bar
~40 electrolyte tablets (yes 40!)
Deep suffering


Scott Nowack said...

That is one of the best stories I have ever read... the highs and the lows had me thinking you were cooked even though I knew you won... what a crazy race event. I am sooo proud of you... all your hard work, you deserve a good result.

Ron E said...

Hi Todd:
I'm a friend of Gary Robbins' and read your interesting blog on occasion. Congratulations on your Momar win.
I read with interest your post about your health issues leading up to Momar. You might want to try Bikram Yoga to address some of your issues. There are studios in Sidney (http://www.bikramyogasidney.com), Saanich (http://bikramyogasaanich.com) and Victoria (http://bikramyogavictoria.com). I practice Bikram Yoga in Squamish and can certainly attest to its incredible benefits. Give it a try (if you haven't already).
Ron Enns

Todd Nowack said...

Thanks Ron! I actually got an one month unlimited Groupon for the Victoria studio and plan to do this soon. I've done some previous Ashatanga (sp?) yoga but think that the heat in Bikram would be more beneficial.