I've heard all kinds numbers on detraining, where athletes have forced down time due to injury or illness. A tri-guy friend of mine cited I would lose no more than 10% after eight weeks of being totally sedentary, probably from some chart by Daniels. I was far from totally sedentary for eight weeks, yet I could tell I lost far more than 10% of my fitness.
Doing a little research on the subject, well conditioned athletes lose fitness in different systems at different rates. Blood volume and glycogen storage are first to go. Muscle capillary density and muscle fiber composition are last to go. Things like VO2max and power at threshold fall somewhere in between. One example I came across showed an Olympic rower lost 27% power in eight weeks off. I think this is more consistent with my experience.
After an encouraging training ride on Tuesday, I decided to enter the Mt Ascutney hillclimb race. I equipped my hillclimb bike with heavyish MTB derailleur and cassette, as I suspected I would need lower gears than usual. Two weeks ago, I would have put my time on Ascutney at 36 minutes based on climbing Pack Monadnock. After finally shedding the boot cast and more time on the bike, I got a better sense of my fitness. I was now almost certainly faster than 36 minutes, but probably not faster than 32 minutes. My Ascutney PR is 28:14 minutes.
I didn't exactly treat this benchmarking exercise very seriously. The night before, between work and physical therapy, I stopped at Five Guys burger joint. I've maintained a very clean diet over the last couple months. I had some missed dietary indiscretion to make up. Might as well do it at Five Guys. The meat and potatoes are never frozen. The cheeseburger left grease dripping off my elbow. They threw a whole lunch sack's worth of fries in the bag. The grease soaked right through. It was disgusting. Disgustingly good. Everybody needs to do this once in a great while. So what was my penalty? I must have ate a week's worth of sodium. I could not stop drinking water, and by Saturday morning, I had gained three pounds! I was now back up to pre-injury weight.
It was extremely hot Saturday, probably the hotest in the 11 years the race has run. It is just long enough to push me into thermal shut down, which takes about 20 minutes when really hot. I lined up near the back of my 40-49 field, with some overall contenders like John Bayley and Gerry Clapper taking front row.
We go off. Three quarters of the field leaves me in their sweat plume. Normally I'm first or second guy leading this field after the start. I stayed on Brett Rutledge's wheel. I train with Brett and know his metrics well. If he was paying attention to his power meter, he shouldn't be going out too hard, and neither should I. I figured my best possible time on this day would be right around Brett's time.
A minute or two after the start, I asked Brett what his power was. 400W. Oh. I might average 360W in good form on this climb, so 400W was way too high. I throttled back. After a mile or so, Brett slowly slipped away. I wasn't particularly suffering, I was just going as hard as my legs could. It is very true that when you become highly fit, it doesn't get easier, you just go faster. The converse is also true. If you lose fitness, it doesn't get harder, you just go slower.
Around two miles up, my thermal cork popped. I started getting that weird nauseating chills feeling. I know it all too well. My body does a fine job of regulating itself. It shuts down for me so I don't destroy myself. I don't think anybody passed me, as we were quite spread out by this point. Then after the dip at mile 3.4, I see Brett stopped and fussing with his bike. I assumed his chain dropped after momentarily going to the big ring. Happens there all the time. He remounts, only to stop again. I could hear cussing now. He must have had a minute on me before this. I passed him with only a few hundred meters to go.
I finished with 32:35 minutes, near the fast end of the range I figured I'd be in. Pretty good considering the heat. I probably could have broken 32 minutes had it been cooler. Earlier this spring, I was in fine position to PR Ascutney. Let's assume I would have matched my PR of 28:14 from a couple years ago had I not been injured. I was 15% slower than that. Ascutney is climbed just above threshold, so it is reasonable to say that my W/kg@LT is 15% below where I should be right now. That is after two 10-hour weeks of riding after 8 weeks of no riding. I could easily have been down 25% two weeks ago.
Studies show it can take twice as long to regain fitness as it took to lose it. Thus if I lost 8 weeks, it may take me 16 weeks to get back to where I was. This assumes I have no complications from my injury. Right now, I still cannot train with the same intensity, especially muscular force, as I did before my injury. My ankle isn't strong enough yet. I think it will be in another week or two.
Catching up with Brett at the summit, it turns out he popped a spoke in his front wheel, a Zipp 202 I believe. He could barely turn the wheel with his hand with calipers opened all the way up. Brett was clearly on a PR pace, so this was quite a bummer for him.
Raina and crew have flawlessly executed this event for the last couple years now. The food and beverages up top were perfect - including fresh cut oranges, watermellon and cantalope. Of course, I had to go for the cookies, chips and salsa too. There were also rice and potato salads. Awards were promptly held at the summit about the time they started letting riders back down.
Four of us did a 47 mile loop after the race. We went over Tyson Rd, through Ludlow, then back via scenic Rt 131. The traffic kind of sucked, and road conditions continue to deteriorate. The Tyson Rd descent is always a treat though. It took about 2.5hrs, and for the last hour I was fighting full onslaught of cramps. Perhaps this was a bit much so soon after being turned loose to ride again.
I had moderately severe swelling in the evening. Edema is a weird thing. It is like those memory foam mattresses you see advertised on TV. I can put a perfect hand imprint in my leg in three seconds that will persist for minutes. I iced it up good, more rigorously than in the past, and the edema was GONE. I don't think I was icing as aggressively as I should have been previously. A few of my readers like bodily oddities, so I demonstrate edema in this short clip. Note the crease from my sock.
Post Ankle Surgery Edema from D. Jansen on Vimeo.
Exactly 10 weeks after my fracture, I figured it was time to bite the roots of the singletrack that bit me. On Sunday, I drove down to Chelmsford, MA and parked at the Cranberry Bogs. I rode the bogs, the bike path, Lime Quarry, Wright, Powerlines and a good portion of Great Brook singletrack. Very risky. At least it felt that way. I noted a few things during this ride.
- Riding baby heads at speed are hard on an ankle 6 days out of a cast.
- Wheely dropping off bridges doesn't feel good either. But it was fun trying once.
- When you have 12 degrees of dorsiflexion, you can't walk up a 20 degree incline very well.
- When other riders that are normally much slower than you come up behind you, you stop thinking with your big head.
- Being in a cast for 9 weeks from a MTB mishap really messes with your head when you finally get back out on the trails.