Broken Neck Update

It’s been four weeks since the day of my injury in Hawaii and I’m holding strong mentally (mostly). Since my last post a few weeks ago, I’ve staying busy by going on long walks with Maybellene, reading, working on Adelaide’s and my coaching company Be The Beast Coaching, reaching out to sponsors, playing chess, and aqua jogging (just twice actually). Adelaide is doing her best to keep me socially engaged with the world, so we’ve had a bunch of dinners with friends. My mom visited for a few days this week, during which she beat me at every card game we played, even the one that I’ve been practicing with Adelaide for three weeks and my mom had never played it before.

Despite not training, commuting by bike, or being allowed to ride in a car, the days have been going by fairly fast. Or, I should say, they aren’t dragging by like one might expect. I attribute this to the endless hours I spent doing very little as a bike racer—the many months when I was jobless and training full time. Even if I was doing three to four hours of riding most days, that still leaves a lot of down time. Add in the weeks of being sick and not training at all and I’ve conditioned myself to being very good at boredom.

The lack of exercise is certainly draining on me though, and I’ve noticed that I’m more irritable and have fewer (and lower) highs than usual. Exercise is pretty much the entire point of my existence, as many know, and even when I’m finished as a professional athlete, training will remain. My appetite has also shrunk to that of a normal person…maybe an extra hungry normal person, but a normal person nonetheless, and it’s easy to forget to eat lunch. It’s not easy to forget dessert though.

Adelaide is now the only athlete in the household (other than Maybellene), and often the highpoint in my day is having her explain how her intervals or long run went. With CIM (California International Marathon) coming up in less than four weeks, she and our run group (Run Boulder AC) are about to hit peak form. I enjoy listening to the details of their workouts, which are increasing in intensity and duration, and I imagine myself running with them one day in the future.

I had a few scary days last week when I began feeling tingling in my hands, arms, and legs. I’d had a very faint itching/prickling sensation for a week, usually only when I’d lay down in bed, but for those first seven or eight days it was so light that I thought I was imagining it. But after a particularly strenuous day (30 minutes of aqua jogging and 30 minutes of kicking with a snorkel), my neck tightened up in the evening and it became apparent that the itching sensation was no longer simply my imagination. Unfortunately by then it was the weekend and I couldn’t call my neurosurgeon, Dr. Lamond. I sweated through a few restless nights, picturing my vertebrae shifting and pressing and slicing into my spinal cord—thoughts that made the tingling sensation even more intense. I calculated what just one percent of power loss would amount to nearly five minutes in an eight-hour Ironman. Any loss in physical ability would be devastating to me.

Out of desperation, I called Jason Glowney, a sports orthopedist with Boulder Biologics who I, and probably every athlete in Boulder, has seen for injuries in the past. Jason was the doctor who ordered my CT and MRI scans as fast as possible after I got back from Hawaii, and I trusted that he’d know what to do about the tingling I was feeling. He quickly reassured me that what I was experiencing was a normal part of the healing process, and that the inflammation near the injury site was most likely causing nearby nerves to become irritated. As long as I wasn’t noticing weakness, incontinence, or a few other serious complications, I’d probably be fine. To keep tabs on my grip strength, at least twice a day I squeeze Adelaide’s forearm until she yells at me to stop. As long as she has bruise marks, my spinal cord is in tact. Just kidding. Eventually did get a hold of Dr. Lamond, who confirmed what Jason said.

Vigorous exercise.

The recovery process is going to be much longer than I originally thought. At my appointment with Dr. Lamond a week ago, he informed me that I had another five weeks to go (a total of eight weeks from the injury and four weeks from today) before I could take the neck brace off. But even then I’ll still have to wear it a month longer for ‘risky’ things like being in a car or walking outside. It takes a neck fracture 12 weeks to fully heal, and Dr. Lamond and Adelaide agreed it wouldn’t be worth re-breaking on a bike ride, so I won’t be back on the bike outside until January 9th.

I have been given the OK to ride the trainer, which I plan to start up a the end of this week. It was unclear how long I’d be banned from running and swimming. I think, and am pretty sure, that by eight weeks I’ll be allowed to run and swim with a snorkel, and that my neck will be ready for it. At this point though, I’m giving it one more week before I get back in the pool to aqua jog and kick with the snorkel, since it doesn’t seem worth it to irritate the spine like I did last week. Patience is key, and I’ve got a lot of that. Anyways, this time is best used to build motivation and allow pent-up energy to be synthesized into white blinding rage for race season. Adelaide and I have an awesome race schedule for 2020, which includes a few full Ironmans, Challenge Mexico halfs, and a couple big, non-branded races in France come August.

Tracey Jacobs has been giving me massage to keep my back and shoulders loose, and I’ve been seeing Bette Long for psychotherapy once a week. All in all, I’d say I’m handling this injury better than expected, although the life I’m living is really only enjoyable because I know that there’s an end in sight—January 9th. I wonder if life in general is only enjoyable knowing that there’s a definitive end to it.

On that note, see ya.