Guest Article: Twelve Months

Sastre, a rider plagued by back injury.

Jarvis has been with us for most of the last year, and throughout has dropped hints about a back injury that not only kept him off his bike, but laying flat on his back in the floor. On the anniversary of the accident that caused the injury and as we start to look towards and plan for the next season, Jarvis for the first time recalls for us what happened.

We’ve all gone through the anguish of being forced off our bikes, and have felt the impact as it ripples through to the rest of our lives; and we all know the struggle involved in getting back and finding your strength again. Jarvis’ account beautifully describes the pain of the injury and time off the bike, punctuated by the delight of becoming a father¬†and the spark of hope as his condition improves.

Yours in cycling, Frank

Early December: it’s normally around this time that your average racing cyclist starts thinking about the new season. Intensity and distance of training are increased, early events are looked at and initial plans are made with a target to peak in a few months. Depending upon your attention to detail, you may well have planned every days training until the end of February. Those not of a racing disposition might start to look at the new pro cycling season, broken down into segments: Classics season, the Giro, Tour de France, August holidays, the Vuelta and the Worlds and end of season Classics.

December 2009 was no different for me. A slack and sick autumn had set me back a month or so with the training, but plans were set for the new year. A last chance to train and race before cycling life was extensively curtailed by the arrival of twins in mid-summer. Aim for a peak in spring and again two months later would see me through the year.

A year ago today, around lunch-time, I got out of my car, put my coat on and walked over to the pavement (sidewalk). My car, parked limply in the middle of a main road, was leaking fluid from the engine bay, the front-end having been stoved-in by a van turning across my path so suddenly that I didn’t even have time to even brake.

Other than shock, a banging headache and loss of hearing, my main concerns were what impact any, as yet unknown, injury might have on my training. Still, when A&E sent me home with a neckbrace and some paracetamol, it didn’t seem as if I’d be off the bike for too long. A week later a doctor told me I there was no reason I couldn’t go back to work, so I figured that any problems would probably clear-up in a couple of weeks, maybe a month at most. Now it seemed that the worst it would be was that it would put the start of my, already delayed, training back a month, not the end of the world, I’d still peak by late-April.

By the start of the season and with the classics upon us I still hadn’t turned a pedal. In early March I was cleared to ride my bike only to find that after a couple of 20km rides, I was in agony and was forced to put the bike away again. When Veino took his much-resented win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and when I should have been peaking, I was still off the bike and awaiting the results of an MRI scan. Progress with my back was, literally, painfully slow.

It was at the end of May, just after the Giro had finished that I got some encouragement. I was catching up with the days procycling news and read that Carlos Sastre’s participation in Tour de France was in doubt. He had finished the Giro d’Italia with a hernia of his L5/S1 disc and his ride in the Tour would depend on the outcome of his treatment and recovery. This was interesting news to me because a week earlier I had finally received the results of the MRI scan: I had a herniated L5/S1 disc. I reasoned that if Carlos Sastre had the same injury as me and was still aiming to ride the second-biggest event on cycling’s calendar (after the worlds of course) a few weeks later, then I would, or at least could, recover. So I went to see a Sports Physio.

When the twins arrived, five days before the start of the Tour de France, I was still no closer to riding my bike. At least paternity leave and holiday entitlement meant I was able to subject them to the whole of the Tour, however all was not well. The stresses the twins had put on my body in their early weeks resulted in my spending most of August lying on the floor of the lounge. At this point, both myself, the physio and the consultant were resigned to the fact that I’d need surgery. But before that I’d need to see a surgeon and, unable to travel more than a few miles at a time, I’d have to wait several months before that could happen.

Although by September I was in slightly better shape, I was starting to wonder whether I’d end up missing the whole of the 2011 season as well. The next few months were all about waiting to see the surgeon and doing all I could to get fitter without the need for a knife. At the back of my mind I was also wrestling with The Fear that I might never ride a bike again. I was a cyclist, a Velominatus to the core, I rode bikes and a future without being able to ride a bike was a very scary thought.

By the the time Thor SMASHed his way to the Rainbow Jersey, I was seeing a gradual improvement and had been told by the physio that I needed to get on the turbo and start working the back harder. All I had to do was build a bike, a dilemna any Velominatus would relish. There was an element of need about it; my old bike was too short, especially for someone with a back injury, but it was also a distraction. To take my mind away from my injury I could swamp it in planning the build. I also had a couple of hardtail mountain bikes that with a knackered back I wouldn’t be using again, so I swapped one for a new frame. Not that ever do anything other, but I knew I needed to do this build properly as there would come a day when I would be critiqued by the Velominati.

I’m now riding 20 minutes every other day on the turbo. Perhaps the new year will even see me out on the road. However I am still waiting to see a surgeon and if I need surgery it can mean three months of recovery, so I’m already thinking that 2011 is a write-off. Perhaps this December I should start planning 2012 instead.

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23 Replies to “Guest Article: Twelve Months”

  1. Stay with it Jarivs. No amount of the V helps here. I’m now fully (and thankfully) recovered from an L4/L5 rupture suffered during a very low speed fall from grace. Surgery (after 3 second opinions) was my only opportunity to regain neuro function. I’m not racing yet but the gorilla is wary. Stay upright. Cheers.

  2. Jarvis, that’s terrible. (Except the bit about the twins – that’s great). Commiserations and best wishes for a continued ascent up the Col du Getting Better and a return to fully active V-status.

    Incidentally, for Frank’s benefit, was the coat you donned on exiting your car a fine-threaded bespoke Saville Row double-breasted jacket?

  3. Sounds like 2010 has been a year that can’t end quickly enough, cycling-wise. I, for one, though, am very grateful for the big pulls you take at the front of the V-peloton here.

  4. All the best mate, you will get better in time. Your story is almost similar to mine as I too ruptured my L5 in April, bad enough it pinched the nerves running down my right leg. My first born arrived 3 months later and any minor recovery i had made was now out the door. Lots of rest, an epidural or two, and absolutely no riding since April have meant I am almost ok now. The doctor gave me the all clear but there is still pain that comes and goes. I know the crazy feeling you get when you see your friends and other ride, but just remember you’ll get there soon and then you once again live by the rules.

  5. I was happy to see Veino win Liege.

    Congrats on your twins. Very exciting they got to spend their first few weeks of life watching the tour. I bet they’re fans of the Schlecks.

    Some say everything happens for a reason. Not sure I buy that but it sounds like you’ve made the most of a rough year for your back. Be well my friend.

  6. I am truly sorry to hear about your back injury. I have an eight-year-old daughter, and I thought about her first few months while I read your story. For all the carrying around I did with one sack of potatoes, I can’t imagine doubling that, and with a herniated disc. You are a Hardman.

    I hope you get some relief soon. Merckx bless you. And I will ask the Madonna del Ghisallo to help you get back on your bike.

    You’ll get stronger again.

  7. Get fit soon. Sounds like you’ve had some complications along the way as well that have not helped the situation. But that’s what makes each injury and the person individual, just because Sastre came back so quickly, doesn’t mean you should try and ‘rush’ to as well. Being a PRO means his daily life and ability to recover was probably VERY different to you trying to do the same with two new-borns.

    Look forward to hearing about the momentous first outdoor ride (just mind the flippin’ ice!)

  8. @G’phant
    I’d love to say that the coat I donned was my all-black faux-sheepskin winter coat. But as I was working I was wearing a slightly muddy Sprayway Gore-tex. I apologise.

    Things do happen for a reason, sometimes the reason sucks. The one benefit I have had is that since August I’ve been off work and although it’s been very difficult at times, at least I’ve been able to spend all that time with my twins.

    Oh and I missed one thing out of the article. Thank you to everyone here. Velominati has been a bright light in quite a dark year. Ta.

  9. Jarvis mate, i never realised, kia kaha from Auckland mate. Ride strong you WILL see the other side.

    Sad thing if you do get fit is that you might have less time to amuse us on the forums.

    I too am aiming to Peak in 2012 so you are in good company. I am just fat and lazy however :)

  10. Jarvis, sorry to read about your troubles. Hope you continue to get better. Keep your spirits high. And yeah, thanks for all your contributions here.

    I’ll be off the bike for two months due to being in Europe. Your story helps me easily put that in perspective. I could be dealing with severe back pain and the possibility of surgery. I’m not. I’ll travel, enjoy myself…and aim to peak in 2012!

    Love the guest articles as we get to learn a bit more about the fellow Velominati, beyond just the fun and yammering we do in the threads.

    TGIF everyone, hope you get better Jarvis!

  11. Glad to hear you’re back on the bike mate. WAY back in the ’80’s I was cranking out of the first turn on my BMX bike and felt a little stab/niggle in my lower back. That was the beginning of over 25 years of chronic back pain. I had had back pain for so long that it was just a part of life. Always a dull burn in the S.I. Joints. Every once in a while I would be brought to the knees in pain and would not be able to stand up with my upper body any higher than perpendicular to the ground.

    I started road cycling seriously ago seasons ago. The cool thing was that my back never really bothered me much when riding. In fact, there were a few times when walking around caused a great deal of discomfort but I would show up for a shop hammerfest and feel fine on the bike but be barely able to get off of it and walk up the steps to my front door.

    But with the cycling came weight loss and an amazing thing happened. My back pain went away! I haven’t been to the chiroquaker in close to two years. Keep the chin up and remember there’s always hope. The human spirit has a way of making fools of the experts and their opinions. Oh, and HTFU.

  12. “I read an interview with Umberto Veronesi, a scientist, a reputed oncologist and Minister for Health,” Cipollini continued. “In five hundred years or more, human beings might have both sets of genitalia, male and female. I don’t want this evolution to have started already in cycling…”

  13. Chin up! Keep taking it a day at a time, and you’ll be back to riding eventually! Thanks for sharing your story with us. After going through what you’ve been through, once you are back outside on the bike you’ll appreciate it so much more – that first ride out in the open air and wind is going to feel amazing. Keep that target in your sights!

  14. Jarvis – So sorry to read this, but glad you’re improving. Often, athletes who endure enforced layoffs come back stronger than ever. Here’s hoping you’re one of those.

  15. @Jarvis

    Oh and I missed one thing out of the article. Thank you to everyone here. Velominati has been a bright light in quite a dark year. Ta

    Likewise, mate. It’s been a blast.

    I don’t know if you’ve gained weight, but that will be the hardest bit; the strength comes back quickly but you’ll find you need to do yoga and shit like that to get the weight out of the ol’ midsection. Or am I projecting?

  16. @frank
    oi, leave your issues out of mine…I’m lighter than I was this time last year. Only by 1kg, but still.

    Admittedly as muscle is three times heavier than fat, I’m not claiming that having lost 1kg doesn’t mean I’m not a fat fuck. 10kg to get down to racing weight, so should be able to do that in a couple of months once back to riding on the road

  17. Mate, that’s a pretty torrid time you’ve gone through there. I’m sure you’ll be firing for the next Spring campaign though.

  18. Ouch fella, all the best eh? I smashed my Tib/Fib into many small pieces a little while back and took a couple of years to get going again. Frustrating as hell.

    Still, it’s important to remember that as things gets better, you are always only 2 months away from peaking…:)

  19. @Jarvis – stick with it buddy, and thank you for sharing. Inspiring article. I only came to cycling as I have a shitty back (repeat herniations of L4/L5 and L5/S1 with residual issues with ITB syndrome down right leg), which meant I couldn’t run anymore, so I had to find something else (and now, don’t understand why it took me so long). I understand the frustration and pain that comes with a bad back. I’ve had to work really, really, hard on riding position to ensure am using proper core, hammies and glutes and not just guns… which makes things worse… sounds like you are getting right advice. You’ve had a crap year, but love the way you’ve stuck with it. Congrats on the twins. Amerckx, brother.

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