Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mitchell or Bust? - Aaron West

My singular goal for this early spring season was to conquer the Assault on Mount Mitchell. My hope was to reach a time goal of 6:30, which would beat my personal best from last year by 37 minutes. The way I was training, this sort of goal was not out of the question. 

Then it happened. The injury.

It first showed signs right after last year’s Bridge to Bridge, and continued for the months to follow. We think it probably occurred on one of the tougher climbs, maybe even Grandfather. I must have been out of the saddle at point, and gunned down on the pedals while in an awkward position. The result was soreness then, and a lot more pain and couch-sitting later.

There was one goal remaining to conquer in the season, Six Gap Century out of Dahlonega, GA, and I faced it with a severe hip injury, and barely able to move my leg outward. It was not my best performance, but I finished despite the pain and aggravation.

The next stage was finding out what it was. Over the winter I have discussed with a few different doctors, ordered two MRI scans, and finally got the diagnosis -- stress fracture of the femoral neck. I was forced on the couch for the majority of the offseason.

Recovery was slower than anyone expected. The doctors thought it could be close to 6 weeks. 12 weeks later and I was still on the couch. 

It has now been 15 weeks, and I was just recently given the green light to start riding again, albeit slowly. To my surprise, I found that I still have a little bit of fitness. The good news is that the hip has improved somewhat, although I have to deal with occasional soreness and cannot ramp up the mileage and intensity just yet. There could be lingering issues, and surgery at some point is not outside the realm of possibility.

What about Mitchell? Even when I was first diagnosed, I planned to continue with my registration. That said, I expected a month or two more to train. Now, with 9 weeks to go, the clock is ticking.

I’ve warned many cyclists not to take Mitchell lightly. In my opinion, it is the most difficult road ride in the southeast. I would recommend most people plan their training carefully over the offseason, and do as much riding and climbing as possible in the late winter and early spring before tapering for the main event. 

I don’t have that luxury, but as of today, I am still planning to do Mitchell. 

Some people will think this is a crazy decision. John Bryan made the decision long ago to ride from Spartanburg to the top of Mitchell. That was pretty crazy, yet he was successful.

After testing myself, I can tell that I have a chance at completing the event. The time goal is out the window. This year I won’t think about a finish time. I’ll stop and go as needed, and make sure I reach the top of the mountain with my body intact, however long it takes.

Because of the injury, my training plan will be drastically different from previous years. In the next several weeks, I’ll work on increasing the mileage while minimizing intensity. This is my base mileage. After that, assuming the hip remains healthy, I’ll get in some easy climbing. Again, not too much.

I plan to work up to a plain ol’ century ride, which will be the Tour de Cure on May 4th, just a few weeks before Mitchell. That will be the main test. I feel that with my carryover fitness and experience with climbing, that I can complete Mitchell if I can ride a century. It will most likely be the toughest challenge I’ve had to face, but it can be done. It is really up to my body and the progress of my recovery, but I am going to try.

Aaron West

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