First things first. I raced the 5K and 10K time trials and managed to score some hardware in both distances. But that is not the story here.
The real story is how I was almost not racing the Kentucky Senior Games in Lexington, Kentucky on September 6, 2021 at all. This is where the story does get more “senior.” It is my experience that if you get two forty-somethings or fifty-somethings (I could go on) going on about their ailments the conversation quickly devolves into a game of one-upmanship as to whose back, knee(s) or hip(s) is worse.
My intent is not to have a one-sided conversation about my ailments, but that is where this conversation is going. I have long-standing L4 and L5 disc herniations that have been a decades-old challenge for me, but pretty much under control. I have avoided surgery and that is a good thing. But things went really sideways ten days before the race.
Things started out normal enough on a Saturday morning. That is, until I tried to pick up a sock on the floor of my bedroom floor with my right toes and my left leg suddenly buckled with searing left-sided low back pain. I knew immediately my back “had gone out” but I was in total and complete denial. I took a hot shower and threw an ice bag on my back hoping it would just get better in an hour or so. If only.
Reality on the pain scale set in quickly, however I steadfastly remained in denial for the ensuing five days. I could not stand up straight, get out of a chair, much less ride my bike. So, I told myself my circumstances forced a taper. The taper was honestly a welcome change. The law business was busy, and I needed the extra hours.
I. Hate. Prednisone.
However, on day five (five days before the race day), I gave in to reality and started an eight-day course of Prednisone. I loathe Prednisone. I hate Prednisone. I detest Prednisone. But Prednisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory that does work.
This course of Prednisone ran a similar course as past courses. My head buzzed. My brain was foggy. I was fatigued. And I put on fifteen pounds in five days. One might say I was not feeling at the top of my game. In fact, I had no idea how I was going to feel on race day, but I was not optimistic.
With an 8:00 a.m. start, I did not want to make a long drive on a tender low back so my wife and I spent the night at a nearby hotel. At 7:00 a.m. I threw my leg over the TT Bike to run my first systems-check in ten days. My back did not immediately seize up, so we were off to a good start.
I warmed up on the course. It was a tight circle with 165 feet of elevation gain over five kilometers. The course basically had a 32-35 mph downhill followed by a 19-20 mph uphill which you rinsed and repeated three times for the 5K and six times for the 10K. I had to hold 425 watts in my warmup to barely hold 20 mph on the uphill. That was not an encouraging development according to my quadriceps.
Here is the thing about Prednisone. Its side effects are somewhat predictable from person to person. The brain fog is real. The irritability is real. For me, it felt like I had a constant buzzing in my head from morning to night. Those symptoms are “subjective” in the sense that one should be able to set them aside and perform when the situation calls for it.
But I was not performing. In warmups and during the race events. Everything felt weaker, especially my legs. My heart rate soared and my breathing was labored. But that is supposed to happen with a sub-eight-minute effort or sub-fifteen-minute effort, right? This just felt different. Your lungs are supposed to be scorched with a violent effort, but not right away!
In my experience, with a super hard Strava Segment or TT Effort, my body goes through the following predictable sequences of events: my quads start to burn; then I start to lose feeling in my hands, forearms and the inside of my biceps (it seems like I can feel my pulse inside my biceps); then and only then, my breathing gets raspy and labored.
Five days into Prednisone and fifteen pounds later (did I mention the weight gain?), the sequence was inverted. My breathing was immediately labored and then the legs started to go, and everything felt like it had a governor on it. This inverted sequence of events continued, even as I tapered off the Prednisone. I tried to do a “tempo”, not “race” effort on the Wednesday after the Senior Games while finishing the Prednisone course. I saw some of the highest heart rates in Training Peaks for all of 2021 at tempo, not race, power numbers:
So what did we learn? Racing is still fun. I have a supportive wife. And Prednisone is the Devil, but without it I may not have raced at all. I was not capable of standing up straight and was basically bedridden for five days. Five days later I am racing. That would not have been possible without Prednisone. So we take the good with the bad, right? And I made a new friend or two. Not a bad weekend at all.