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The Year In Review

December 31, 2008

Editor’s Note: There has been a lot that’s happened to me in 2008, but since the nature of this blog is to track athletic achievement, and for the sake of time, it is limited to mostly athletic happenings. It is still a bit long. I hope it is as inspiring for you as it is for me.

To look back at 2008, I actually have to start in 2007. It was a beautiful October day in the lost pines of central Texas. I woke up and decided I felt like trying a 24 hour race-solo. 24 hours and 175 miles after the noon start, I was the first soloist to cross the line. The victory was sweet, but the effort had exacted its toll.

I had this weird sensation in my left knee the weeks following that race. After realizing that it wasn’t subsiding, I decided to see a doctor and get it looked at. The initial diagnosis was nothing serious. I likely had some muscle tightness and junk built up around soft tissue. The knee was tracking well and functioning otherwise, so it would not need surgery and therapy would be all it took to get going again. I spent some time (&money!) at Texas Spine and Sports Therapy while training for the next big 24 hour race, 24 hours in the Old Pueblo in mid February. I saw improvement, but it was sometimes hampered by my training volume. I was continuing to race cyclocross and marathon mountain bike races through the winter.

I had never sustained an injury that I did not recover from, but this one was different. Sometimes the body needs assistance in healing itself. Dr. Atencio began my education on this matter very professionally. While he did begin to teach me how joints get messed up, and how therapy could help, he never instilled in me the importance of stretching and flexibility.

Meanwhile, I began to do a lot of research on bicycle fit and component ergonomics. I met Sean Ahmadi, a bike fitter and personal fitness coach. I paid him to fit my mountain and road bike. Sean did a great job and it was the start of a wonderful relationship. We discussed some of the problems I was having and from here my knowledge really began to grow. He went beyond the call of bike-fitting duty and engraved in my head the absolute importance of stretching, flexibility, and proper recovery.

Sean agreed to give me coaching tips and let me workout with him for no cost reimbursement. In return, I referred him as much as I could. I also educated him with some of my latest findings. He was a good fitter at the time, but new technology always emerges. I introduced him to a site that sells specified bike fitting tools and knowledge and wouldn’t you know it-he goes and buys their complete kit.

I really didn’t have much time to prepare for Tucson, but the day came and I was ready to give it all I had. The race was going smooth. I was running a steady pace and the bike was rolling great. Disaster struck a little over halfway through the race and final night lap. Pain in the left knee again flared up. I came through the feed zone demoralized, knowing my race was done. There was no way I could fight through that much pain for another 11 hours.

After Tuscon, it was back to the drawing board. I was hurt this time far more than the first. So much so, that I had to forfeit the spring cross country series and take a few months off the bike. That’s not an easy reality for a bike racer to accept, but it is a good opportunity to realize that racing bikes is not life. There are many varieties of life, why limit yourself to a few?

I was eager to find a permanent fix to my knee problem and get back on the bike, so my research and due diligence took on a whole new meaning. At the referral of a teammate, I switched doctors and started seeing Dr. Chris Sellers at Performance Wellness. These guys definitely had their stuff together and much more experience than the last doctor. Not only did their treatment seem much more effective, they wanted to educate you as much as they can so you can prevent future injury. Beyond actual treatment, Chris explained to me the effects of muscles tightness and imbalance. He then sent me to their main therapist, Dr. Davis, who gave me some “homework” with stretches and exercises to help correct my deficiencies.

I continued my discussions, workouts, and gear tweaks with Sean. Flexibility took center stage as the way to heal and increase performance, but it didn’t stop there. I began to eat more wholesomely, get more rest, hydrate better. Everyday I learned something new and made more progress. I gained confidence that I would not only become completely healed, but that all these new facets of training and living would make me stronger than I was before the injury.

I slowly got back into riding and was able to compete at the final Spring Race at X-Bar ranch near El Dorado, TX on May 18, 2008. It was a disappointing 6th place finish in a category lower than where I left last fall, and one that I had dominated just a year before. However, it was a finish on a tough course and a reminder of the long road ahead.

With mountain bike season already gone, I turned my attention to other endeavors. I remained steadfast in my efforts to get better and regain my fitness. I learned how to swim and began running a bit so that I could start competing in triathlons.

Come June 23, Colleen and I entered the Austin Urban Assault with an impressive 2 out of 300+ finish. The confidence and fitness continued to grow.

Come July 13 I had the opportunity to compete at the Austin Rapha Roller Race. I was only expecting to have a good time and maybe get through half the rounds, but I walked away with the win and a new track frame that evening. Five hours later, I woke up and competed in my first ever triathlon, the Couples Tri at Decker Lake. The swim wasn’t easy, but I didn’t drown, hammered the bike, and survived the run. Not a bad way to start a triathlon career. I would go on to improve my swim and run times 2 weeks later at the Marble Falls triathlon on a harder, longer course.

I was seeing improvement week by week, but there was still a lot of work to do. By this time of the year, Performance Wellness, Coach Ahmadi, and Chipotle Congress had all agreed to sponsor me! Things were looking up.

August 17 was another new adventure, my first off road triathlon, the Camp Eagle X-terra. The rain threatened us from the start and it would prove to be a big problem by the time we hit the trail. I had a great mid-pack swim and was ready to turn it up on the trail since I would be more in my element. I was passing racers left and right, and then had a huge mechanical. I persevered and was able to finish the race, and apparently an age group win. It took a few weeks for the officials to sort out the results, but I actually ended up 3rd. That news did nothing to deter my sense of accomplishment though.

2 weeks later I would return to kick off the spring season of cross country. I had made huge gains over the summer and planned to start in the Pro/Semi-Pro/Elite category where I belonged. Another set of mechanicals kept me out of the top ten, but not from finishing and not from feeling good about the performance.

September 20, I was set to compete in the Huntsville Classic before Hurricane Ike paid the course a visit a week earlier. With that race cancelled, I traveled to San Angelo with teammates to compete in a 6 hour race at the state park there. Another teammate gave me a run for the money, but I was able to edge him out for the win on my rigid steel 29er on the last lap. This win was a great confidence booster for the upcoming 24 hour race in Moab.

I was doing Moab on a 4 man team this time. I was again plagued by mechanical conditions early on and the team decided to bow out and just go do some fun riding the next day. I stayed for a few extra laps. It was a pretty trip, and I enjoyed it as my main vacation this year, but the race left me with a real sour taste in my mouth. I was ready to put it behind me and move on.

I would compete at Ruston and finish the season at Rocky Hill, both lackluster finishes. It seemed as if I were on a plateau. I bought a cyclocross bike after finishing 5th at the first cross race of the season on a borrowed bike. That was about where I left off last season, so I knew this season I had a chance for some wins, especially with a proper bike.

It would be 3 more frustrating races with mechanicals before my day came with a win at the Bikesport CX challenge December 7.

In the middle of that cross series, I competed in my first Duathlon at Rocky Hill ranch. I managed 7th of 80, only to drop 3 spots on the final run leg. That was ok though, my run times were markedly faster than the tris I did over the summer and I was very happy with that performance.

Following the Houston races, I began a new workout series called p90x and met with Sean to outline a training strategy for the next big race, the Dirty Dozen on Valentine’s Day 2009. I have been sticking to the regiment as well as I can and have started to see good results already. I suspect that at this time I’m as strong as I’ve ever been, but still have much more potential. 2009 should be a great year with all that I’ve gone through in 2008.

That brings me to my conclusion. Would I have traded in that knee injury and lost riding time for more of the same old same old routine that would’ve gotten me slowly and slightly faster with no injury at all? Yes and no. Yes, because injury really sucks. It’s scary and demoralizing. Injury does nothing to boost confidence. It keeps you in a state of “maybe it’ll get better”.

A more resounding “no” . It’s hard to trade in all that I’ve learned and how much I have grown as an athlete and human being for the sake of not having an injury, an injury that was very much heal-able, mind you. Not only am I FULLY recovered from that knee injury, but I am stronger and more prepared than I was before it. I’m ready to take racing and life to the next level. I’m happy with where I’m at now- there should never be any disappointment from doing something you enjoy so much. But I know there is way more potential for me out there and I plan to dig deep for it. I hope that this 2008’s journeys have been good for you too, and that 2009’s will be even better. Thanks for reading this entirely too long entry! Happy New Year!

-Greg “Caveman” Parham

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