Back pain and Belgium holidays

Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) in action in Zonhoven.

Jonathan Page (Planet Bike) in action in Zonhoven. (Image credit:

The last two weeks have flown by, again. We barely got home and unpacked after the trip to Switzerland and repacked for the next trip to the Czech Republic. On Tuesday we kept the washer busy and searched for a van because our old van died in France. We've been trying to find another since September.

On Wednesday we had a belated birthday party for my daughter Emma at an indoor play place and on Thursday we waited to pick her up after school before starting our drive toward the Plzen World Cup. We took a car this time since we'd be spending most of the long drive on the German Autobahn.

We tuned into the American Air Force radio channel on the way. Driving through Frankfurt is always a highlight and we stopped at a hotel near Wiesbaden for the night. On Friday morning we went for a family jog to some nearby soccer fields where we played tag until everyone had rosy red faces and took a few rides on the zip line at the local park. Good fun.

We arrived at our hotel in Plzen without any problems, thanks to Tometta, our TomTom! But it was in a really industrial area and we didn't want to be there. We had a few hours to cancel so we re-booked at another hotel. This time, it was a great place in a perfect area right on a bike path and just steps from the old town square.

We checked in and headed down to the square to have dinner and coffee. It's always fun to go out in the Czech Republic because it's still really cheap. Four nice meals, appetizers and drinks was no more than 25 Euro. Two lattes and two ice cream cost around three Euro.

We had a good night sleep and a great breakfast on Saturday morning. I went out training in the afternoon and suddenly I recognized that I was riding on the same road that I'd warmed up on the year before, so I knew where the Plzen World Cup course was. It was a little different from the previous year but not much. I felt good training on it and was excited to see what I could do the next day.

However, my excitement turned to worry when I got out of the shower and suddenly, for no apparent reason, had so much back pain I could hardly move. My back was in a complete spasm. I tried heating it, stretching it, laying down, walking but nothing helped. Later that night, Cori tried massage and more heat which helped a little but it still wasn't good. I went to bed hoping for the best but I was really worried.

I had a rough night sleep and Cori had to push me up and out of bed (the same way I sometimes push her up now that she's six and half months pregnant). I shuffled down to the front desk to see what my options were. Time was running out and I was in a bit of a panic. I didn't have Ibuprofen with me and you can't just buy that in Europe because you need a prescription.

The front desk told me that my choices were either the hospital or a Thai massage place that was right across the street. Doctors and Chiropractors were not available on Sundays. So I tried the Thai massage. I was waiting on their doorstep when they opened at 10 am. It was nice, but it didn't help. I saw some guys that I knew at breakfast, staff and other riders, that said they'd ask around to see if anyone had a doctor with them. It turns out Sven Nys did and he was nice enough to try to help me out at the race venue. He was honest and said the race was over for me. He worked on my back for a while and loosened it up a little. I appreciated that because anything was better than nothing at that point.

I started the race OK but just kept slipping further and further back. I was in a lot of pain and had absolutely no power, especially on the long and steep stair run-up. I wanted to quit at several points but was finally put out of my misery when I was pulled, very happily, with two laps to go. I'm not sure I could have made it up those stairs one more time.

Thinking back, I am pretty sure it's the first time I've been pulled from a race in 10 years. I was disappointed that I didn't get to really race but I knew it was all I could do to just start. I wanted to get home quickly and go see my doctor to figure out what the heck was going on with my back.

Cori drove most of the way home while I struggled to find a comfortable position in the passenger seat. The next morning I was thankful to get right in to see the doctor. My vertebrae L1 was twisted and the muscles next to it and above it were in complete spasm. I probably injured my back when I went over my bars in Switzerland the weekend before. My muscles eventually just locked up so that I'd be forced to let it heal.

I had a lot of couch time (yawn) and a few more trips to the doctor and osteopath before I finally went on a training ride on Thursday. It went OK so I had some hope for a upcoming weekend of racing. Also, remember the van that we were looking for? We finally found one on Thursday too.

I trained on Friday, with a little less success than the day before, but I was still hopeful that after resting on Saturday I'd do alright in the sandy Superprestige Zonhoven on Sunday, October 31. Nope, I didn't. I stunk actually. I was climbing like I was pulling both my kids in a cart behind me. I pulled out with a few laps to go, quite disappointed.

Monday, November 1 was a public holiday in Belgium, like our Memorial Day in the US, and it’s always the big Koppenbergcross. It’s less than five kilometers from my house. I biked with the family to my mobile home that had been parked outside our friend’s house right at the course. Some people park their mobile homes there as early as Friday night or Saturday morning. Driving anywhere near the Koppenberg is nearly impossible because there were so many people. It's hard to describe but I will say that a friend of mine waited in a line for a sausage and beer for a half hour and it took my family and I more than 10 minutes to ride the last 200 meters to get to my friends.

It had been raining for a few days prior to the Koppenbergcross. I know, it's surprising, rain in Belgium! But the sun came out and things dried up on the morning of the race which made for deep sticky mud. I went out for a warm up lap and thought it was going to be one of the tougher Koppenbergs I'd done. I was right!

After starting out in the lead for the first few minutes, I slowly slipped back, back and further back. The crowd was deafening at some points and I seemed to have tons of supporters along the course that were cheering me on. That was awesome and much needed. I was really thankful for the support on each lap. I knew that I didn't stand a chance at getting a great result that day and the conditions only lessened my chances of even surviving.

Having a strong back was a definite advantage for that race. The fastest lap times were more than nine minutes for the leaders. We only ended up doing six laps because the course was so slow. If I remember right, we usually complete at least nine or 10 laps. At the finish, I was disappointed with the result but in hindsight I'm not sure what I was expecting and I should be happy just to finish.

I was cheered up when I arrived back at the mobile home to find a big crowd that had gathered for a little after party we do every year. It's so nice to have friends and supporters around me, especially during the hard times when racing isn't going so well. Don't get me wrong, when the racing turns around for me again I'll be ready to celebrate, too. I had a lot of fun at the get together and left a few hours later with my spirits lifted. I'm ready to start a nine-day break from racing. Thanks to everyone that was there, or wanted to be there. You made my weekend.

This weekend coming up is a national race in Belgium so I am lucky because I can use the time to try and fully recover for the Thursday, November 11. It’s another public holiday and therefore another big 'cross race here in Belgium at the Fidea Cyclo-cross Classic Niel followed by the Superprestige Hamme-Zogge on Sunday, November 14.

It’s been a bad couple of weeks so here's hoping it gets better. Thanks again to everyone for the support and for reading.

Jonathan Page

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