When your first stop is the pharmacy upon entering the host town on a World Cup weekend, you pretty much just have to go into the experience just hoping for the best. Mary and I opted for the shopping cart over the hand basket as we loaded up on French Canadian versions of all our favorite pain relieving rubs, ibuprofen, assorted back and neck cooling/heating products and braces to make certain we would be able to contest what was our ninth year of racing a World Cup at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec. Even if it was not looking as if we'd pull our best showing, Sainte-Anne was a World Cup we were NOT going to miss!
We had just come off a solid week back home in Massachusetts where we were supposed to be resting up for the North American leg of our World Cup tour. Unfortunately home had ceiling renovations, school reunions, bills, vehicle registrations, cleaning and prep after a winter of neglect to take into consideration before we could get in any relaxing. In general, we felt more busy and displaced from our typical traveling racer routine.
The back injury I sustained in Europe turned out to be a slow healer - demanding attention in that worst way possible way - doing nothing, no hard efforts stretching or training. To complicate things further Mary (seemingly) managed to strain something in her neck/back while making a monumental house cleaning attempt to liberate a little space from the coating of dry wall debris. Luckily there was plenty of work to accomplish while sitting down in the team management department and in my personal bike shop where I was happy to spend time setting up the latest (another most fantastic yet) version of Stan's NoTubes ZTR wheels and testing our new favorite chain lube (Squirt Lube) in the local conditions.
In general it was a good opportunity to do some R&D testing and give some attention to our race bikes that had stood by us even while somewhat neglected over the past three months of living out of the race bags.
As we were still weaning ourselves off the ibuprofen, Mary and I hitched up our travel trailer and headed north. We made our first stop just a matter of miles from home at our local sponsor Jim's Organic Coffee, where we got to catch up with Jim's great crew and check out his stellar operation. We were glad for the opportunity to restock our trailer cupboards with some amazing organically produced and on site roasted coffee beans that always make our mornings a more pleasant experience.
Before leaving the home state, we headed into Watertown, MA, to catch up with our friends and sponsors at Seven Cycles. We spent half the day in casual meetings reconnecting and exchanging information that will help to birth the next generation of Seven Cycle's mountain bikes. Though the vibe was as low key as sharing time with friends the energy surrounding these meetings is exciting and captivating. Working with a with a company that is capable of incorporating new technologies and ideas that we as veteran racers know firsthand will make better bikes is just incredible. Add the unparalleled level of craftsmanship that Seven includes in all its manufacturing and it is easy to see why these bike planning sessions are super exciting as its all about the bikes that we will soon be riding.
Mont-Sainte-Anne is a special place to race bikes. This year's edition brought a middle of the road version (as far as the extremes of wet and dry) with its familiar technical riding. Muscle sapping climbs and traverses with a soft post rain squish rolled us into tricky descents that would test the limit of race day confidence. Mary and I opted for the predictable handling of our 29ers, although we had brought along our trusty 26-inch hardtails thinking that they might be a more effective in the throws of the furious and completely critical race start battles we have lately been seeing.
Not to point the finger only at the new shorter, faster, supposedly more crowd pleasing format of the World Cup racing but it has done a lot to take the riding aspects out of the racing. We have found it a bit frustrating to not be able to take full advantage of the descending and overall riding advantages of our 29ers as those features of the courses are often bottled up with riders who decided to focus on going with a fast start to beat us to the singletrack on a stripped down 26-inch bike.
After the dust settled on Mont-Sainte-Anne, Mary and I both felt that we could have been more competitive. We both rode aggressively from a technical standpoint, proving it with a hard stack once or twice each - sometimes you just have to find the limit to make sure you are pushing it. Even though we made our typical effort to be as prepared as usual for this event, something just didn't feel right in the preparation and organization of the team. For some reason we were not having a good time, and for us when traveling and racing bikes, that is really unusual. some sort of outside negativity seemed to creep into the normal fatigue and tension that we experience and this resulted in an unfamiliar dodgy run up to a time in the season we typically enjoy the most.
In the week between the North American World Cups Mary and I made our way towards New York via the Green Mountains of Vermont. We were happy to spend another fun 4th of July with our good friends Marilyn and Adam in Warren - where we took a few days to relax and enjoy. It was easy to get into the patriotic spirit while enjoying the stunning summer weather, a few recovery road rides and refreshing swims in the crystal clear headwaters of the Mad River. This was a perfect place to recharge the batteries in an effort to get into peak condition for the following weekend's World Cup at Windham Mountain, New York...
I was feeling better day by day, but unfortunately, Mary seemed headed in the other direction. She was starting to become feverish at night and began to have bouts of terrible whole body aching, bringing to question what was going on with her. On the night prior to the Windham World Cup, when we would normally be in the final preparations for the big race, she felt compelled to seek out medical help and headed to the emergency room for an evaluation.
This ER visit turned into a bit of a western medicine nightmare scenario as well meaning but ultra conservative doctors recommended everything from a full round of blood tests, a CAT scan, and a highly controversial spinal tap to rule out some of the worst sounding diseases and conditions that they threw out to us as real possibilities.
Thankfully we opted Mary out of what would have been an unnecessary spinal puncture but in rapid succession, the simple blood tests she went in for turned into nine hours at the hospital with pokes prods paperwork and prescriptions along with a whole lot more worry than we had prior to checking in.
I was a bit surprised by Mary's resolve (after giving seven vials of blood, getting a CAT scan, and really not sleeping much) to take to the line and have a go at the Windham World Cup. Though clearly not physically 100 percent, Mary was still determined to give it her best shot and represent for our team and sponsors to her best ability even in such a compromising situation. Whoa!!!
After such a nervewracking ramp up,, there was understandably not a lot of satisfaction on the results side for either of us. It was more a case of being happy to have made it through the race and now back to our real focus of the day: how the heck do we get healthy!?
With the endorphins running high from the competition we still managed to enjoy a fun night BBQing in the thick humidity of the Catskill mountain evening with our friends and sponsors Stan and Cindy Koziatek, creators of NoTubes.com and several of their other awesome sponsored athletes. Having great sponsors and friends come out to personally attend events is something really special to us as racers. We live such a disciplined life that when people take the time to come see us in our environment, at the races, it can shed some understanding on what it takes to do what we do. I am pretty sure you would have to be a true bike fanatic person or a great supporter to actually enjoy these quiet nights, but for those in the know it is a precious chance to just hang out talk and celebrate the life around bikes and health!
It felt completely wrong watching Mary suffering painfully through another sleepless night while I was packing up the bikes for the travel to the next weekend's national championships out in Idaho. At this point it we were locked in a battle between what we wanted to accomplish at national championships and what we were really up against with Mary suffering through some potentially serious issues.
Based on her symptoms for the past days our best guess was that Mary had contracted some sort of tick born illness (as she had sustained a bite some weeks earlier) and it was most likely Lyme disease. At this point even without blood test confirmation we were certain enough to start Mary on the prescribed antibiotics because something was very clearly not right and it was getting worse quickly. Later that night, Mary was hit really hard by the illness and we knew no matter what was going on it was definitely serious enough to back off from the racing and take the necessary time to rest up and recover.
A few days later as we were caught between heading directly back home and staying near Boston where we feel the best medical treatment in New England is available, we received blood test confirmation that Mary was indeed positive for Lyme disease. Though it did little to ease the immediate pain, it was a tremendous relief to know that we were on the right track. Now that we had identified the enemy we could stop worrying about the 'what if' and take all the appropriate steps to fight this disease and better focus on getting Mary back to 100%!
Lyme disease is contracted through a tick bite. The bacteria can be passed through the blood stream if bit by an infected tick and can cause all sorts of painful symptoms and fatigue. Luckily most cases of Lyme can be treated with antibiotics if caught immediately.
Unfortunately doctors have found it difficult to diagnose and it can go undetected for years without administering the right kind of blood tests or medication. Long term cases become harder to treat and symptoms can become chronic. This disease continues to claim more victims and manages to elude detection all the time.
This 'disease' is becoming very common with people who spend a lot of time in the woods or close to nature - so be aware of the areas you ride in (some places have a higher concentration of infected ticks) and always check for ticks! With athletes, any pain based symptoms can be even more tricky to diagnose as we are prone to ignore pain and push past fatigue in search of our goals.
We came across some really interesting reading on how Lyme disease started. The disease can be loosely traced to some amazingly sinister roots of biological warfare experiments carried out just off the coast of New York during the 1970s. Here scientists performed research on ticks and their ability to literally carry out biological warfare. Although we did not read the book yet, "Lab 257" details the disturbing story of the US government's secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory (by Michael Christopher Carroll; Harper Collins, 2004). Legend has it that the experiments were disbanded but the area was never properly cleaned up and slowly the infected ticks spread the disease through natural means (via the local deer population and migratory birds). This insidious and since denied experiment has become a huge problem for the east coast and even the greater world as now Lyme disease can be caught virtually anywhere there are ticks. Scary stuff!
Having Mary's health thrown off course by some gone bad biological warfare experiment can kind of mess with your mind... The good news is that with early detection and generous amounts of antibiotics, the prognosis is that the Lyme disease can be completely eradicated. Mary is currently in the middle of a heavy round of antibiotic treatment and clearly seems to be responding well. After three weeks of medication, some chiropractic treatments, accupuncture and good rest at home, she is feeling her normal energy levels return and is recently back out on the bike in force (as my stinging legs from our morning ride can attest).
With her recovery headed in this positive direction we have decided to continue on without further altering our seasonal racing plans - which will bring us to the final two rounds of the World Cup on August 14 and 20 and then to world championships the first week in September.
I was a bit surprised that Mary was feeling ready to get back to the racing after going through a great deal of pain and suffering just so recently - but I suppose as bike racers we have learned that suffering and pain is more than acceptable, along such a fantastic journey. In fact it's part of the job requirement.
Thanks for sending Mary some good energy!
Don't let the day pass you by with out doing that extra little thing that helps you realize your good health.
All the best,
Mike and Mary
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MTB "super-couple", former US National cross country champion Mary McConneloug and Mike Broderick live together, train together, travel together and race together. They also share this diary on Cyclingnews.
Follow their adventures as they race the World Cup cross country circuit and take on other adventures. Enjoy the unique, professional racing style of these two accomplished racers and world travelers.
You can also follow them via their blog at www.maryandmikeride.blogspot.com (opens in new tab).