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Training Recap: The San Diego Century and a Broken Elbow

As discussed in the previous post, Tips for the Injured Runner, I've been dealing with a long bout of injury that has put a hold on my running for the time being. Typically when I'm going through an injury, I resort to hours on the stationary bike and in the pool aqua jogging to replace the running training I'm missing out on. I've never had an injury last this long though, and the thought of being on a stationary bike for months on end felt horrible. As a result, I have finally been forced outside on a road bike, something I honestly had been afraid to do for a while as I never felt that comfortable without my feet in direct contact with the ground. Once I did force myself away from the safety of the stationary bike and onto the open roads, I very quickly came to find that I actually really like biking. A lot.


My bike during a summer ride in the Gunnison Valley.

My bike set up is nothing fancy. I ride a 2008 Giant OCR 2 that I bought second-hand off of someone who was looking for an upgrade. I replaced its road tires with thin gravel tires to provide a bit more freedom and range of terrain for myself, bought a couple small bike packs to store my phone and some snacks, and started pedaling away. I started off with some 15-20 mile rides outside to get myself used to being on the roads for more than just commuting, and naturally started to want to go longer and longer. I hit a 30 miler, a 40 miler, and then a 50 miler. In my head, these distances seemed so long to me but as soon as I started to actually do them, I remembered, "Oh yeah, I am an endurance athlete already."


I felt good while I was out riding. I had missed being able to push myself for a couple hours at a time, especially outside in the beautiful Gunnison summers. I seemed to always feel fine as my rides became longer too, so it seemed like it was time to come up with a new challenge for myself while away from my first love, running. I began to toy with the idea of a 100 miler, just in my head, until a friend of mine suggested it to me out loud. Now that the thought in my head had just been spoken into the world, I thought, "Yeah, why not?" The only problem with doing that out here in Gunnison, CO, was that the seasons were starting to change, and it was starting to get cold. Could I have sucked it up and layered up a ton? Absolutely. Did I want to do that? No, not really. Conveniently though, I knew that I was headed back home to San Diego for the holidays and decided I would bring my bike with me and do it there, by the ocean with nice weather.


Again, quite conveniently, another friend of mine, Ryan, reached out to me about meeting up for some fun San Diego endurance adventures while we were both back home. Since I still couldn't run much, I told him about my plan to do my first century ride and he immediately was on board. We decided to plan the ride for New Year's Eve to replace our last year's activity of running the Five Peak Challenge in one run (a trail run a little over 20 miles with about 4,500 ft of gain, connecting the "five peaks" of Mission Trails in San Diego), and thus, the San Diego Century was born.

Last year's New Year's Eve adventure: Running the Five Peak Challenge in one effort.

Driving 14 hours from the middle of Colorado to Southern California with my bike latched into my car's bike rack, pretty much unprotected, was a little nerve wracking. Thankfully it stayed secure the whole drive and was more than ready for some coastal biking once we arrived. I got back home about two weeks prior to the New Year, so I had some time to get some good miles in on my bike before the big ride. I rode along the coast basically every day. Mission Bay, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Carlsbad, Coronado, anywhere that was by the ocean, I took my bike. After having just come off of a mild case of Covid and having been unable to train much the couple weeks leading up to my trip home, I really had no reason to believe I could complete 100 miles in one ride other than the fact that I simply wanted to. The good news was that Ryan felt the exact same way, which ended up just giving us more confidence that we could do it.

From a 40 mile ride starting from Torrey Pines up the coast along the 101.

As the day approached, we had grown our team of two into a group of five friends who had the similar mindset of, "Yeah, why not?" After stocking up on electrolytes, snacks, and a bright please-don't-hit-me yellow cycling jacket for myself (The weather ended up turning a bit cold and wet and I hadn't prepared for anything but the sun), we confirmed our meeting time and location for 8:00am at Mission Beach on New Year's Eve morning. Simply put, the route went north and then south. Starting in Mission Beach, we rode north into Carlsbad, south back through Mission Beach into downtown, then Imperial Beach, along the Silver Strand into Coronado where we hopped on the ferry to take us across the bay back to downtown, and finished right back up to Mission Beach.


Our route, completed.

The ride itself was surprisingly uneventful for the majority, in the best way possible. We biked into La Jolla right past our fifth group member's apartment where she hopped in the train in a seamless ride-by pick-up. As we rode into Torrey Pines, I prepared myself to get my a** dropped down the steep hill of Torrey Pines Road. As expected, I did. My tires felt like they were spinning as fast as they possibly could, but for some reason I just cannot keep up on the downhills. Thankfully though, the strength as an endurance athlete has always laid in the gritty, grindy climbs, so I was able to make up my lost ground and regroup with everyone on those sections. Biking through Encinitas and into Carlsbad, all I could think about was the coffee shop we were planning to break at at mile 30. I wasn't tired yet and felt great, I just really like coffee and was getting a little hungry. We approached our little planned coffee stop, The French Corner, after about two hours and right as some rain began to fall. Parking our bikes outside, we walked in to the warmth of the café, fragrant with coffee grounds and French pastries. Faced with a lengthy menu of coffee, food, and pastry items, I settled on an oatmilk pistachio latte along with a cinnamon-almond apple turnover. We all then sat outside under the ledge of the café and sipped on warm drinks while watching the drizzly rain.

Sipping my pistachio latte in the rain.

We stayed there for admittedly longer than we probably should have. Though we were in no rush, we figured we should get back to the 70 miles we still had ahead. I put my please-don't-hit-me yellow jacket on since it was still raining, and we began pedaling back down Highway 101. Water was coming from every direction. Raining down from above, spraying us from behind from our tires whipping the street water up at our backs, and spraying us face-first from the bike ahead whenever we were tucked into our pack. I could barely see out of my sunglasses because of all the water and dirt that was being sprayed onto them, but I didn't want to take them off because that was the only barrier protecting my eyes from that same fate. We rode through that small storm for about 10 miles before it let up and blew over us. 10% of the ride in some rain really wasn't that bad. After coming off the 101 and riding back through La Jolla, one of our pack-mates peeled off to finish 50 miles and head back home, leaving four of us headed south to Coronado.


The 50-mile mark beeped on my Garmin as we headed down to Mission Bay, matching my longest ride at that point. Anything past that was new territory for me, an exciting feeling. I had no idea how I would feel halfway through, but the reality was that I felt really good. And that feeling continued as we ticked the miles away. 55. 60. 65. 70. At this point, we were headed through downtown on the thin shoulder alongside the busy streets. I can't say this was my favorite part of the ride, but biking through downtown and by the San Diego Convention Center was a neat experience. I was getting pretty hungry because we hadn't eaten lunch and it was well into the afternoon by this point, but we weren't overexerted and had brought enough snacks to sustain us into Coronado. Not much happened from this point until the ferry landing in Coronado. We cruised through the miles, talked amongst each other, and overall were just enjoying our time riding together.


It wasn't dark yet, but the sun was starting to go down, so we decided to forgo stopping for a meal and ride straight to the ferry so we could finish before dark. The ferry typically shuttles people across the bay every 15 or so minutes, so we knew we were fine in terms of timing. We arrived around 4:30pm and bought our tickets while the ferry pulled away to make its next round. As soon as it pulled away, we looked up to see a sign that read, "Ferry to Downtown: 3:30pm, 4:30pm, 5:30pm, 6:30pm." Well shit. If we waited an hour, it would be dark while we were riding through downtown, and none of us had brought a light. Unfortunately that seemed like our only option. While trying to decide what to do and wondering when they stopped making their usual 15-minute trips (Covid reasons, maybe?), we just so happened to find another schedule indicating a different drop-off zone that left at 4:45pm. Considering this would only place us about a half-mile further out than we planned, we quickly wheeled our bikes down to the dock to make sure we got on. Once on the ferry, sitting down felt great, and we were gently rocked by the bay as we were shuttled across the water.


Kyleigh and I on the ferry! Not pictured: Adam and Ryan.

We were at around 93 miles when we got to the ferry, so had about 7 miles remaining once we arrived at the dock downtown. The sun was going down by this point making for a beautiful sunset to accompany us for a short time, but subsequently bringing the dark and cold. We were close to the end though and still having a good time with each other, so everyone was in good spirits even after the sun went down. Not able to see very well since none of us packed a light, we relied on the intermittent street lights and the headlights of cars coming our way as we made our way back into Mission Bay where we could seek refuge from the cars in the safety of a bike path. This was where my little mishap occurred.


We realized the bike path we needed to be on was on the opposite side of the street. A quick left turn up to the sidewalk and up over the curb was all we needed. I take pride in the fact that I know my limits. I can ride my bike for hours, but I will not be curb-hopping at any point soon. To ensure my own safety from falling, I dismounted my bike at the foot of the curb and began to lift my front tire up onto the sidewalk. My mistake was that I was still straddling the bike, just over the frame so I could have my feet on the ground. As I moved to lift the back end of the bike up onto the sidewalk, my pedal caught the curb, tripping me up and making me lose my balance. I fell down sideways with my left hand holding my bike leaving my right hand to catch myself. Without thinking, I threw my right hand down to the ground and landed on my hand with my arm fully extended, resulting in an audible "crack." Surely that was just the joint cracking. We had been in the riding position for about 7 hours by now. As I stood up, my elbow was aching. I bended and straightened it a few times to shake out the soreness and loosen it up, but I could feel a popping sensation in it with every move. We were so close though and I was certain nothing terrible was wrong with it, so once ensuring I was okay, we all got back on our bikes and continued down the bike path.


I very quickly realized my elbow was not okay. It hurt. Bad. Holding the handlebars hurt. Turning hurt. Squeezing the brakes shot immense pain straight up my arm. Shifting gears was not even possible on my right side anymore. Ryan later told me he could tell I was in the pain cave those last few miles because I was dead silent at the back of the pack. He wasn't wrong. I rode quietly in pain for the homestretch back to our cars. Finally, I could see lights of the intersection that led back to our starting point that morning. We rolled into the parking lot and right up to our cars that had been so patiently waiting there for us all day, marking the end of our ride and my first century. In the moment, I was really more happy to get off my bike just to get the weight off my arm than I was to finish 100 miles. I sat down in my car and ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich that had been awaiting my arrival while I tried to ignore the throbbing pain. We figured I probably just got a good bruise and maybe sprained something in the joint, so after saying our goodbyes we all headed home for our first real meal since the morning.

Me in my sling, getting coffee with my mom after our morning in urgent care.

Needless to say, I did not stay up until midnight for the New Year. I showered, iced my elbow, and feel asleep by about 9:30. The next morning, Jan 1st, 2023, I woke up eager to go for a hike to watch the sunrise and maybe even go for another ride later on. My body felt good, after all. As soon as I got out of bed, I realized I could not move my arm. It was almost stuck in a 45 degree bend, with any flexion or extension beyond that shooting sharp pain from my elbow. I walked downstairs to say good morning and happy New Year to my mom, who was the only other one awake yet, then got dressed and took a fun mother-daughter trip to urgent care to celebrate the start of 2023.



The bionic arm!

My x-rays showed three small breaks: A fracture in my radial head, a chip in my ulna, and a small avulsion in my humerus. I was outfitted with a sling for the next week (which included my 14 hour drive back to Gunnison), until I was able to see an orthopedic, who set me up in a bionic-looking arm brace that I will remain in for 5 weeks following the break. A bummer for sure, but I see it as more of a funny story than an inconvenience to me. I'm still massively proud of accomplishing my first century ride, especially having to have finished the last stretch of it on a broken arm. And the ride is uploaded to Strava so really that's all that matters (kidding). I also realized I can still work out with my bike hooked into the trainer and just resting my broken arm on the handlebars, so I've been keeping up with my training and staying sane by cycling indoors this winter.


My last thoughts are that biking has been so fun and I've grown to truly enjoy the sport. It's pushed me to challenge myself in a new way and to aim for big goals again while my running is sidelined. This century ride was a really fun, kind of last minute, goal to accomplish and has given me the itch for more. I'm not sure exactly what the next big goal will be yet, but I know that there will be more coming soon.


-Lex

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