Sunday, March 17, 2019

Oh Baby, the 2019 season is going to be great!

my 2019 plans include just one thing! 
Growing a freaking human!!!!! 

I'm crazy excited to say that while my body was recovering from literally metabolizing itself back in November, somehow it thought 'Now's the time to create new life!' And so it was a complete shock to both Brendan and I when I found out in late January that we will become parents sometime around Aug 28 this year.

It's no secret that this is something we have wanted for a while, but yes, there is a part of me that thinks... winning BWR and Leadville 3 times in a row would have been so freaking rad... BUT it also feels right to put the ego aside, finally, and focus on something a bit different. That's not to say I wont ever toe the line in a bike race again, but at least for 2019 I am sticking with my 12 mile bike commute and a few fun 'celebrity appearances' hahaha until the belly is too big to fit over a top tube.

And now for a short story and some rando thoughts from preggo Lars (warning: this may turn into a pregnant biker blog haha)

Only very short rides over Christmas break.
Remember back in December when 6 weeks had passed since I got back from Costa Rica? I was pretty frustrated that I wasn't feeling normal, wasn't feeling good on the bike, was still tired and unmotivated. I took a few extra weeks to recover, thinking the Rhabdo had just been really really bad, and started commuting to work twice a week. Over Christmas break I rode some and rested some, and spent a lot of time comparing Dec 2018 to Dec 2017 in which I had ridden 500 miles a week and completed the trek from SF to LA by bike alone in 2 days for a New Years celebration. I think I was fighting off depression because I didn't really know what was wrong with me, and everyone on social media was deep into their insane long base training rides while I could barely eek out 35 miles at a time. I tried to celebrate the ability to just be on a bike, but it's a pretty big distance to fall in a year, and it was honestly hard to deal with mentally.

In early January Bonk Breaker asked me to come do a fun 80ish mile ride they had put together called Tranquilo, and despite having not ridden more than 45 miles at a time since November I agreed, figuring I could just jump in the follow car worst case scenario. The Tranquilo was hard, again mentally as much as physically. When we turned to go up Sycamore Canyon and half the group rode away in front of me it was really hard on my ego, and I just couldn't push hard enough on the pedals to keep up. I survived, but only because I resigned to ride my own pace for the last 15ish miles, and slogged along at a pathetic clip up dirt Mulholland. I did still bask in the sunshine and ability to be outdoors in nature, pushing pedals, but my competitive side ached.
No idea I was about 8 weeks into making a baby at this point. 

A week or so later I was mountain biking with Menso the great and the possibility of pregnancy came up. Being the logical intelligent being he is, Menso suggested I just take a test to know one way or the other, that way a major mountain bike crash + ER visit wouldn't be how I found out if I HAD been pregnant.

So that's how we discovered, right after my birthday, almost 10 weeks into growing a human, that all that not feeling great had a very great reason. The best possible reason for why I felt a little crappy in Dec, and why I wasn't bonkers to ride 100 miles every day over Christmas break.

More rando thoughts to come, because now that we are 'out' about this, there is so much on my mind about riding with a small human inside you, and life in general. But for now, that's my plan, no racing, no defending titles, no living in a van all summer chasing finish lines. Just one due date to chase, and maybe the biggest accomplishment of my life ahead.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

6 Weeks In

Part of me didn't think it would take this long to 'bounce back'. I figured when doctors said 4-6 weeks that meant 4-6 weeks for normal people, people who don't derive joy from suffering like me. That I would be back to commuting every day by the three week mark, and normal by 6 weeks in.
I've only ridden mtb TWICE in the past 6 weeks. 
But over the course of the last 36 days I've come to realize that this really is as great of a 'reset' as I was warned it would be, it hasn't been 6 weeks till normal, but 6 weeks until I am able to eek out 2 commutes a week, TWO. And that much is tiring and kinda hard. I tried to push on my way home Thursday and it felt like hitting a brick wall, I didn't go faster, it just hurt more.
BUT don't feel bad for me, because as my body has been slow to come around, my mind has been much faster to process and deal with the initial grief, and now 'mountain to climb' of this setback. I know it will be a long long road to get back to where I want to be, which may not mean ever achieving the speed and power I had right before all this, and I've kinda settled in for the long haul.
The only hard part now is fearing that I like the sedentary life a little TOO much sometimes. Don't worry though, as soon as I get back on my bike in the pitch black at 5:30 to ride to XC practice I remember why I like the fast life too :)

Some real talk tidbits from the last couple weeks.

Making the most of less bikes means lunch dates with this kid :)
It was a no-brainer that this would happen and theoretically avoidable, but ceasing to ride my bike 30 hours a week and continuing to eat as if I was has finally caught up with me, and my clothes are getting very very tight, haha. I am terrible at counting calories and watching what I eat because that just makes me think about food all the time, which makes me hungrier than I should be. I've not been thinking much 'race weight' or power to weight ratios or any of that nonsense since I got back from Costa Rica, and while it's been freeing to not worry about how my weight will affect performance, it is a little tiny bit scary to think about how I need to be careful if I DO want to train and race again. I'm sure when I start riding more it'll balance itself out, but in the mean time, I may need to buy new pants :)

I've replaced one obsession involving wheels with another, because now I spend every waking minute thinking about throwing pottery on the wheel. Pottery has invaded every corner of our lives, clay is all over the car, on the kitchen table, in my classroom, and last night I was carving on a cup IN BED! hahahaha. Addictive personality I guess. It's been nice to fill the cycling void with something I love that I haven't had time for in the past 6 years because of bikes. I even made a bunch of Christmas presents for people, but sadly the studio I've been going to is crazy slow at firing stuff in the kiln, so most of them wont be ready until January :(

And lastly for now, real talk that I am so confused about... I mentioned a lot last year that I wanted to retire and try to start a family in 2019, and we are mostly on board for that plan. But to be honest there is still a big part of me that wants to race bikes next summer, especially when I think about specific races. I feel so torn when I get interviewed these days because if I say I'm retiring to have kids and then I end up racing that's going to be weird, and if I say I'm committed to racing I feel like a liar because I kinda really want kids.. Anyway, in the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter, I know, but a ton of the people who follow me on social media (fans dare I say) do so because of my race results and all that hoopla, and I will be honest, I am scared to loose that. Again, I know it doesn't matter in the really big picture of life, having fans isn't nearly as important as living the life I want and doing what makes me happy, but the real talk honest truth is that it feels a little like the one thing that made me special and noteworthy is gone and I'm going back to being a normal person. This may sound crazy, but I'm just being honest. The more time that passes, the more OK I am with loosing my epic adventure riding, bike racing notoriety and I do know that who I am as a person is more important than how many followers I have, so here's to focusing on what makes you happy, on riding bikes, or not riding bikes because you love it, and enjoying whatever life throws at you.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

WHAT!? How has it been 4 weeks already?!?

Rode my bike to school last Tuesday, and all I can say is UFDH. That was NOT the magical, beautiful, glorious return to riding I had hoped for.

Instead it was a slow, hard, reality check of a ride that was honestly not as fun as I hoped :( Guess the old body still isn't ready.

That being said, 4 weeks into the recovery process (4 freaking weeks! How has time gone by so fast) and I am starting to understand my feelings a little better/cope with the situation.

There have been a lot of hard moments in the past month, but a lot of beautiful ones as well. In the long run I really want to remember everything I thought and felt during this time in my life because it's been so interesting and probably one of those pivotal moments that shapes me as a person more then winning a race ever could. I have a lot of random feelings/experiences, so this is going to be a little spazy :)
Sunrise on my one commute last week, made the pain worth it. 
First of all, it's hard to be the person who is known for smiling all the time, and then to have the thing that made you smile snatched out from under you without warning. I am happiest when I am riding my bike (any of them on any terrain). I've had to remember how to be happy without the bike. It was stressful at first to not feel happy or stoked, and to feel like I was a failure because this thing I have a reputation for, I felt like I was failing at it. I wanted to be the consummate optimist even in injury, but I couldn't find the bight, shiny silver lining, I didn't FEEL happy, and it seemed fake to pretend to just because it was expected. The messages from so many people about their injuries and recoveries helped so so much though, so I guess not faking being happy, just telling it like it is was worth it because the most beautiful part of this ordeal was all those messages. Thanks everyone :)

At the same time that everything felt incredibly hard/sad, I think I dealt with the hard stuff better this time around than when I've hit road blocks in life in the past. I felt sad, yes, and frustrated and angry... but the hopelessness and despair were easier to work through and not obsess on. I guess with age and experience it's easier to deal with stuff we don't understand. So while I'm bummed to not be living up to the happy Larissa ideal, I am proud of myself for coping a little better.

There's probably something about how cycling was my core identity and now I feel so far removed from it having to spend so much time off the bike that makes it hard to cope with injury. I'm sure anyone who has dealt with time off the bike experiences this. It was everything about me before, it was all I thought about, all I dreamed about, where a lot of my self worth came from, and now it's like a void. Maybe my advice to others would be to have a back up hobby, haha. Shifting my sorrow/all the time I used to think about how I wanted to be riding bikes to ceramics has helped, a ton. It's still strange to not ride every day, but I have something to look froward to on a daily basis since I know three days a week I'll be playing with clay, so that's cool :)

It helps that mugs make good Christmas gifts :) Gives me something to do!
One kinda hard thing for me to process is when people keep telling me I will come back stronger. It's frustrating because I will literally NOT be stronger. I lost a lot of muscle when my body was consuming itself, and now with 4 weeks of no riding I've lost conditioning. Maybe in 2 years I could regain the fitness I had at the end of this summer, but I'm back to square one right now, slower than I was when I first started riding bikes. I know they all mean well, but he feeling in my legs, the dull ache after hiking for 30 minutes, or that pain I felt on my 12 mile commute... yeah, not going to come back stronger any time soon. And that's ok with ME now that I have processed it, just in the last 4 weeks it's been stressful feeling like people expected me to be kicking ass in 2019. So, yeah, don't expect me to be stronger next year world. Hopefully I will be healthier and happy focusing on whatever makes me body stronger than I am today. That may not mean winning every 100 mile race I can get my hands on, but that's ok :)

I think one of the reasons this has been hard is that riding a bike was taken away so suddenly (as it is with a lot of injuries) at a time when I was already unsure of my future in bike racing. I was pretty sure taking time off to start a family was where we were headed, but the uncertainty and then not getting to make the choice threw me for a loop. And the scary thing is that now I'm starting to feel like this is the best thing that ever happened to me in the sense that I was forced to stop, where if it WAS my choice I may never have dialed it back enough to really try to do the family making thing.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Christmas 2018 Gift Ideas :)

Despite the absence of bikes I really enjoyed spending time with family and friends this past week. We caught up on what’s happening in everyone’s lives, laughed about ridiculous memories, and ate way too much good food. 

One topic of conversation that came up a few times was that of ‘what should I get ________ for Christmas?’ This is a difficult question for some people in my family, because everyone seems to be pretty low maintenance and no real needs stand out. I can wrack my brain for hours to come up with a single thing my parents NEED, and absolutely nothing comes to mind, but the good news is this leaves fun/thoughtful gifts as the only option!

I found myself recommending a few of my favorite things as gift ideas for different people when asked what I thought my brother, or friend, or whomever would like, and decided it would be worth while to share a short gift idea post here since I personally like all the help I can get this time of year to find thoughtful, useful, meaningful gifts for the people I love.

#1 most important best, most useful gift that someone may not think of to get themselves? BADSEA COFFEE!!!!
In Costa Rica I learned that the absolute best quality coffee from all the farms in central and south America go to micro-roasters, and Badsea is my Micro-roaster of choice. They buy beans in small batches from different farms and deliver by bike or mail coffee to subscribers bi-weekly. Each bag is unique, incredibly complex and rich tasting, and includes a fun description on the back of the origin and characteristics of that particular batch. If there are coffee lovers in your life a subscription to Badsea is a fun way you can gift them this small luxury that will show up at their house all year, not just Dec. 25! Or maybe gift yourself the best coffee of your life, you work hard… you deserve to experience really really good coffee!

#2 Something small for the cyclist in your life that will have a big colorful/fun impact on their bike, WEND chain wax! 
Look how preeeety!

Wend is a local company that makes colored, scented wax you can apply directly to your chain in lieu of chain lube. Waxing chains is becoming increasingly popular because the way wax reduces friction between the links, which translates to a more efficient drivetrain, and helps prolong the life of your chain. I’ve been using Wend wax on the chain on all my bikes since BWR last year, and not only is there a noticeable difference in how smooth my drivetrain feels for a crazy long time, it also means I don’t have to lube my chain but once every 1,500ish miles. It also keeps my chain(s) crazy clean which means my legs, pants, the inside of my car… anywhere I used to get smudges of chain gunk, are all safe, every time I touch the chain my fingers come away clean! Triple bonus, having a bubble gum scented pink chain is rad, and the wax comes in a ton of colors!

#3 Another inexpensive gift that the athletes in your life will be stoked to receive? Bonkbreaker energy and protein bars! 
I go through nutrition products pretty fast (or I did when I was commuting and training like a crazy person) and for most of us running low = eating nasty gels or whatever samples we have in the cupboard from the swag bag from our last event. Having a bunch of tasty Bonk bars is a great way to communicate with someone that you care about their hanger and tastebuds, and I know from personal experience getting these staples as gifts is like a little treat since I don’t have to think about stocking up a little longer 😊 I recommend Caramel Macchiato and dark chocolate cherry flavors. Oh and I didn’t even mention that this is the nutrition that got me victories in every Ultra endurance race I did this summer, so you know, it works pretty darn well! Buy some for yourself while you’re at it and see for yourself!

#4 Last for now, but certainly not least, new gloves or socks from TASCO MTB. 
These gloves are stylish AND comfy :)
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in the fact that I wear gear until it’s threadbare and falling apart to the point it’s no longer functional. Gloves are one of those items that are constantly in contact between your body and bike, which means they both need to be crazy comfy, and that they tend to wear out faster than other items of clothing. Because of this having a few back up pairs is super convenient, plus like socks, gloves like to get lost in the washing machine! TASCO is another local company who somehow cracked the code to making super comfy gloves that are lightweight and easy to wear. The lack of seams on the palms make them feel like a second skin, and they last a pretty dang long time ( I still wear a two year old pair in my rotation and I beat the crap out of my gear). Make it an extra special gift by doubling up with a set of matching gloves and socks = double digits pack! You can now find TASCO products in a bunch of bike shops, including The Path, Rock N Road and Fullerton Bikes or online at

This is just a short, easy, simple list, I’ll put more thought into bigger gift suggestions later this week. I know your special someone would love a dropper post and it would change their life… so stay tuned for more ideas for super fun, necessary gifts for the cyclists in your life. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Part 3: Apparently I am Kinda Stubborn

On Saturday I woke up to the most beautiful view of the valley below Gauyabo Lodge, at small bed and breakfast high up on the side of the volcano (around 5,000ft elevation). Early morning light was just starting to pierce the darkness in my room. And the clouds helping soften the light gave the sky a celestial glow. When I opened the doors to the small patio connected to my room I could hear goats and sheep welcoming the new day somewhere beyond the verdant wall of flowers and shrubs that blocked everything but the view. It was unreal to be in such a beautiful place so shortly after the trauma of the day before. For a moment I wondered if it was all real, the hospital, the Rhabdo, the race itself.

Breakfast views :) I wasn't allowed to drink much coffee :( haha
Intense pain in my legs as I hobbled back to bed was a pretty good reminder that the Rhabdo and hospital portions of the journey were not figments of my imagination. Eventually I managed to inch my way up to the breakfast room, starving from not having eaten anything the day before, and afraid if I slept in too long I would miss breakfast.

I spent the day with my rad cousin Casey and her boyfriend, who took multiple busses to get to Gauyabo to see me. We took a cab ride down the crazy dirt road that led back to town, made a quick pit stop at a coffee plantation to check it out, and then a bus to San Jose where the race organization had a hotel for all the racers who were flying home on Sunday morning.
Aquaires Plantation
All this time I tried to continue to drink as much water as possible, but I still didn’t really understand the severity of my condition, or the fact that I should be in the ER, not moving around. My limbs were all in tact, my body still sort of functioning, and being a bike racer, so used to soreness, pain, pushing through, I thought it was just the leftover feeling from the ordeal, just an uncomfortable reality I had to cope with for a day or two. I resorted to the mentality that I needed to suck it up and not be a wimp. This is probably the mentality that got me in this mess, the fact that I am so stubborn and capable of tolerating so much pain, that I’ve trained my mind to compartmentalize it and ignore it rather than actually listening to my body. That I’m afraid of looking weak, or asking for help, so I just keep going, certain that I can handle it. It’s a great skillset to have if you want to race 100 mile mountain bike races. A terrible mindset when things go wrong. To be honest I’m surprised now that I haven’t gotten Rhabdo before, when I look back on past bike riding endeavors where I stubbornly committed to more than I could handle. My ego tells me I have to go big, to persevere. I don’t listen to the real, physical signs that I need to stop.

Eating a fun foreign to me fruit on the plane. 
The flight home was another exercise in sheer will power. I refused to let Brendan fly down and help me (for all the reasons listed above), which, looking back was ridiculous. I collected my bike bag and luggage alone at LAX, pushed it all through Immigration and Customs, made my way slowly to the curb to get picked up.

And on Monday morning, because I am an idiot, I went to school and taught a full day of classes before heading to urgent care to get more blood work and talk to a doctor. I got a call from the doctor at 6pm to inform me that my CK was 9,000 and AST/ALT still alarmingly high. Unfortunately she gave me the ‘option’ of continuing to drown myself with water, although she recommended I go to the ER, so you know I choose the ‘suck it up’ option of drinking at home and going to school the next day. A combination of not wanting to inconvenience Brendan, not wanting to spend the money or waste the time going to the ER and REALLY not wanting to miss more school, all resulted in the decision to stay home and drink water to ‘cure’ myself. A week later, after reading case studies about Rhabdo and talking to a lot of people about it, I understand that the levels of protein in my liver were insanely high, that I absolutely should have been in the ER the second I got home, and that I am very very lucky to have recovered despite my stubbornness and aversion to medical care. It validated that Monday was infact unbearably painful (so much so that I basically sat on the edge of my desk for the last two periods of the day because standing and walking, oye vey. This isn’t the first time I have been stubborn and convinced myself to tolerate unreasonable amounts of pain to learn in retrospect that It was in fact un-necessary (I could have taken short term disability, or just a regular sick day…), and it most likely wont be the last. But this leads to the worst part of this ordeal, the thoughts in my mind resulting from this catastrophe, which I will save for yet ONE MORE post about La Ruta and Rhabdo.     
Flowers from my sweet co-worker Alexis.
The best part of all of this drama was reading all the kind comments on social media following the whole ordeal, so many people shared kind thoughts and words of encouragement, making it so much easier to cope with the pain of the initial recovery, and frustration of being off my bike for so long.
And of course I am acutely aware every day of how fortunate I am in the grand scheme of things. With the fires raging in Northern California, and with so many people finding themselves without a home this Thanksgiving, I am grateful every day for my health, and home, and the wonderful people who make my life so beautiful and fun. Thanks everyone for the support and love. I hope through this I can learn to be a better person through all of you.

Friday, November 16, 2018

La Ruta Chapter 2: El Hospital

On Thursday night I went to bed with a bottle of electrolytes on the pillow next to me. The pain in my legs (which seized my quads, hamstrings and calves immediately following my massage that afternoon) prevented me from sleeping much, as did the frequent times I needed to pee from trying as best I could to hydrate all evening. Early on in the evening I noticed my pee was reddish brown.
I've seen the movie '24 Hours Solo', I knew in the back of my mind this wasn't good. 

At breakfast Friday morning multiple people re-assured me that my legs would come around once we started. I wasn't really sure what to do, but as I was winning (by 29 minutes) everyone just encouraged me to take it easy and complete the stage, then ride hard on Saturday in the last stage to seal the win. I boarded the bus to the start feeling uneasy. 

Stage 2 took riders straight up a volcano, and then back down the other side, a roughly 23 mile climb up 8,000ish ft followed by a 22 mile descent. It was supposed to be easier than day 1, and everyone reminded me this over and over. You'll be ok, it's easier. 

When we arrived at the start, getting off the bus was impossible without the use of my arms to lower myself to the ground, and standing at the start line, straddling my bike I wondered how I would get ON and start moving forward on my own. somehow I was able to get enough momentum to move off the line, and then I poured everything I had into pushing the pedals. I told myself that pain is just a sensation in the mind, I hoped that it was true that my legs would start to feel ok after warming up. I pushed myself to stay with Lance and his group, and eventually, since I couldn't see the second woman, I eased off to let her catch me. When she did I rode on her wheel for a long time. Having expected it to feel easy I got worried when I started struggling to keep up. 

Photo from a spectator
I did all the things ultra endurance racers do to cope with mental challenges, I split the climb into chunks in my mind, watched the feet tick by on my Garmin, found landmarks to focus on, told myself that I liked it, and tried to enjoy the pain. But at some point it became too much, I dropped off the wheel of the woman I was following and went into survival mode, hoping the buffer I had from day one would be enough to maintain the leaders jersey.

Every time there was a descent (there were a few fun, fast ripping breaks in the climb) I struggled to support my weight with my knees bent, meaning I could only ride either seated or with my legs locked. If you've ever ridden a bike down a hill you know that descending with locked knees is not fast, and seated is even slower. This was incredibly frustrating as the descents are where I usually increase my advantage in long distance races. I started to dread the 23 mile long descent that was to follow our ascent of the volcano. 

When I got to the first aid station, some 4,000ft up the volcano, I stopped to talk to the CTS guys (about the brown pee and the pain) but they didn't speak enough English to understand, so I took a bottle and pushed on. Soon after, close to tears, the route passed by an elementary school where something like 300 little kids stood at the fence yelling 'Si Se Puede!" 'I hope so' was all I could think. 

By the time I had climbed 5,000 of the 8,000ish total feet of the day I knew I needed to stop. I was just looking for someone who spoke English so I could have a chat and determine if I was making a terrible decision by continuing on. Fortunately for me at the 5k from the top sign I spotted a group of women from the US who were there with a large group of friends some racing and some supporting! I slowly pulled over and broke down with the emotion of potentially dropping out of the race. It's really hard to describe the feeling of knowing you need to stop when you are winning. Of making that judgment call that this is the point when your health is at risk, that winning is less important than stopping to potentially mitigate damage. And on top of all of this, knowing you've traveled all this way for the last race of the year, the biggest race of your season... and this means you will go home empty handed, of all the people who I wanted to deliver this win to like my coach, Felt, and Bonk Breaker. I've never dropped out of a race before, I've never needed to in 5+ years of racing bikes. It was a crushing feeling.  

Emotionally I explained what was happening and Heather and her nice friends listened, texted Taryn, gave me a coke, and helped me sit on the side of a ditch (since I couldn't sit on the ground, too painful). Eventually it was decided that I should NOT continue on, and long story short, we ended up at the hospital in Cartago thanks to translating help from Tatiana. After a brief wait in the crazy crowded waiting room I was taken back, blood was drawn and I was hooked up to an IV of fluid, the IV I had wanted so badly the day before. When my blood work came back it was clear that there was a dangerous amount of protein in my liver, and three of the things the tests measured were alarming (CK 3000, AST and ALT both pretty high). By this point I had told Tatiana it was ok if she left. I felt bad keeping a complete stranger in the hospital with me, and she had friends and a life to live outside. The bad thing though was this left me alone, in a hospital where 99% of the staff only spoke Spanish, with a dying cell phone, unsure of how long I was going to be there. 

I sent out a pathetic tweet, emailed everyone I could think of to help me get my things (since all I had was bike shorts, a rain jacket and a sports bra, no shirt, no passport, no money...) and prayed the IV fluids would fix everything so I could get out of there ASAP. 

Problem is, my liver function was crazy messed up, and nothing passes slower than time spent watching fluids drip through an IV bag. 

The hospital was small, and it was most likely short on resources. I stayed in the ER, on a bed surrounded by all the other ER patients the whole time I was there. I was 'forced' (I mean I guess I could have tried to hold my pee) to use a bedpan, a first for me, and was informed that there was no water for me to drink when I told a nurse I was thirsty (I guess there was water but no cups or bottles). I passed a lot of the time trying to conserve cell phone battery in case of emergency, which meant not communicating with the outside world. As a result I felt incredibly lonely. Sorrow about not getting to finish the race, loneliness, regret (of having gone out too hard on day 1), as well as frustration and anger washed over me in waves. A steady stream of tears ran down my face for the entire 8 hour ordeal, and as much as I wanted to 'be strong' and stay positive, nothing could block the feeling of hopelessness that I didn't even have money to pay for a cab if I COULD or NEEDED to leave. I knew in the logical part of my brain that back home Brendan loved me, that Taryn and my family and even my students cared about me, but it was hard to deal with the immediate feeling that no one in Costa Rica (even the NUE director who had brought all us NUE winners down there) cared enough to visit or help transfer me to a closer or better hospital. The day before dozens of people had been yelling 'Championa' at me, and now I was alone, unable to speak the language in a ragged hospital, not sure how long I would be there, what liver damage meant, or what I would do when it came time to leave. 

Shortly before my phone died Lance texted me 'do you need anything?' I wish I had said yes, an apple empanada, a ride to the hotel, a bottle of water, a friend. The loneliness was worse than the illness. 

There was a dr. on site who spoke English, he wasn't on duty, just filling out paperwork, but he came and explained to me what he thought was wrong, that I needed three more bags of fluid before more blood tests might show improvement. The IV bags continued their glacial dripping. hours passed. I tried to sleep. 

Eventually, around 6:30pm, the La Ruta organizers sent a young man to deliver my Tupperware of clothes and help me get a cab to the hotel. The doctor didn't want me to leave, but I couldn't handle the idea of spending the night in the hospital, after hearing a man get his leg amputated with little pain meds (in the not sound proof trauma room), and seeing a man die in the bed across from me, and feeling the weight of the loneliness for all that time. 

Getting out of the hospital bed was a feat of sheer will, and hobbling to the cab, while avoiding the NP who disapproved of me leaving, alarmingly painful, but I told myself it was because I had just been sedentary for so long (although I learned later that it was a result of my body continuing to metabolize muscle). 

Lots of misunderstanding along with my unhappiness/loneliness resulted in the decision to leave the hospital. I know now it was the wrong choice, but in the moment I just felt like I needed to get out of there. I'll conclude this ridiculously long recount over the weekend, but this is the bulk of the story, basically Friday sucked. 

TLDR: Larissa rode too hard Thursday, continued to race Friday, ended up in the hospital with Rhabdo, was lonely, 

Monday, November 12, 2018

La Ruta Chapter 1: Championa

From Jaco beach on Wednesday afternoon. 
It wasn’t until this weekend, reading case studies sent to me by a friend in the medical profession, that the seriousness of Rhabdo really sunk in. A week after spending 8+ hours in a Costa Rican hospital before checking myself out my liver and function is returning to normal, and I’m starting to feel like myself again, sorta. I wont be able to ride a bike for a while, and I get exhausted from walking the dog for 20 minutes, but I can reach down and touch the ground, sit with my legs crossed, and do a myriad of other simple things that were unreasonably painful a few days ago.

I don’t think I ever really learned how to be concise, in writing or speaking, and since this was kinda a big life event for me in which I want to remember all the details, I’m going to break this recap into two parts. Here is chapter 1. 

La Ruta is a three-day stage race across the country of Costa Rica. Racers begin on the sands of Jaco Beach, on the Pacific Ocean and traverse jungle, volcanos, rural villages and cities to reach Limon, a beach town on the Atlantic side. The race organizers transport your belongings to hotels every night, and feed you/wash your bike, leaving racers with little to worry about each day besides a 3am wake up call, and weather you have the legs to complete the roughly 130 mile mountain bike expedition.

My journey began with a head cold that resurfaced Monday, the day before I departed for Costa Rica, a full day of teaching followed by a red-eye flight, and a lost bike en route to cap it all off. Standing in the airport at baggage claim, waiting for the super nice Copa agent to make some calls about the location of my bike, I almost wanted to scrap the race and lay on the beach all week. Fortunately my bike just choose a later flight from my connection in Panama to San Jose, so after some stress and a few Costa Rican Red Bulls (what the locals told me they call espresso) I was reunited with my Edict and we were on our way to Jaco. On the drive I saw two red Macaws in the sky and a murder of crocodiles on the banks of a river we crossed.  I went to bed at 7pm and had no trouble falling asleep, too tired to be nervous or scared of what lay ahead.

Thursday morning began with a lavish breakfast buffet at our hotel.  My ears were still plugged from the cold and the flight, so it felt like I was dreaming as I forced myself to eat potatoes, plantains and fruit, kitted up, and headed out to the beach. Fortunately for me the other ladies racing Elite were super nice and we chatted in the dark on the start line about how soft the sand was, how one woman had done the race 15 times, and about what to expect over the next three days. Because of work I didn’t get much of a chance to research the course, to ask veterans of the race for advice, to think of a specific strategy. I basically assumed I would ride at a pace that felt good, I had no expectations because of the head cold and lack of experience/preparation.
Already sweating, before the sun was up Thursday morning. 
The race start was chaotic, with everyone running down the beach (the sand was WAY too soft to ride) chased by a military style helicopter. And then we all stopped just out of town for the ‘second start’, something about helicopter footage I guess. Everyone was trying to take pictures with Lance and the woman on a Felt beside me warned to ‘pace yourself, the climb is long and steep’. I took her advice (at least I thought I did) and when we hit the waterfall marking the start of the climb I rode my own pace, surprised to be putting out decent power numbers and letting that familiar ‘I’m leading the race, but surely second place is right behind me’ stress settle in. Everything just seemed to come together and I was racing bikes, gloriously charging up a massive hill on the heels of the elite men, doing the thing I love the most.

The first portion of day 1 was uneventful, a steep 2,200ft fire road climb followed by a series of short steep climbs and descents. At some point I found myself with Brad and a few local dudes and we had a blast bombing the descents and charging the climbs, unaware of the future consequences of my reckless enthusiasm.

At some point we entered the densely forested jungle in Carara, and our progress was slowed by frequent stretches of thick, deep mud, which forced us off our bikes. Progress slowed so much that I stopped worrying about winning the stage, and focused on steady forward progress. Darin Maxwell’s mantra ‘Every good ride has a hike a bike’ was making me smile, as was the ridiculousness of the situation. The footprints of riders ahead of us were almost knee deep, and I tripped and slid down each descent, covering myself in red, slimy mud. Every time I looked ahead, a line of dudes pushing their bikes up each climb deterred me from thinking about miles covered or time remaining, and instead reminded me to focus on conquering each little climb, each small challenge. Clean my bike in a river, push it up a hill, slide down, repeat.

I was shocked at one point to hear Lance behind me, specifically taunting me for potentially letting ‘these old men beat…’ me. Every time I stopped to clean mud from my bike he would catch me, and then there would be a rideable climb and I would drop him and his entourage, it was ridiculous.
Just about the point when we all felt like the mud was getting out of hand, when our nerves were shot and we no longer though it was funny, a group of supporters in a river crossing informed us the mud was over. They lent me a brush to aid in cleaning my bike, so I stopped once more to free up the crown of my fork, wipe clay off my rims and quickly scrub my drive train.

Some time later I was at the aid station, grabbing a bottle from the CTS crew, and the next thing I remember I was climbing this road that seemed impossibly steep. At this point Brad had stopped to fix his twenty-seventh mechanical, and my only companion was a young looking kid who warned me that I needed to slow down, that this was a long, long climb. I felt good, but heeded his warning, although the steepness of the climb meant I only had one option, push hard or fall over.
The kid was right about that climb, not only was it crazy steep (think 13+ % for a mile or more) but my blissful ignorance about the route meant I got to enjoy every second of the crazy long thing, wondering how much longer it could go on.

I felt fine, I was pushing the pedals, I was hopeful about the top being near, passing people who choose the shorter adventure route, laughing through slippery rock gardens and rushing river crossings… and then suddenly everything went to shit. Like the flip of a switch I went from feeling ok, hopeful even about the end being near, to an almost complete shut down, legs aching, delusional, tired, hopeless, lost my mind style shut down. I begged volunteers and spectators to tell me this was the top at each bend in the road, I told them I couldn’t do it, I started weaving across the road. And then when the steep one lane road climb turned onto a slightly flatter two lone road, I assumed we had reached the top, and the possibility of finishing the stage started to seem more possible. Shortly after the false feeling of relief washed over me though, I found myself continuing to climb. I resumed begging the spectators to let me go downhill, or let me drop out of the race, and each time they assured me I was really close to the top. My inability to ride in a straight line started to get dangerous, as now there was two way traffic on the road, and a ditch to my right that I kept falling in. I became certain that I was in Brazil, racing Ironbiker, and that the left hand turn I was supposed to take had already passed. I argued with the spectators now, and in the stretches between people I wondered where I was, and why I wasn’t at school teaching. What day was it? Why was I riding a bike? How soon until second place caught me and I could give up?

Eventually it all became too much, my body was shutting down and I knew it was no longer worth it to keep pushing. I stopped in the ditch and stood on the side of the road, not really sure what I should do since I didn’t know where I was and I don’t really speak Spanish. A white pick up truck rolled up a minute or two later, and the crew inside hopped out and helped me sit on the tailgate. They fed me Gatorade and water, and coaxed me back on my bike. The true top was only 500m ahead they promised. I was winning by a large margin, all I had to do was bring it in.

Thinking the finish was at the bottom of the descent in front of me I got back on my bike, and slowly made my way to the turn, where I was pleased to drop into the steepest road descent I’ve ever ridden. The road plummeted down the side of the mountain, dropping more than 2,000ft in elevation in 4 miles. At times the curves in the road were almost slalom like, twisting down into town at what felt like breakneck speeds.

The next chunk of time is a blur, I remember crossing a bridge over an incredibly beautiful river, and then turning uphill, being kinda pissed that we weren’t at the finish yet. I remember the white truck following me up the climb, trying to push, and having to resort to survival mode again. I remember drinking baggies full of Gatorade from random dudes on the side of the road, and asking for water on my espalda from the guy with an icy bottle. The white pickup people told me there was a gradual 2 mile climb to the finish, so I focused on turning the pedals over, smooth and steady. Somehow my brain was still ahead of my body though, because the train really came off the rails here. I caught a woman doing the adventure route and decided to ride with her. I couldn’t hold my left arm straight anymore. I was leaning to the left, and couldn’t steer straight as a result. I started falling over, for no reason at all, on a smooth, gently uphill fire road. I would just tip over. One of the times I fell I twisted my ankle badly, and sat on the ground for a minute, not really sure what was going on. The pick up people helped me up, and one of the guys from the truck ran along side me, gently leaning me upright every time I tipped to the left. The official in the quad ahead of me was upset. He didn’t like that I was unable to ride by myself, but the pick up people assured him I could do it. I was no longer in control of my body, just doing what I was told as best I could. I crept towards the finish. As soon as the course turned into a little pump track/skills park to the finish I was on my own, crashed one more time into a little log ride on the ground, and rode under the finish banner, still slumped over despite my best effort to hold myself upright on my bike. 
Hunched to the left since my left arm wont stay straight. 

All along the route people had yelled 'Championa', 'fuerte, championa' at me, and the finish was no different. It was hard to enjoy the glory of winning the stage though, all I wanted was to get help from the EMTs. 

I immediately asked for an IV of fluid right at the finish (after struggling to get off my bike), joked about what a disaster I was, and was laid on a stretcher to have my vitals checked. After a short analysis of my condition the EMTs decided I didn’t need an IV. I begged and begged for one, waited a few minutes and begged again. Each time they told me no. After 5 years of racing bikes, 2 of which being ultra endurance, I KNEW I needed IV fluids, that I couldn’t possibly drink enough to fix what was wrong, but didn’t know what to do as they were adamant that I didn’t need it.

And that’s probably where the start of my medical problems took a turn from bad to dangerous. It’s also where I’m going to stop for today 😊 haha an unintentional cliff hanger, but this is too long already. Will wrap up my second and final day of La Ruta de los Conquistadors in a few days.