This post was planned to be a triumphal celebration of another great achievement on the bike. Something of a yearly tradition since 2016. It is not. All the plans were in place, I felt strong, better than for a long time and well prepared for all that the Alps were going to throw at me. Then my own body threw something at me. It was not what I thought it would be.
A Painful Surprise
When the pain hit my right foot, we feared the worst. Stabbing pain around the big toe. Standing up and walking anywhere was….. unpleasant. A call to the casualty department of the local hospital did not inspire confidence with their video phone diagnosis of an ingrown toenail. Take lots of paracetamol and Ibuprofen. Great but that pain….. walking….. the right side of course, always the right side.
Was this MS making it’s big move? The one that we had feared so much?
Well, fortunately not. Very fortunately.
A trip to the doctor revealed gout. Lousy, stupid gout.
Something I associated with Charles Dickens stories, although I have never actually read one so in how in hell’s name would I know? The cause? Nearly everyone on the internet says lifestyle, too much red meat, bad things and sugar. My doctor says genetics. I prefer my doctor’s theory but expect it is somewhere between the two. The amount of gels and sugary drinks I consume whilst cycling went through the roof in this last phase of training. Multiple one-hundred kilometre rides in some, for Holland, pretty sapping heat. Get ready for the heat of the Alps in summer, I thought. Perhaps energy drinks combined with too many steaks on the barbecue? A beer too many?
In the end, a blood test will give more concrete results with heavy medication in the short term so I could be ready for the Alps. ‘Paardenmiddel’ in Dutch, or Horse Remedy, as my doctor called it.
All those plans. I did not want them to go to waste. No-one did, hence the doctor taking the horse approach. The early signs were good and the swelling started to go down. Combine that with hardly moving for four days and the chances increased that I would be on the flight to Geneva, bike in the hold and ready for some heavy riding. Would I be fit enough? Well, I had prepared so much that I would be. Perhaps the enforced rest would be a benefit?
I will never know.
Thursday morning and the pain was still there. Less but enough to give some doubt. Was it really wise to cycle up and down mountains? Not forgetting a day of travel to get there. My dodgy right side also felt weakened and I was dragging my foot just walking around the house. It wasn’t going to happen.
Dealing With Disappointment
So. Did I feel down? Sorry for myself?
Well, YES! of course I f*cking did!
After all of the prep, all of that cycling. No mountains to prepare on so just go for distance, build endurance. I did not blog as much on this year’s challenge as I have in the past. That doesn’t mean it was not important for me. Said less and prepared more. Perhaps too much? All those gels, all that sugar…. Maybe next time I should do what everyone tells me to do, stop at a cafe and have a nice cake or a sandwich.
Live and learn. Especially from the disappointment. I so wanted to be cycling in the open air, clearing my mind at least a little, breathing sparse, fresh air at high altitude. Perhaps the issues in my right leg would complicate things but it is wonderful to try. That act of resistance, something that means so much to me.
My right leg.
How much longer can I do this sort of thing? Regardless of gout, a known quantity, how much will MS let me do? Progressive MS progresses which is not a positive thing. What would be the personal cost of missing such a chance. Will I be able to next year?
That’s when I do get scared, why I am so annoyed that this is f*cking lousy, stupid gout. The challenge that it is taking away from me could be one of the last chances I have. Maybe. That scares me….
No, I can’t allow that. It is time for new plans. New challenges. If I have learnt one thing it is that resistance is not futile, no way. This is the first total failure I have had and it was not caused by MS. MS has tried. The loss of power and sideways fall during Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2018. I completed Tourmalet in 2022 but in a stop-start way that pales in comparison to earlier climbs. Still, heroically, I overcame the challenges and finished the job! Cue celebrations! Congratulations! Joy!
I want those feelings again. So, first step, make sure this doesn’t happen again. Get those blood tests done and discuss the results with my doctor. In the background, restart cycling. Slow, easy and patient, looking at the long game. No long distance rides for now and just one emergency energy bar, stay away from sugar, glucose, fructose, whatever-the-hell-it-is-ose. Gout can be a one-off or a return offender. But it is more predictable than MS. And I have dealt with that for long enough.
Plans, Plans, Plans
So next year will see a mountain. I am motivated because many people I know are asking ‘How did it go in the Alps?’ Questions that are so well meant and a consequence of my inability not to talk about what I had planned to do. I actually think it would have gone well. I was well prepared and had done a lot of saddle time. Perhaps too much. All those gels and energy drinks…..
Forget it. Nothing can be changed now. It is time to look forward, plans for next year. Something that I can get my teeth into, something to get prepare for. I want to feel the good pain of muscles aching that will hopefully come with a hard climb. A positive, exuberant feeling. It is better than numbness, you really have to believe me on that one. I can’t describe it, to be honest. But it feels good.
It is also important to take the positives from this experience.Through all of that training I have learnt thatI can still grind out the kilometres, despite the numb feeling that comes with foot drop. Still go up something, crank through the gears. Not very fast but does anyone really care?
Is it enough to still get me up a mountain? I would like to find out. In the meantime, I think I will find another manner of local self-punishment with the bike that will see me through 2023. Plans, plans, plans…… Better make some!