AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 29, Number 1, 2020


Ride for Life

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My interest in cycling came out of necessity, secondary to injuries sustained during my youth from competitive downhill skiing and motocross racing. My right knee suffered several injuries, including meniscal and multiple ligamentous injuries requiring treatment on more than one occasion. I was an avid runner during my teens and 20s, but by the time I reached 30 it was clear that long-distance running was not a further routine exercise option; I was facing knee replacement with the degenerative changes that were occurring. 

A close friend, a competitive cyclist, spurred an interest in me and I trainied with him while I was a fellow and completing my PhD during residency. Together with another friend, also a competitive cyclist, we began to undertake yearly training rides. These two are serious are at a competitive level, including Mike Fadich, MD – a family doctor and a masters level champion in Washington State who still competes at national and world cycling competitions. These rides are a combination of holidays designed to spend a week getting some intense exercise, while also sharing some good times. Most of the rides were blitz trips down the Baja peninsula. 

For this adventure, all of us fly to San Diego and spend the next 7.5 days covering the grueling 1,100-mile trip to Cabo San Lucas, carrying minimal gear (one extra set of shorts and a shirt only), covering up to 150 miles per day. We have completed this trip 11 times, the most recent four years ago. It is an incredible road with some major climbs and a great scenic venture with typically perfect weather in the desert climate. The road meanders along the coast, with the Pacific in the north and the Bay of California in the south. The trip distance and time is calculated carefully for each day and stage, since most of the peninsula is sparsely populated and towns are infrequent, which requires making the distance to destination each day to avoid being stranded on the road at night (we do not use a support vehicle). These trips became a ritual, and I have come to know every inch of that road intimately. The week results in about a 10 lb weight loss despite substantial caloric intake and while the first two or three days are killer, by week’s end you feel great! We have also ridden the coast of Chile twice, from the Peruvian border to Patagonia, in the same fashion (although this takes a longer 10 days to cover some 1,500 miles). Some years, we have done more local tours through secondary roads in California and the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. We all look forward to spending time and sweat for these yearly trips.

With more interest in competing and encouragement by these and other friends, I have participated in many local and some national endurance cycling events, such as the LoToJa (Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming – about 200 miles). The highlight of our endurance racing was competing in the Race Across America (RAAM) several years ago. This is a race from Oceanside, Calif. to Baltimore via secondary roads. It is just over 3,000 miles in length and is a continuous 24-hours-a-day endurance event. We crossed the country in six days and 21 hours, averaging close to 19 mph. Despite one of our team members getting blown off the road on his bicycle by the wind in the Rockies (good rider but smaller in size) and losing over 13 hours after being knocked out and requiring a CT scan, we placed well, but lost our lead time with the mishap. Such is the nature of these events. We are planning another attempt at RAAM in the next year or two, albeit in a different age group.

Utah is a remarkable place to live and work, and we are blessed with some fantastic venues for mountain or road biking. The canyons behind my house enable 5,000 foot climbs within a short distance. This makes it ideal access for long spring and summer evening or weekend rides. Together with the altitude (5,000 feet where I live), it provides a training haven for world class endurance athletes of all varieties. 

The benefit of cycling in maintaining fitness is that it is much less stressful on the joints than running and provides great cardiac exercise using major muscle groups. This increases the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and helps burn calories, even during rest time. I also find it much more interesting as the distances traveled are far greater than running for the same wattage output. As I age, I continue to cycle regularly, do my best to keep the rubber side down and try not to hit my head! It is a great mechanism for promoting mental and physical health to help the body withstand the rigors of our busy surgical lives.


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