From Ex Fix to FKT Attempt:
Part 2 The Long Road
In 2018, Kait Boyle won the World Championship in 24-hour Mountain Biking.
Two months later, she was in a car wreck, that resulted in a fractured sacrum, pelvis, fibula and a ruptured bladder. She was in a wheelchair for 3 months, and had a goal of returning to elite mountain biking, specifically with working towards setting a world record via Kokopelli Time Trial Prep.
This is Part 2 of her journey with Dr. Kelly of Pelvic Floored.
If you haven’t already done so, please read blog post 1 about Kait’s journey from ICU to wheelchair to crutches.
This post is about progressing Kait from being cleared to pedal outside, to racing her mountain bike at an elite level again. It’s a journey that spanned 20 months.
We begin in the spring of 2019. Kait has spent 3 months spinning on an indoor trainer. 3 weeks ago, Kait tossed me her cane, and today, Kait lifted her leg over a bike and coasted down the driveway…OUTSIDE, for the first time in over 3 months.
It was her first bike ride outside since shattering her pelvis and living in an external fixator…she said it was one of the best rides of her life.
After facing the possible reality that she may never walk or bike again, let alone return to professional racing, this was a big deal. It signified the beginning (of the middle?) of the process of rebuilding her endurance, strength and power on the bike.
For the initial three months of riding (3-6 months after her accident and surgeries), her body progressed rapidly. Now that her bones were well on their way to healing, her body needed to rebuild the strength and muscular endurance it had lost. Kait began a strength training program to complement her PT. She cross-trained by swimming, hiking and jogging, and steadily progressed the volume and intensity on her bike.
Each week, she saw progress bit-by-bit, while restraining herself from pushing too hard. Despite healed bones, the connective tissue associated with her pelvis and sacrum needed more time to heal and restrengthen. Her biggest fear in the initial months was setting back her progress by asking her body to do too much too soon. Fortunately, I, in my Physical Therapist role, and Kait’s cycling coach, Kurt, were resourceful guides in that process.
About six months into Kait’s recovery, her surgeon had cleared her with no restrictions.
At that point, her body was strong and fit, and she had completed a 300-mile bikepacking trip in 6 days – which proved to her that she was “healed” and back to doing what she loved.
That summer, she toyed with the idea of trying to race, and set challenging race goals, including the thought of perhaps attempting to race the 24-hour World Championships that summer. BUT…while she was healthy and fit by ‘normal human standards’, she was still a ways away from the level needed for elite racing.
The mind and body have a way of steering you toward what you need to do, if you’re willing to listen.
As soon as Kait toyed with the idea of trying to race 24-hour World Championships that summer, her mind and body collapsed in a similar way to what happens at the end of an ultra-endurance race. She just felt so, so tired. After a week of resting and wondering what had happened, she realized the prior 6 months had been the longest and hardest “ultra” she’d ever completed. She had done great things in the past 6 months, but her mind and body needed a break from pushing hard toward goals.
With this realization and the encouragement of Dr. Kelly, Kurt (her cycling coach), and her therapist, Kait used the rest of 2019 (months 6-12 post op) to let her body rebuild, gradually, toward elite racing goals for 2020.
Rather than focus within a training plan, Kait celebrated her recovery and moved with gratitude in the mountains of Idaho and Wyoming. Mountain biking, hiking and running in the mountains became her training and therapy. She continued to strength train, and do light PT exercises to keep improving the imbalances and weaknesses lingering from her injuries. Mostly, though, she let big, fun, and inspiring, days in the mountains facilitate the work of continued physical progress.
By early 2020, Kait was ready to commit to a training plan and work toward race goals.
Then 2020 happened.
Kait’s ‘come-back’ season kicked off in February, 2020, at a 24-hour race in Arizona where she was racing on a duo team. She would race a 16-mile lap, and then her partner would race a lap. They would alternate for 24 hours. Her first lap, she recorded her highest average 1-hour power…ever. The following laps, she slowly faded as her left hip shutdown. By her 6th lap, she felt like she was pedaling with one leg. Her race partner (and cycling coach), suggested to not set her back unnecessarily by continuing to race. She was crushed.
She returned to Idaho and by the time she had recovered enough from the 24-hour race to think about training again, the Covid-19 pandemic and stay-home orders had set in. There was a dull pain in her hip that persisted since the February effort, for which Kait came in to see me for. .
Physical Therapy was Essential (again).
I diagnosed Kait with tendonitis in her hip flexors. This is a common diagnosis when someone does ‘too much, too fast.” While Kait had worked VERY hard in her preparations…her doing her highest average 1-hour power recording, EVER, in that race in February, was just a bit much for her dear hip flexor tendons to handle. We progressed through a variety of interventions to manage the tendonitis, including increased attention to pelvic wand word to the peri-sacral groups, especially those on the left side, that were increasing tension to her hip complex, and contributint to the persistent hip pain.
Had the pandemic not happened, Kait would have likely been motivated to try to rebuild as quickly as possible. But, thankfully, by early summer it was becoming evident the 2020 racing season would be cancelled. The silver lining for Kait was that she suddenly had a whole summer and fall to rebuild again, with a better understanding of how to pace herself, and how to continue to manage pelvic muscle imbalances that were arising only after extreme efforts on the bike.
Once the tendonitis healed, Kait begain rebuilding and training.
Her race goals were reset to focus on 2021, over two years after her accident. However, after how the 24-hour race went, she knew she needed an intermediate goal, a shorter ultra that would challenge her and provide the feedback that she needed, to know how her body would respond to racing an ultra. She decided racing a shorter ultra was an imperative step toward racing a 24-hour or multi-day ultra in 2021.
With races cancelled for the rest of 2020, Kait set her goal to time trial the Kokopelli Trail in the Fall of 2020. Kokopelli Prep was now her primary focus.
The Kokopelli Trail is a 140 mile route traversing the La Sal Mountains, plateaus, canyons and badlands between Moab, UT and Fruita, CO. The route has a long history of time trial efforts, with stout Fastest Known Times (FKTs) held by professional cyclists that range from 11:15 for men and 13:30 for women. Kait had attempted a Kokopelli time trial a few times prior to her car accident, but had never completed the race because of a range of challenges. Kait’s unmet goals on Kokopelli, the ability to go time-trial the route responsibly during the pandemic, and the ideal distance of the effort for her first ultra test all inspired her decision to race it.
By early fall, 2020, Kait had established a deep-enough base of endurance and strength to start focusing on power and endurance at higher intensities. Kait began increasing her training volume and regularly integrated rides that challenged her to set a personal record in the last two years. Kait began regularly hitting PRs in her training that she had not achieved since training for 24-hour World Championships and she even set personal records in training that she had never reached.
Kait’s mind struggled to grapple with this reality – that she might just be stronger than ever.
Her Kokopelli Time Trial Prep was going well, but she still had reservations. To balance the confidence she was incurring from training with the uncertainty of how her body would respond at hour 10 of a race pace, after 13,000’ of climbing, she set two goals for her Kokopelli time trial.
Goal 1: Finish the time trial no matter what*. At this point, she knew her body was strong and resilient. Even if it took her 24 hours, she would be able to finish without injuring herself (*the exception was if she crashed and actually hurt herself, or had a mechanical that made riding on impossible).
Goal 2: Race at FKT record pace to set a new women’s FKT.
With those goals in mind, She wrapped up her training and began resting and preparing for the trip to Utah to time trial the Kokopelli Trail in the first week of November.
To be continued in Blog 3…