June 20, 2011 9:45p.m. EST
Ever get back from a few hours on your bike and feel a little neck stiffness? The reasons are simple, heads are heavy and when in a cycling position, especially when down on the aero-bars, the neck muscles are working overtime as they support the head. Hold that position for…oh…twenty or more hours a day and chances are high that those neck muscles will rebel and abandon their post. That very fate struck RAAM pioneer Michael Shermer in one of the first races back in the 80’s. And this exquisite little inconvenience will forever more be known as “Shermer’s Neck,” Not surprisingly, Michael is not particularly fond of this legacy. But that’s another story for a future blog.
Yesterday back in Kansas the Mighty RAAM Media 1 van happened upon third place RAAM male solo Alberto Blanco, wearing a cobbled-together head support device. His crew waved us off then—he’d just taken a feed and the wind was howling so they were understandably too busy for an interview. But this morning we found him again and things were going much better. “The neck, once it goes, it goes,” he said as we pulled alongside him. Asked if he’d lost much time to his condition, he answered, “It took us two days to come up with the brace and get it right. But now its working and I feel good, except for the neck.” Indeed. He’s keeping a great pace, has pulled away from 4th place Gerhard Gulewicz, and his average speed between the last several time stations are right up there with the rest of the top four.
“He started having neck issues on Wolf Creek Pass,” his crew chief, Dr. Robert Hernandez revealed, “He started feeling it on the descent. We switched to a lighter helmet and that helped. The following day from La Veta to Trinidad we started having some issues there.” Hernandez commented on the cause, “He was probably too aggressive on the position,” referring to Blanco’s standard road racer handlebar height—most RAAM racers put their bars a bit higher. “And for him this kind of mileage is uncharted territory,” Dr. Hernandez continued, “It’s hard to duplicate this type of problem in training. This is the first time he’s ever gone over 48 hours. In training we’ve ridden 24 hours. But really consistently like this? No.”
His support device is a real Rube Goldberg affair, made up of a back-pack frame and other bits that the crew had at hand. “Yeah, it’s funny,” Dr. Hernandez said. “The metal thing that is supporting his head on the top, that’s actually one of our wheel holders from the top of our car that we bent into that shape. We lost about four or five hours on stops getting this neck thing right.” According to Dr. Hernandez Shermer’s Neck is resistant to traditional means of relief, “Ice, massage, anti-inflammatories—Shermer’s Neck doesn’t respond to any of that. Theses muscles have just given out. Give him 7 to 10 days of rest after the race and the muscles will recover.”
Brace or not, keeping this kind of pace for the remaining miles is going to hurt. But Dr. Hernandez is confident in Blanco, “Mentally, he’s a bull. He’s just as strong mentally as anyone in the race. And his mental outlook is good. He’s cracking jokes, being himself. He’ll be fine. We just have to minimize the off-bike time.”
Good luck Alberto!