Crust Theory.

I have this highly scientific theory about returning from injury.
Based on absolutely no research, I now have determined that any time you spend significant time not exercising due to laziness, illness, or injury, crust starts forming on your muscles. This crust prevents them from performing like they did before the fitness break, eventually constraining them to the point they do not function properly anymore. The only way to chip this crust off and uncover the muscles is by getting out there and exercising. 
You can ride a lot of miles at a normal pace, gradually wearing away the barnacles with each pedal rotation. This is pretty effective and the risk of injury is low, but it takes a long time and doesn't address the higher-end power requirements.  
You can start a structured training plan, complete with intervals of all sorts of durations and intensities. Instead of a gradual wearing away of the crust, it's more like chipping away at it with a hammer and chisel. This sucks quite a bit more than just riding around, but it allows a faster return to some sort of performance. The problem is, it require discipline and I don't have time for that crap.
The final option is just to jump in a race and beat your head up against a wall trying to hang on. This is like ripping a scab off in one deft motion. It hurts a lot and isn't the smartest idea, but it clears off the muscles pretty darn quick. If you're lucky, the stuff underneath is sufficiently healed and ready to play. If you're not, you've just hosed your fitness for an even longer time.
I went with the last option.
I knew where the baseline was from the first Moose Run time trial I did this year. The bar was set pretty low. Each day of the Spring Stage Race showed small improvements, but was still far off where I should have been for this time of year. However, the more I raced, the more crust broke off, the harder I could push...
On Tuesday I did the Moose Run time trial again to get another reading. Same course, although the wind was somewhat more favorable on the return trip. It did swirl around a bit on the outbound leg, but nothing excessive. It was 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the last time and sunny, which was nice.
I didn't warm up much, spinning easy and then doing a series of sprints to get the blood flowing. I didn't go in with any expectations other than it was going to suck for a while and then I was going to cross the finish line. I mentioned to some of the other guys in the field that I was just going to sit in and hope for a bunch sprint.
I couldn't find a rhythm for most of the race. Tom Peichel (with his dead Di2 battery) and then Brendan McKee blew by my early on, because they actually generate power. I started picking off the riders in front of me one by one, which distracted me somewhat from the suck. I'd hit a landmark and remind myself how much longer until I could stop this stupidity. Every know point was that much closer to that goal. Kinda a crappy way to think about something I signed up and paid for, but this was all about speedy crust removal, not fun.
I crossed the line with a pretty decent time (for me). A couple years ago I would have been over the moon for a time like that. I was within 10 seconds of a PR for the course. I was third in my class, light years behind the first two but with a decent margin to the rest- and some of those guys crushed me last time around. More importantly, I was slightly more than a minute faster than on my last try, with a higher average power.
Weather probably was a factor to a degree, although it looks like some people had issues in the wind. It really doesn't matter, because if nothing else this is a mental boost I've been needing. That positive outlook is crucial to burying yourself and embracing the suck. The more suck I embrace, the less crust.
I'm not back, but I'm moving forward.


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