A person riding a bike.

The Big Ride With Ankylosing Spondylitis

Last updated: November 2022

I did “the big ride of the season,” at least for me. It is the big bicycle ride in downtown Indianapolis; it is called the Indy N.I.T.E. Ride. It started at 11:00 PM at the City Market in Downtown Indianapolis. The route traveled twenty-plus miles and looped around the Indiana University Medical Center campus, NewFields at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Major Taylor Velodrome, the Fountain Square neighborhood, and the campus of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. It ends where it started at the City Market, where they gave the survivors (and anyone else who walked up) cold pizza.

Getting ready

A person with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) cannot just get on a bicycle and ride 20 miles when they are 65, even when they are 17 (I do not know). But I knew I had to get things set exactly right to do my little bicycle adventure. Fortunately, I had a fellow rider this year; my son Patrick decided to take the plunge and ride with me. Patrick is 24 years younger, so I knew I had to ramp up.

I started planning for this ride last year after the cancellation due to COVID. My checklist began with a check-in to see how my AS was doing. The first thing I did was subtly shift my infusion schedule. Since I am at the maximum dose of my biologic, I decided to stretch each infusion a week or so to get it pushed into July. The event was moved from June to August, but the good news is that my next infusion was scheduled for August 31, so I was in decent shape.

Then I had to do some training. It turns out I did not do enough. Sheryl and I walk between 1.5 and 3 miles each day year-round, so I thought my legs were in decent shape. They might be, but as I started ramping up training for the bicycle event, I could tell I was struggling. I typically rode between 7 and 9 miles daily for two weeks while keeping up the walking schedule. I should have started earlier to avoid hip and back pain while not riding.

Even though I have been an avid walker for over 3 years, I was out of bicycle shape. So, I had to be careful not to push too hard too fast and cause a physical issue that might sideline my efforts. Of particular importance to me were my feet. I had to be careful not to aggravate my Achilles tendon and create an issue with enthesitis that might limit my riding.

Then, of course, it happened.

Yes, five days before the event, I had a wreck on my bicycle. It was a dumb mistake. After riding a bike for 58 years, they are all dumb mistakes. I had just started on my bicycle and realized I had not placed my insulin pump into exercise mode. So, I slipped it out of my jersey pocket and started placing my pump in alternate exercise mode. I did this while riding slowly but still riding.

Stopping while holding an insulin pump worth several thousand dollars, near curved curbs, and going too slow is bad. I went over like a medium-height sycamore chopped down by a well-meaning boy scout. (I was an Eagle Scout, so I may have had some prior experience, just saying).

At any rate, I found myself flat on my side, bleeding, and my foot hurting. I did the proper thing, of course, I rubbed dirt on my foot and bleeding legs and arm (I told you I was an Eagle Scout), and I got up with the idea I was going to finish my ride.

Sheryl was in the area, and she does not believe in the dirt cure, so I went home, got bandaged, and took stock of my foot. As a doctor, of sorts (not the medical mind you) I declared myself ready to ride and despite Sheryl’s reservations, I went back outside and continued my ride.

Day of N.I.T.E. Ride

We had a blast. I struggled along with other riders in miles 7-8 which was all uphill. At the halfway mark, my blood sugar was dropping but not critical, so I took in carbohydrates, and despite our son’s reservations, we kept going. Fortunately, my blood sugar was good the rest of the way.

We finished around 1:20 AM a little behind what we might have, had I not taken a break at the top of the mile 7-8 hill and an extended break at mid-point for blood sugar. Our son reminded me that he could have done it sooner if I had been able to keep up. I reminded him who had the keys and who taught him to ride a bicycle. So, we had a good laugh.

I loved our adventure, and I cannot wait until next year. What have been your summer adventures? I hope they are big.

Postscript

Five days after the event, I was riding my bicycle and felt a pop in my foot. A simple down pedal stroke. No big deal, but oh, it hurt. My foot started to swell, and I limped home on my bicycle; and I have been limping ever since. I am soon scheduled to see a real doctor (Sheryl reminds me I am not that kind), and we will see if I hurt something or if it is just an overuse injury. No matter, I am planning my return to the Indy N. I.T.E. ride next year. Hey, I have an entire year. I just need a good dirt pile.

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