I have had the exact procedure that you are talking about in October 2004. It is the least invasive surgical procedure one can have at present time. My condition involved the L4-5 disc. Ironically, I am a chiropractor and know a bit about back pain. Because I am flexed forward 8 hours a day and lifting patients I'm constantly putting stress into the lumbar discs and after 18 years of practice the disc became to unstable. Riding was out of the question much less racing.
To answer some of your questions:
1) Yes it does hurt, not as much as a broken bone though. I walked out of the hospital the same day.
2) The reason why you are awake is so the surgeon will know if he hits the nerve root with the needle (not good). There is some danger with this procedure.
3) It took about 8 months before I started playing some sports ie. softball, tennis, golf, and one year before I started riding again.
The most critical thing to remember is that the procedure only helps to decompress the nerve as the disc material heals and contracts thus taking pressure off the nerve. YOU MUST DO CORE STABILIZATION EXERCISES to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles before putting alot of stress back on the disc. If you return to early you will be back probably worse than before and will need a more aggressive procedure!
I hope this helps. Back pain can be very depressing, especially went it is stopping you from doing something like riding but remember you only have one body, so listen to it. Educate yourself on the mechanics of the spine and I promise you will be riding before you know it!