How to recover from crashing
Last week I was co-editing SKODA’s Instagram along with Hannah Barnes and we were fielding questions from followers, the idea being that they could ask us absolutely anything about cycling and win a signed OVO Energy Women’s Tour Queen of the Mountains jersey.
We received lots of great questions that I enjoyed answering along with Hannah, giving my insights, tips and opinion on numerous strands of cycling that included campaigning, training, recovery and psychology.
This week we’re celebrating women’s cycling as the biggest race in the calendar, @thewomenstour, kicks off today in Suffolk. Award-winning cycling blogger @julietelliott and pro cyclist @barnesh93 will be our guest editors for the week and taking us behind the scenes at the race, as well as answering any questions you have on the sport. The best questions will be in with a chance to win one of five signed Queen of the Mountain’s jerseys so get asking! Simply share your question as a comment below to enter. T&Cs apply. Link in bio. #ThisIsOurTime #OVOWT
One of the many questions that I found interesting to answer was about crashing, firstly because I’ve been unfortunate enough to have a couple very recently and secondly because there’s this kind of weird superstition about crashing – that you can’t talk about it because it might make it happen.
Cycling is full of superstitions. When we’re mountain biking, we never say we’re going to do one last run, because it’s felt that’s somehow tempting fate. Only recently someone asked me if I’d ever broken my collarbone and I refused to answer because a denial might be speaking too soon. Silly, right?
Because of that, there’s a lot of stigma around falling off your bike and a real lack of information about what to do if it actually happens. How can we know how to treat road rash if it’s forbidden to mention it? And how should we go about healing mentally if we came off badly and lose our confidence?
When it comes to recovering from a bike crash there’s both the mental and the physical side to consider. Here’s some advice that I’ve picked up along the way.
The Physical Damage
If you’ve just hit the deck, obviously the most important thing to do is check that your bike is ok.
If you’ve had a tumble and it’s the kind you can deal with yourself your priority should be seeing a professional for assessment, whether that’s a trained first aider, race doctor, St. John’s Ambulance or your local Accident and Emergency unit. If you get the all clear, it’s time to manage your road or gravel rash, clean up your wounds and make sure things heal as fast as quickly.
The best thing to do is to wash your graze with plenty of warm, soapy water and if possible, use a soft sponge to get as much dirt out as you can. If you’ve a dressing, now cover it up till you get home.
Once back at your home, add Bicarbonate of Soda to your bath water and have a long soak as this encourages grit to come to the surface. Once you’re out of the bath, dry with something clean, spray with antiseptic (such as this) then apply a Hydrocolloid or blister plaster. These nifty dressings keep your wound clean and moist and speed up healing exponentially. Keep an eye on the dressing (you don’t want to be seeing any gunk) then change every few days.
For more serious injuries follow the advice of your doctor, give yourself time to recover and don’t sweat about losing fitness – it doesn’t happen as quickly as you think and sometimes a good rest actually sees you come back stronger; I know this from experience! Once you’re able, cycling on a smart trainer or Wattbike whilst using Zwift will make you feel so much better; you’ll be missing the endorphins you get from exercise and you’ll stress less if you can get some training done.
The Mental Game
It’s only natural that your confidence can take a dent following a lie down so the most important thing is to recognise that and not give yourself a hard time. A little anxiety is all part of the process but as soon as you’re able, climb back on the bike then allow yourself time to get back up to speed.
The best way to overcome your fear is through repetition and practice – the more times you do something, the less scary it becomes so I’d advise doing it so many times it becomes automatic or downright boring! Ease yourself back into riding or racing, setting yourself easily achievable targets once you feel up to it.
Photo: Jess Morgan
Fear can manifest itself physically so make sure you consciously unclench your fingers and make a point of relaxing your arms otherwise the tension will travel all the way through your bike and make handling twitchy.
Breathing deeply and confidently can really work, as can repeating a mantra or playing a short tune in your head. Repeating ‘I am strong,’ or ‘This is fun’ can focus and calm your mind.
Rationalise your fear
It really helps to break down your fear so that you can rationalize it. Both of my recent crashes happened when other riders moved into me or caused me to move yet afterwards, I found myself feeling scared in case my wheel slipped when I was cornering. It wasn’t rational. I was able to reason with myself that I shouldn’t be scared of cornering, as it was totally unrelated to my crashes and that if I followed the line, speed and trajectory of other rides there’s no reason why my wheel would slip (when theirs didn’t).
Have a little think about how many times you’ve done something (cornered, raced, sprinted, hit a jump) without anything bad happening versus how many times it’s gone wrong. It’s probably hundreds or thousands of times so by the law of averages, it’s unlikely to happen again any time soon.
It’s helpful to think of your brain as having two distinct parts, what I call the rational brain and the saboteur (I think this theory is probably similar to Dr. Steve Peter’s idea of the chimp?). I like to tell the saboteur to shut up and go away, that I’m not going to listen and that I am in control.
Coming back from a crash isn’t always easy but it’s always worth remembering why you love cycling. Don’t let that be taken away from you. Know that part of what thrills you about cycling (if you’re like me) is the high stakes, the difficulty or the skill required and that if it were risk free or easy you probably wouldn’t like it so much!