The many stages of injury
If you play any kind of sport, you take your chances with injury and cycling is no exception. The stuff that I do, I almost expect that at some point I’m going to hurt myself – it’s just kind of inevitable that at some point I’ll crash. Despite appearances, I’m actually not a reckless person at all – in fact sometimes I wish I was less cautious – so I’m careful to balance pushing myself with staying safe. But sometimes stuff happens, eh?!
I try not to think about it too much, but I’m always aware of the possible outcomes of what I’m doing, whether I’m riding or racing road, track or mountain bikes. What I’ve chosen not to do is make calculations based on what might or might not happen.
Take this example: I decided to enter a mountain bike race fairly close to the date of the Red Hook Crit fixed gear race in Brooklyn, one of a series that I’ve been gearing my training towards over the last 8 months or so. In the very depths of my mind was an awareness of the fact that a crash at that particular race would mean no Red Hook Crit, but I chose to race regardless because there’s always something important or exciting coming up. The way I see it, if I always skip events because of what might happen, I’ll miss out on more stuff than I would through injury.
Unfortunately, a crash at that very mountain bike race did put me out of action, and that was around four weeks ago. Despite a medic at the event telling me that I hadn’t broken any bones in my hand (clearly his X-Ray specs were broken!), I cracked a bone in my thumb into three pieces. I was out for six weeks and naturally, rather unhappy about it.
What followed was a rollercoaster of emotions, one I’m still riding for the next couple of weeks!
It began with panic. I’d been focused on training for months (with a few breaks for various reasons) and the thought of not doing it was pretty alarming for two reasons – firstly, as a freelancer, I’d come to enjoy the structure the training gives me through the week and I kind of planned the rest of the schedule around it so without the training, I felt unanchored and aimless. But the bulk of my panic came from the thought of losing all the gains I’d made through training – I’d been working hard to get stronger and faster and didn’t want to go back to square one.
My panic was accompanied by refusal; a refusal to be stopped by this injury. The first few days, I went to the gym with a cast on up to my elbow, hopped on the turbo trainer and created rivers of sweat that poured into it (ew!) and dug out my dusty running shoes. No way was I going to let some broken bones stop me from training, even if I couldn’t ride my bike. I was grumpy as hell, missing the good endorphins that come from cycling – I didn’t seem to get the same ‘fix’ from the gym and the turbo.
The furious workouts (and temper!) lasted about ten days, and then came acceptance, the next step. I realised that in some ways, rather than helping myself I was kind of beating myself up. What I actually needed, way more than to stay on top of my training was to be nice to myself, to show myself a little kindness and compassion. Being injured sucks and turbo training in a cast and doing one-handed gym work isn’t exactly fun and doesn’t make you feel any better about the situation. What I really needed was to treat myself like a good friend who needs a hug, rather than some kind of army cadet. I needed cake, wine, movie marathons, books, bubble baths, family, seaside strolls, pubs, friends, a hair cut, BBQs, cats, picnics, lie-ins and a bit of a break. I gave myself all of those and before long, relaxed into the whole idea of relaxing.
After a couple of enjoyable weeks, now I’m at the next stage. The end of my injury is in sight so I’m trying to motivate myself to get back into my former routine. The doctor told me not to use my thumb for six weeks, which I’m sticking to, so I still can’t ride properly. Whilst I was in New York for Red Hook Crit, I did cycle a little bit – possible because the city is flat, I rode incredible slowly and carefully and I didn’t use my thumb to hold the handlebars – but now I’m back in hilly Devon I’m not cycling again.
So here’s where am I now. This week, I went back to the gym after my short break and despite being worried that I’d find everything really difficult, I actually think the break has done me some good. Well rested and recovered, rather than feeling unfit I actually feel just about the same as I did before and I’m able to do the same number of reps with same number of weights as before the crash. There are a few exercises I can’t do because of my injury, but other than that, all good.
But it’s not all good; here’s the thing. What’s really worrying me, weirdly, is getting back on my bike. I felt like I was in a really good place with my training and now I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up with the rides/groups/races that I was only just able to keep up with before – I’d worked hard to build my power and speed up over many months and I’m scared that it will all be gone and then I’ll get super bummed out. So rather than looking forward to riding again, it’s the opposite. Which is stupid, because I love cycling.
I guess what I need to do is take some of my own advice and just treat myself kindly – get back on the bike, enjoy and do my best. Fingers crossed I’ll be back to racing in no time. I’m wondering whether to just throw myself in at the deep end, climb straight back on and enter some races or whether I should give myself a few weeks training before I potentially demoralise myself. What do you think?