There are too many factors you have to take into account that you have no control over…The most important factor you can keep in your own hands is yourself. I always placed the greatest emphasis on that. – Eddy Merckx
Last November in an effort to keep residual fitness for the cross season with dwindling daylight I was commuting to work one morning when I went down in traffic resulting in 18 rib fractures, a clavicle broken in three places, a fractured scapula, axiom and chromium as well as a lung bruise. Due to the extent of the injuries (mostly the ribs and the lung) I was detained in the hospital for 5 days spending my Thanksgiving in the hospital.
Before I was released I had to demonstrate the ability to be able to walk, ascend and descend stairs while still having the ribs and clavicle fractured. It was determined that I would need surgery to have a fixator plate inserted to stabilize the clavicle. Because of the ribs needing to heal, surgery to repair the clavicle and inserting the plate had to wait for three weeks requiring another overnight hospital stay.
Some say racing a bike is all about the ability to suffer and the dedication to pursuing a goal. I got the suffering part down during and after the accident and pursuing a goal was the work necessary to rebound from an significant trauma injury and getting back on the bike and to regain the ability to go fast again. Looking back these some 10 months on from the date of my injury I only now realize the extent of my injuries to my body but at the time I was just intensively focused on what is needed day to day to move forward to come back.
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope. – Romans 5:4
One attribute that I think I possess reflecting on all of my past injuries (and they are many!)Is the attitude of never looking back on what has occurred just working on moving forward nor allowing to feel regret for what has happened. Looking back is something I don’t bother with to lament but it is sometimes useful to do to see how far you have come. For me those first few days home and subsequently when I could not move, sleep or perform even the most basic functions without pain or assistance and being totally immobile knowing your fitness is rapidly disappearing was difficult. Luckily my injury happened near the end of cross season. I remember talking to the nurse practitioner at my surgeon’s office proudly stating that despite being immobile I was able to keep at my race weight, to which she replied that no weight gain was the result of loss of muscle mass…ouch…. I was determined despite any pain and discomfort to come back.
As soon as the surgeon said I could get back on a trainer I did so despite being in an arm sling and in pain. As you might know trainer sessions can be long, boring and uncomfortable because of your limited ability to move about on the bike as you would on the road, but in my case I had only three points of contact; the pedals, the saddle and only one arm on the bars, so it got stale even faster, but again I was riding again it now being late January albeit with an arm in a sling. Those first times I only could manage 30 minutes of feeble pedaling but I was doing something! In winter I would normally be doing 1 – 1 ½ hour of power workouts on the computrainer and alternating that with gym work on the other days. By the first Saturday in March I was given permission by my doc to get out on the road. My first day back out on the road I got one whole hour of riding at all of 99 watts!! I rode the next day too the next weekend two days for 1 ½ hours each by April, 2 ½ painful hours as my rhomboids, trapezious, teres minor and major would tighten up and be a source of pain and discomfort for any rides over an 1 ½ hours but hey I was out there as I am a racer and racing is all about suffering right?. By the end of April, 3 ½ hours and riding down to RI. Still not comfortable but found if I worked (feebly) on any climbs by standing with my arms in the drops I could work my shoulder and neck muscles to relieve some of the pain and cramping. Any thoughts of competing this year was out of the question, as usually by March I would have 1k of miles in the log both on the trainer and on the road, but not this year. My goal would be to get base miles in and work my way back to intensity.
Coming back from injury or inactivity is a challenge. You have to view it in that way, being mindful of the process and observing the process with the long view of how you can reshape your body and watch over time as it responds. The body is an infinitely adaptable organism. The process is imperceptible day to day but only when looking back over a longer period can you see where you are and where you came from. If you are like me and impatient it is difficult but if you are also like me comfortable in the discipline of a routine it is the routine done day after day that is the comforting, the feeling of at least doing something each day contributing towards the ultimate goal. Keeping focus daily on the ultimate vision and goal is the driver. I am not there yet, but 10 months ago my body was broken in many places and incapable of any athletic activity. Certainly progress, and certainly thankful.
Now it is fall. I have miles in the books and can look forward to next year competing. Coming back from a serious injury is often about acceptance and focus, acceptance of what has occurred and focus on the next step and only the next step.
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Be safe out there……enjoy the experiment that is being alive.