Welcome back to good times

Somehow I managed to make it back on my bike for the summer. In May my doctors said it would be ok for me to ride a road bike whilst waiting for steroid injections/operations/physio. Not wanting to fully commit to the road life I purchased a cyclocross bike (thanks very much Carb Cycles for helping me choose!) – little did I know this would actually be the beginning of speeding up my recovery.

Being the sort of #rideordie cyclist I am I was out on the bike pretty much every day. However, even riding on the road my arms were taking a beating, they had no strength and constantly felt on the edge of collapse. 7 months of not doing much with your arms to 25 miles a day was perhaps not what the doctor had in mind. This is where baked beans became my friend and not in the post ride, great quick food kind of way. My arms needed to be stronger so I used cans of baked beans as weights (you gotta start somewhere!) and began doing push ups against a wall to get any sort of muscle back.

After a month of being a roadie, doing some strength work and physio on my shoulder (no physio on elbow as was waiting for an operation so kind of pointless) I thought to my self that my arms are actually feeling pretty good. I convinced my self, my boyfriend, my friends and my parents that cycling was the reason that my arms felt better, so therefore the next logical step was to bring the Capra back into action.

As we loaded to bikes up and headed to Haldon I was obviously thinking that I was being an idiot and hadn’t asked my surgeon if he thought this was a good idea or not. That thought quickly disappeared as we arrived to sunny, dry trails at Haldon and I got on my bike with my friends and realised even more what I had been missing for the last 7 months! I also got a bit angry with James for suggesting all those months ago that Bike Park Wales was the best place for me to ride my new bike and why didn’t we just ride somewhere I knew! Alas, hindsight is a wonderful thing and many lessons have been learnt….

I’m pretty sure after this day everyone was secretly wishing I was still injured. My conversation from then on consisted of a few sentences; “anyone want to ride tonight?”, “what time shall we go riding”, “where shall we go riding?” “hurry up let’s go riding”. I had many days to make up for!

I also rang my surgeon and suggested that perhaps we should have another consultation session as I wasn’t sure I wanted an operation if it wasn’t entirely necessary. In this appointment he asked what I had been up to and I confessed to being back on my mountain bike and that my arms were feeling good. I got the answer I was hoping for and I walked out of the hospital with no further appointments. It was strongly explained to me however that the injury I have in my elbow is a life long injury and I have to 100% expect something else to go wrong with it at some point in the future – I chose not to dwell on this as the future could be whenever and at this time I knew I didn’t have to immediately face any more time off my bike due to surgery and recovery!

I also think 7 months off of my bike did me a world of good (I can say this now but I would never have thought that during those 7 months). Sometimes it can reach a point where you are constantly pushing yourself and riding all the time, not allowing much room for reflection on your riding. Since being back on my bike I have found myself surprisingly riding much more confidently, hitting bigger jumps and clearing gaps that I never thought I would do before. As for drops though, that is a different story…….

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The Fear

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The fear is real and even before I know when I’ll be back on my bike I can feel it. For those of you that have ever injured themselves badly in sport you may know what I am talking about – the fear of inuring yourself again. I mean, clearly I injure myself quite a lot and still ride bikes, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take me a while to get back in to things.

There was on time in particular at Haldon that got me really good. I had been riding the trails all day with my brother and dad, no problem. Towards the end of the day we decided to have a mess around in the skills park. In the park there is a section of board walk, not very high and fine to tackle if you are good at riding in a straight line. You’ve probably already guessed what’s coming next – that day I wasn’t very good at riding in a straight line!

Something caught my attention and I wasn’t looking where I was going, the next minute I was riding off the edge of the board walk. This is a perfectly fine manoeuvre if you are expecting it, but I wasn’t and I had no time to correct myself and stop my front wheel dropping. I ploughed head first into a tree stump and completely cracked my helmet in half (safety first kids!). I remember thinking that I probably wouldn’t have fallen at that angle so must have instinctively tucked my head in to avoid going face first into a tree stump. I survived with a bit of concussion and my Dad packed me off on the train back to Plymouth, telling me to tell other passengers to wake me up if I fell asleep.. cheers Dad!

It was a good excuse to buy a new helmet and get rid of the fluorescent orange one my Mum had purchased for me when I first started mountain biking. After that fall though I wouldn’t go anywhere near anything that resembled boardwalk or north shore for a very very long time. Not even if it was just harmlessly placed on the ground. I definitely had the fear. The fear is something very hard to get over and my riding friends knew it was something I was being very stupid about.

We had a weekend booked at Antur Stiniog and Llandegla. I had been pre warned by my friends about the board walk a Llandegla but they assured me I would be fine. I tackled the first one which is quite long and a lot of potential to ride off the side and was feeling very confident that my fear was now over and could tackle the next one fine. We were in a good flow and coming up to the next board walk which was apparently no different to the first on the red route, I had also been warned not to attempt to jump off the end as it was a long way down…. ok. Full flow I came round the corner only to see north shore several metres in the air! I didn’t want to break my speed and flow so just carried on whilst screaming profanities at my friends ahead at me that they had tricked me! We stopped at the end of the trail and I was buzzing and I’m pretty sure I even went back to do it again. My fear had been overcome by my friends pretty much lying to me! I’m glad they did it, although I still haven’t been back on the Haldon one.

 

The months before I injured myself I was feeling great on my bike. I was hitting jumps, gaps and drops I had previously thought I wouldn’t ever be able to do. My confidence was feeling great and I had purchased the Capra to see where that could take me. Now though I am facing a whole new level of fear. A big injury and a lot of time off has my confidence at a new low before I am even back on a bike. At the moment all I can think about is falling off and injuring myself again and the same thing happening.

I am trying not to think about it but I am pretty scared of being back at square one when I get back on the bike. Not to mention my arms will be really weak, so no strength to do what I was doing before. Not sure how to stop the fear before I am even back on the bike as for me it works to just tackle my fears head on, which I can’t do right now! Any tips would be gratefully received!

 

 

 

Legs

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I have discovered an unexpected benefit to being off my bike. The other day I went to a wedding and wore a dress, a fairly normal activity for most people. For me, anytime I wore an item of clothing that exposed my legs, it would lead to an onslaught of questions from people curiously asking what on earth has happened to my legs. This time there were no questions, I was happy to go about my business, wearing a dress.

My legs are usually ripped to shreds, I ride with flat pedals and am not always the the most graceful person on two wheels. I was at a race once and my first practice run led to stitches, I landed a jump and slipped my pedal. I didn’t think anything of it until I pulled up next to some friends and noticed some blood running down my leg and on further inspection quite a hole. I was all set to pull my socks up and carry on until the paramedic at the marshal point decided he would like to have a look. So then I was informed that I needed stitches and should not continue on my bike, off I went to my second home – hospital. Think I set a new record there for time on bike to time to get stitches ratio, a solid 2 minutes. No racing that day!

Stitches make washing fairly hard, from that incident I had 8 stitches and 4 Steristrips, neither of which are allowed to get wet. For the next 2 weeks my pre-shower ritual consisted of duct taping carrier bags to my legs to prevent any water coming into contact with my stitches. A leg accessory that I don’t think will catch on!

And so it continued, pretty much every time I sat on my bike my legs ended up shredded. Every time I fell off there would always be a stone waiting just for my legs or a convenient placed bramble along the trail. I have grown to quite like these souvenirs I would pick up on each ride, each scar has a story behind it that I will enthusiastically recall to someone that asks.

Having not ridden a bike for a while now there are no fresh cuts on my legs, there are a couple of big scars from stitches but aren’t really that obvious anymore. Whilst I am proud that my legs show a life of adventure and have a story to tell, it has also been refreshing to embrace them in new ways! For the time being I will be looking after them and giving them a bit more care until the next onslaught of rocky singletrack.

Am I Even A Cyclist?

I have broken my arm 3 times in the last 4 months, this means I haven’t ridden a bike in 4 months and I think I am suffering from some kind of identity crisis. Can I actually say that I am a mountain biker?

I had 4 months off riding bikes in 2015 when I had my elbow ligaments reconstructed. It didn’t seem as bad back then, I hadn’t fully embraced the bike life. This time though is a bit of a struggle. In a normal week I would be on my bike everyday – I would ride my bike the 20 mile round trip to work, then spend the day planning and delivering cycling activities in schools. I would also spend the day persuading anyone who would listen to go biking with me in the evening and if I hadn’t gone biking both Saturday and Sunday the weekend would be deemed a failure. I spent most of my money on food, bike clothes, bike parts and parking for A&E. Any time that I did have spare  I would spend it trying to convince my non bike friends that the bike life is the best life.

I would go back to my parents and my Mum would comment on the amount of cuts on my shins and tell me that my bike shorts made me look like a boy. Every single coat I owned has bike grease on (actually they still do, bike grease does not come out of clothes). If anyone asked what I do I would always say that I’m a mountain biker and then have to explain why I like throwing myself down muddy hills in the rain.

 

None of this has happened for 4 months (apart from the going to work bit and paying to park in hospital car parks)! If someone asks me what I do I am unsure what to reply with. Is it acceptable to say I ride bikes when I haven’t actually been on one for four months and may not be on one for another 4 or longer? I spend the week trying to decide what I can do on the weekend that will entertain me as much as bikes and secretly curse my friends uploading pictures of their biking activity, wondering if they have forgotten about me. My shins are cut free, my mum now comments on the nice dress that I am wearing and my washing basket isn’t over flowing with muddy bike clothes.

Actually, writing that down doesn’t make it sound that bad! I do keep on telling myself that, but it’s not really working. I walked past a man in Five Tens and shin pads the other day and in my head was shouting at him that I was one of his kind. I was secretly hoping he would notice my Madison branded coat and give me the fellow biker nod. I went home and had a little cry to mourn the current loss of my identity as a mountain biker.

 

 

 

 

A Break In Mallorca

What better way to get over the broken arm blues than a holiday to Mallorca right?

Since I broke my arms in December it has been a fairly testing time. I am aware it is not a life changing injury, but faced with potentially not being on a bike again until next year hasn’t made me the happiest person in the world (James can probably clarify this!). I ride bikes for work, I ride bikes to work, I ride bikes outside of work, so it has been a bit of a hard hitter.

It was decided a holiday to Mallorca in April would be a great idea for a bit of rest and recovery and to take my mind off bikes. My shoulder had been given the all clear and my elbow was semi functional, so I could at least go swimming. Over the last 2 years I have had two holidays booked and paid for but never actually made it on them, so this holiday had to live up to a lot of expectations! I have also never been on a ‘holiday’ as an adult. The only reasons I have ever been abroad are to work or to climb some mountains, no resting allowed.

I packed six bikinis, 4 dresses, a skirt and some walking clothes, fully anticipating I would be embracing the Pinterest lifestyle and spend all my time leaning nonchalantly against conveniently placed giant plant pots and palm trees. I like to think I know my self pretty well, so am not sure how I got that idea so wrong. I spent 95% of the holiday in my trainers and the one set of walking clothes I had packed – on the first day of the holiday I informed James we were walking 11 miles along the North East coast line. I did soon begin to realise relaxing on holiday was a viable option, so began researching beaches away from the main tourist spots (it just so happened most of these beaches involved at least a 30 minute walk from the road to get to them).

We then spent the rest of the holiday visiting secret beaches away from the Easter holiday traffic of tourists and stumbled across a beach that has earned a spot on my list of top 5 favourite beaches. Earlier on in the holiday I mentioned to James that I would probably end up seeing someone I know whilst in Mallorca as it always seems to happen when I’m away – Previously I was on a hostel rooftop in Marrakesh and bumped into someone else from North Devon with whom I shared many mutual friends. That same holiday I sat down at one of the food stalls in Jemaa el Fna square, an old man promptly turned around and asked if I was from Devon, stating he could recognise a Devonian voice anywhere.

The last day was coming up and we decided to spend it at the previously mentioned beach with a massive picnic. That evening to my surprise I had a message from my friend Kat asking if I was in Mallorca, as it just so happened she was as well and only a short distance from where we were. We informed her of our plans and decided to meet at Port D’Alcudia Lidl so we could buy picnic supplies and head to to the beach together! An excellent way to finish a holiday.

Armed with French stick, cheese, crisps and other picnic essentials we parked the car and began the descent to the beach. It’s a fairly hard beach to find, as the path winds its way down the side of steep hill and is surrounded by steep cliffs. We stumbled across a German couple who had given up hope of finding the beach after an hours search and set up their beach chairs in the middle of the path, knowing the way we said they could follow us down.

April 2017. Mallorca.

As you can imagine Mallorca is pretty dry, the path was dusty and littered with small rocks, as well as being quite steep. Knowing the coveted route down and wearing my walking clothes I felt pretty proud of myself so took a short cut. A shortcut that didn’t favour me well. I slipped on some loose rocks and put my arms out to stop my fall. Saving face in front of the trusting Germans I swiftly stood up, brushed myself off and continued to the beach.

James was giving me that look. The look where he knows I’ve hurt myself but I’m not going to admit it, especially not over such an undramatic fall. My arm was sore, but I kept telling myself it was probably just bruised and didn’t want the last day overshadowed by my elbow. So I ignored it and spent the day eating too much bread and cheese, jumping off rocks in to the sea and posing next to undersized rocks with Kat.

I went to sleep that night with a bit of a stiff elbow and woke up with an elbow that wouldn’t move. It had swollen so much it barely resembled an elbow and the swelling was preventing any movement. We were flying home that morning so made the decision to head straight to Exeter A&E when we landed see what state my arm was in this time.

A bad one apparently. I was sent through to X-ray where I went through the normal routine of the radiographer looking confused by the extra lumps on my elbow and me explaining that’s normal. The first thing the A&E doctor said was ‘well that’s a bit of a mess’ before continuing on to say that she had never seen an elbow as bad as mine in someone so young. Some really helpful comments right there! As expected she also informed me that my elbow was broken again and handed me a sling and said I had to go to the fracture clinic as a new patient as it was a new injury. And so that is how I broke my arm for the 3rd time in 4 months.

I learnt two lessons on holiday

  1. Don’t go to Mallorca to avoid bikes, there are roadies everywhere
  2. I might as well do stupid sports if I break my arm walking

All in all though a 10/10 holiday.

 

Welcome To Good Times…

Since my operation my arm had been feeling great. Some aches and pains here and there from the arthritis that had manifested itself in my elbow, but nothing that would keep me off my bike.

I was still falling off my bike, but spending nearly every day/evening/weekend riding it was becoming less of a regular occurrence, apparently. In December 2016 I finally made it down a race run without falling off or being carted to hospital before the race had even started, (a previous race I caught my shin on my pedal and made a rather large hole during practice) the cycling gods were finally looking down on me!

Naturally, after this success I decided I needed a faster bike. I bid farewell to my Yeti SB66c – a sad day, before I even started to ride I had always wanted to own a Yeti. When I purchased it I couldn’t quite believe it belonged to me and felt wholly undeserving due to my lack of skill and grace on two wheels!

Enter the YT Capra….

 

December 2016. Bike Park Wales.

Having never been to Bike Park Wales and armed with a weapon of a bike there were mixed emotions. Not having uplift we pedalled to the top and took a blue run down so I could get a feel for the bike. Nobody told me that I had in fact purchased a space rocket, the speed it rolled down the hill and charged at everything was quite unexpected. Time for a red run, so back to the top for HotStepper.

About 2 minutes later I was on the floor, hard. Apparently not paying much attention to the trail in front of me I failed to see the approaching drop. I felt my front wheel drop and with no time to react was catapulted about 5ft through the air, landing on a conveniently placed slab of rock. From the nature of these posts, you have probably gathered I fall off quite frequently. This fall was a little different, the kind of fall where you aren’t sure if you should move or not. So, I stood up and promptly fell to the ground in unbearable pain – thought I would just make sure (not advisable).

A man ran over to me as I lay comfortably on cold rock and mud and I asked him if my bike was OK, informing him it was brand new and carbon. He politely ignored me and asked if I was OK, I then asked him if any bones were sticking out of me as there was blood and I couldn’t move either of my arms. He reassured me he couldn’t see any bones, which was nice.

My bike squad (James, Tom and Forbes) made it back to me, you can somehow always tell when someone else knows you probably aren’t OK, they informed me they were calling an ambulance. Not wanting to be a hassle I told them I would ride back down, if not ride I would walk. Being in a state of shock, combined with adrenaline I wasn’t really thinking and eventually I got picked up by a lovely first responder in a 4×4 from BPW and delivered to the ambulance at the bottom.

Once in the ambulance they promptly put me in a spinal board, again apparently the shock and adrenaline potentially masking any injuries and let me loose on the gas and air. I got offered morphine but knowing the affects it can have on me I declined – when I had my surgery  and had morphine I thought it was hilarious to try and show the nurses my bum every time they came to see me in case they wanted to check for bed sores.

Once in the hospital I had my X-rays and was told there really wasn’t much wrong with me, a potential broken elbow but my elbow was so messed up anyway the doctor really didn’t know what was a ‘normal’ elbow for me.

So I left hospital not being able to move my arms, not convinced with my diagnosis but overall thankful that I was walking away from such a big crash.

A couple of hospitals later that week, I finally found out I HAD broken my right elbow and also fractured my left shoulder. Cue an interesting time of working out how to manage everyday activities with two broken arms.

My elbow eventually came out of the sling to get movement back and my shoulder came out a few weeks after. My elbow didn’t feel right, every time I flushed the toilet my arm did that recognisable collapse. I explained this very technical self diagnosis to my consultant and he agreed that I may have ruptured the ligaments in my elbow again.

The only way to make sure is with an MRI scan, which is what I am currently waiting for. 4 months of no bikes so far and a brand new Capra sitting in my bedroom….

Welcome to good times indeed YT, welcome to good times.

Where It All Began

This isn’t really a blog purely about mountain biking, it’s more about dealing with injury. So where better place to start than with where my injuries started….

2008. A trampoline.

When I was 16 I was attempting back flips on a trampoline, the fun ended when I didn’t rotate enough and smashed my elbows on the metal edge of the trampoline. My right elbow was broken and my Mum wasn’t very happy (I was supposed to be revising for my GCSE’s). A couple of visits to hospital, lots of physio later and all was fixed – if only!

I started playing rugby where my arm got a lot of abuse. I then started climbing and windsurfing, further abuse. Along came skateboarding and some falls and a few tiny fractures to my weakened elbow. As a result of this my elbow was very weak and couldn’t support much weight.

2014. Then came the bikes!

Not long after I had decided biking was my new and favourite hobby I was out riding with a couple of guys in Cann Woods – a great spot near Plymouth. I wasn’t very good and they were pretty good so I followed them and fell off, putting my arm out to stop my fall. As my arm hit the ground I felt the familiar popping sensation and knew I had probably broken it. Trying to hold face in front of the boys, I lay calmly on the floor, trying not to faint and told them I was fine, as they offered me Mars bars to make me feel better. I rode a further 5 miles that day until I decided I should probably give in and admit that I should go to hospital, where they confirmed that it was broken.

2015. Fast forward several more rides and crashes and my arm was not loving life. I was sent to see an elbow specialist and was told that the ligaments essentially holding my elbow together weren’t doing their job anymore! I had Posterolateral Rotatory Instability of the elbow and needed my ligaments reconstructed.

I had the surgery and was told not to ride a bike for 6 – 12 months. Bummer. I went back to live with my parents and got a puppy to make me feel better. I persevered and was told I could start riding again after only 5 months! My surgeon did a great job and I felt like I had a brand new bionic arm.

Back to the bike and making up for lost time!