Friday, July 29, 2016

Recovery or Why We Get Back on the Bike

It is said that the doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity (which is really extreme foolishness or irrationality or a state of madness).  Some people would apply both definitions to any one who mountain bikes.  Why do we (mountain bikers) think we can fly down trails, drop of ledges and dodge trees and expect not to get hurt.  Because we love the thrill (yes) the rush (yes), but really it is for what I call the "moment."  The thing about mountain biking is you have to be laser focused on what is happening in that very moment, and that intense focus blocks out everything else.  You aren't worried about work, politics, the neighbor's dog or anything else for that matter.  You are focused only on that next berm, drop or jump, because if you aren't, well we have a saying "look at the scenery, become the scenery." In other words you are in the moment - no past or future, just "now" and if you aren't you are going to crash, a lot.

But that's not to say that you can't "think" while you are climbing.  In the Northwest (at least around Corvallis) climbs will be long and sometimes steep (say a normal 8 mile round trip ride will be a minimum 1600 feet of climbing and many times will be over 2000). So most of the time when you are climbing, you are also in the moment, just trying to make it to the top controlling your cadence, breathing and heartbeat.

Unfortunately, we will do all of this and expect not to get hurt.  If you ask a road biker about their crashes and they will tell you about their "two" because you generally don't get more than that.  Because falling on a road bike is memorable and very painful.  Contrast that to a mountain biker where crashing, washing out or tipping over is a normal occurrence almost on every ride. So much so that we can get to feeling that we are invincible (which we aren't) because of all the falls we do have without getting really hurt.  But all of us are going to have that "one time" when a split second puts us in "recovery" mode.

For me this has happened on more than one occasion and it always seems to happen at the start of the summer riding season or just before or after a big trip.  This year was no different as I broke my fibula just above my right ankle three days before going to Whistler.  The thing that hurt the most, outside of watching my buddies drive off with my Suburban for Whistler or being off the bike for a time, was that I didn't really crash.  I just washed out on the backside of a table top (landing a little nose heavy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCz8QptOtz0).  I even came up laughing and telling the guys riding with me that I was all right.  I even clipped in and road out (but as I started I realized I couldn't stand on my pedals), but I didn't really crash.  I've had far worse, like flying over the bars, etc. without any issues, but this time I got my leg pinned between the hillside and my bike and just got my foot twisted as I slid along.

The Break
This was on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.  By last count I've broken 16 bones (including fingers and toes), so I am used to this, but never in my leg.  So started the hardest recovery I've had to go through.  After a collarbone (I've broke the same one 4 times) I can be back on the bike riding flat pavement in about two weeks.  This one has taken longer, not because of the break which healed quickly, especially after the plate was put in.

Inside 10 screws and a plate

And Outside
It is the twisted ankle that has caused me issues.  A word about plates, the doctor said that with a break like mine he has seen them not heal after 6 weeks in a cast.  So about 10 days after the break I had the plate put in and he said I would heal faster and not need a cast, and he was right.  But I had three issues to deal with besides managing the pain which only took a few days.  The first was bruising, the second was swelling and the third was loss of muscle tone (man that happens fast).  The break healed fast, but real issue was dealing with a sever twisted ankle (which twisted until the fibula snapped).  That is where most of the swelling and bruising came from.

Bruising

Swelling blocked by a sock and ankle brace

Loss of calf muscle tone at four weeks
 So it has now been 60 days since the break and I've learned a few things:
  1. Anytime you are off the bike, it is a pain
  2. With a broken leg you can still do upper body work (increased my bench PR by 20 lbs.)
  3. Crutches suck, don't rest them in your pits, use your arms
  4. Walking boots are better than a cast, but sleeping with them is still a pain
  5. If you are going to break your leg, do the left one, at least you can then drive
  6. Stay on top of you pain, but get off them as soon as you can (I was off in about 5 days)
  7. Go to physical therapy - at least twice.
  8. Elevate and Ice (for months) for a twisted ankle
  9. Walking highlights that your ankle isn't right, but being on the bike (even a spin bike) felt great very early after the surgery (even in the boot).
  10. You can ride a bike with a walking boot, a flat pedal and flat roads
  11. Being in shape helps you heal quicker.  (I recovered three weeks ahead of where the doctor said the norm was because of the shape I was in before the break)
  12. Breaks heal fast, but twisted ankles don't. It can take months and months to heal
  13. Chicks may dig scars, but wives don't
Second ride on the bike with my brother Darin (still in walking boot)
Getting back on the bike was wonderful and scary at the same time.  Wonderful because I love to be on my mountain bike.  Scary because you wonder if a break like that is going to mess with your mind and keep you from getting back into the "moment."  Luckily for me it did didn't.  I started out on a spin bike, then moved to riding my bike in the boot on paved roads round town.  I then moved to gravel roads with the fork and shock unlocked to remove any vibration.  Then I started climbing fire roads and finally I took my first single track.  The was the test and I passed, because as we dropped into that first trail all the muscle memory took over and I was railing the trails again, not as fast, but not with fear either.
My buddies went to Whistler and all I got was a shirt and walking boot! But I love the shirt.
Last night I went on my first night ride on some very good trails (the Plunge, Endo and Extendo) and it felt pretty good and I wasn't scared to go fast (like before) or take a drop.  But I did ride around a few things I would normally go over and I could feel the climbs a bit (but that is to be expected).  My ankle still hurts, I'm still icing it and keeping it elevated when I can, but I can ride too.

As mountain bikers we are going to crash and one of those crashes may result in a serious injury.  Do all you can to prevent that (improve riding skills, fitness, armor, pads, faith and prayers), but if it happens, take on your recovery the same way you do your riding.  Head on with a proper level of cautious fear and you'll heal faster and be back on the bike sooner.  Keep the crash and your injury out of your head so you can stay in the moment when you get back on it.  Thanks and now go ride!

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