It’s been a couple of weeks since the surgery on my wrist, and I’m still getting messages asking what actually happened. I realise that aside from some sporadic tweeting while in the hospital, and a fair amount of Instagram storying while I was on the good drugs, I didn’t give any real details of the accident.
Now I finally have some use of my right hand again, and can type at a rate higher than a sentence a minute, it’s time to use my brain again as well. So, what happened?
I’ll start with the short version for those who want it, which is that I crashed in a race and broke my wrist. It’s an unusual break of the radius due to the way I fell, and also a pretty bad one. The displacement was significant and the joint was also damaged, but at this point all I can say is that the surgery was a success, the break has been plated, and the joint rebuilt better than anticipated. Only time will tell in terms of the level of function lost.
Now for the slightly longer version.
I was racing in the regional championships, which for me was a training race in the build up to nationals. I’d spent a month away from road racing to cement a strong endurance base, something I’d lost in my time off the bike, and focus pretty exclusively on time trials. I felt good, and was excited to be back in the bunch again.
After a winter of playing the long game and building up slowly, I was back to training sessions and power numbers I haven’t seen in a couple of years.
More importantly, I was feeling as strong as I ever have before. Mentally and physically. Goals I’d set in a theoretical world before I embarked on this year of racing now seemed achievable.
The race itself, up until the crash, was also going well. It was a pretty small bunch, and it felt safe. It wasn’t one of those dreaded race days where by the end you’re just happy to have finished with all of your skin.
We were going down a fairly long, straight road. The gradient was slightly downhill and the wind was at our backs, so the pace was high. I’d done a lot of work on the front, and so took the opportunity to drift further back and hide in the wheels for a bit.
The rider next to me said something, I momentarily turned my head and replied, and just as I turned back the brakes were on at the front of the bunch.
Within the blink of an eye the slight slowing had rippled back, and riders flicked left to avoid hitting the wheel in front. By the time it reached me there was no road left. In what felt like a lifetime, but in reality was fractions of a second, I swerved left instead of taking the hit on the tarmac. I clattered off the edge of the road, looked up, and the only thought I had was ‘oh f*ck’.
I had no time to hit the brakes, so smashed straight through a wooden fence at speed, flipped over my bike, through a hedge and landed in someone’s garden. On landing I felt that usual shock and pain after a hard crash, and as soon as I glanced down to check myself over I knew it was bad. My hand and wrist definitely weren’t where they were supposed to be. Even with the adrenaline still pumping this one hurt.
After fighting off the overexcited family dog and apologising to the owner of the fence, who was very calm but confused about what had just happened, it was off to hospital. Given that it was pretty obviously broken my main concern was getting some strong painkillers in me. There’s only so much relief that swearing and screaming can provide.
It ended up being quite the journey between the moment of impact to the operating theatre, over multiple days and via multiple hospitals, but I’ll save that saga for another time. Without a doubt this was the most painful injury I’ve ever had, and the longest I’ve ever been left in that much pain. The silver lining is that with every bad situation comes a good story.
I’ll also save the recovery blogs for when I’ve properly started recovering. The surgeon has presented a pretty flexible and self-guided return to riding and racing, but this can only begin once the stitches have been removed and the infection risk has gone.
Usually it would be difficult to be told there was a non-negotiable two weeks off the bike, but in a way it’s been nice. There was no feeling that I should be doing something before I was really strong enough, no guilt at being off the bike, and no focus on anything other than recovery. I’m going a bit stir crazy now, but that just means motivation will be high for when I’m allowed back in the saddle.
Another question I’ve been getting a lot is to ask how I’m feeling.
It was months of really hard work, a mental challenge that came with starting from the bottom, and a longer road than I had appreciated to get back into shape.
It’s also pretty obvious now that I won’t be able to achieve any of the targets I set out at the beginning of the year. For most of them I won’t even be back on the road, and the rest are still too close to perform well at.
All of that makes it seem reasonable that I would be feeling down about this, but I’m genuinely doing well.
As soon as I looked down and saw the damage to my wrist I made my peace with it. I knew instantly that the targets I had set were gone now. I let myself feel sad about that, but more than anything I just felt strangely content.
In many ways I had already prepared myself for the possibility that this year wouldn’t go well. That maybe I wouldn’t be good enough, or wouldn’t love it any more. But that hasn’t been the case.
In all honesty I’m happy that it was undone in an instant by a crash rather than because of my own head or legs.
Even sitting in that first hospital waiting room I decided that this wasn’t over. I’m not going to pretend that this doesn’t suck, and I wish it hadn’t happened, but at the same time I wouldn’t change a single thing that I’ve done over these past few months.
I don’t see all of the training and sacrifice as wasted. I’m glad I did it. More than anything else this year I needed to know that I could get back to my best. That I really wanted to do this again. And now I know.
I’ve already got new goals. New race targets. New training plans. Cycling is as much about being able to reset, refocus and go again as it is about reaching your goals the first time around. I’ll go into more detail about that once the recovery really begins, but I want to end on a high and in a good place heading into the winter.
This year was an unknown and I was careful not to label it, but next year we’re calling it a comeback.