Earlier this year, I came off my bike after swerving out of the way of a small child on an icy patch of concrete. I managed to cycle away very slowly and shaken up. I had pulled a muscle in my leg pretty badly but nothing was broken and I lived to tell the tale to my colleagues later that morning: ‘I basically sacrificed myself for a kid I’d never met,’ I boasted. My body was bruised but my ego was not.
Later that day I took the bus home and left my bike to gather dust in the storage basement in my office. I was secretly terrified of going out into the big, wide world on my bike again.
A week later, I brushed my teeth while walking around my bedroom and tripped over a rogue bag strap. I spat out my toothbrush and instinctively held both arms out.
I left A&E the next morning with two broken elbows: one in a cast; both in a sling. Life came to an immediate standstill. I was advised to take three weeks off work and to go stay with my mum in Yorkshire.
Six or so weeks later, after lots of leisurely breakfasts watching Frasier and nailing the logistics of showering without getting my right arm wet, it was time to get back on the saddle. But it wasn’t without much trepidation.
Getting on your bike again after an injury requires physical healing, rebuilding confidence and rediscovering what got you into cycling in the first place.
Being told you’re not going to be able to cycle for a few months after an injury is like sitting in front of a big shiny red button labelled ‘PRESS ME’ with thick bandages wrapped around your hands. It’s frustrating, particularly if cycling is part of your fitness regime or is your method of commuting, but you just have to accept it for the time being.
It’s so important to follow the advice given to you by health professionals and to listen to your body so that you fully recover properly. And remember that rest means rest. Rest is not doing things you know you probably shouldn’t be, like cleaning the oven at 11pm on a quiet Thursday night or attempting an old Rosemary Conly workout in the living room.
When my arm cast came off after a few weeks, I had big plans. I booked a yoga class for the following night, printed out my training plan for an upcoming half marathon and washed my Lycras ready for the commute to work. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be able to straighten my arms for weeks afterwards, never mind practice the downward dog for an hour every Monday. I had a list of very simple arm exercises to do every day and a follow up physio session for the following month.
I took it step by step: making the most out of my fully working legs with long walks then gentle jogs; cycling around the park to see how my arms handled the bike; talking to fitness class tutors before taking part in their classes; gently rebuilding the strength in my arms by swimming some laps. And that’s what you’ve got to do: be kind to yourself and your body but also push yourself a tiny bit further each day.
Falling off your bike can be a total shock to the system, despite knowing that it’s a quite-likely risk each time you set off on a ride. Apparently even just walking around your bedroom on a Monday evening doesn’t come without its risks either, or maybe that’s just me…
Breaks, bumps, sprains and cuts are all nasty reminders that we are in fact mere mortals. Even Reese Witherspoon broke her foot once and she is a yellow-haired angel from heaven. While your physical wounds heal, use the time to let your mental wounds recover too. Process what happened then think how you can learn from it. Even if it was a total accident, you might be able to take something away from the experience.
I fell off my bike because a child ran out in front of me and it was icy. What did I learn from this? Take it really easy during the winter months, especially around pedestrianised areas. I can’t stop people from running out in front of me but I can learn to be a little more patient and observant to help prevent any collisions.
And what did I learn from breaking both arms in my bedroom? Shit happens whether you’re cycling or not, so take a break from your bike but do not let the fear take over and lose the trust. If I let myself become scared of cycling, logically I should be more scared of my own bedroom, and that’s not about to happen because I love my bed too much.
The time apart from my bike let me get over the initial shock then realise how much I missed being on it. I also carried on conversations with friends about cycling and they were incredibly supportive about helping me find the confidence to ride again. Cycle with others, join a TFL cycling course, spend a Sunday morning doing some steady laps down your street – do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable on your bike again. It might even be the perfect excuse to buy a new one!
There are two stages to enjoy here: recovery and rediscovery.
After accepting that I was out of action for a while, I actually started to enjoy myself. I was living the life that my former teenage-self dreamed of: no work, no chores; no early mornings; but buckets of sympathy; a good excuse for frequent take away food; and no responsibility other than to look after myself. It didn’t matter that I put on a bit of weight, was incapable of putting my hair in a ponytail and was limited to wearing my brother’s baggy tee shirts – I had two broken arms, which pretty much made me a Rockstar.
When you’re well enough to get back on the saddle, it’s time to fall in love all over again. After a few laps in the park every other day for a week, I was ready to take the bike on the roads and get back into the routine of commuting. Sure, I was scared but the mild wind soon blew the fear away, leaving only rosy pink cheeks in its path. My arms started to feel stronger again and in control. In fact, I felt in full control both physically and mentally. I had missed the churning of chains in unison; the sweet scent of magnolia trees that had started to blossom; the jolts of energy that no cup of coffee could ever match. I had given myself the proper time and care to recover so that I could fully enjoy cycling without fear or weakness.
Getting back on the saddle after an injury can be a long, emotional journey. But you know as well as I do, it’s one worth sticking out.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.