Week Two: Getting back on the horse

Week two didn’t live up to the high ideals of the training plan. I now realise this was inevitable, but it took me a while to get my head round that. And to go a bit easier on myself about the implications of the setback.

Physically I had a lot of bruising on my legs, and my shoulders and neck had a permanent stiffness that wouldn’t go away. But I felt surprisingly OK when running and swimming, so thought I could keep these up as planned even if I didn’t have a bike to train on. My ankles felt a little tender – they must’ve got a jolt when my bike shoes were ripped out of the pedals during the crash – but they soon got back into stride.

I got back on my mountain bike the day after the accident, as it’s how I get around town and I thought the quickest way to get back to normal was to, quite simply, get back to normal. Slow speeds were fine, but as soon as I sped up (gravity-assisted) I found I was hyper-twitchy on the brakes, as it seemed like the world and his dog were deliberately throwing themselves into my path. I’ve always been a defensive cyclist, but had become uber-defensive. The heightened sense of vulnerability was really draining – both physically and mentally.

My performance at work took a real hit this week. All but the most menial tasks were beyond me, as my concentration was shot to pieces. I didn’t take any time off to recover, because I thought I was OK and it would be business as usual, but in hindsight I realise that was pretty foolish. This was not productive at all, and I wish I’d been more tuned in to what I was feeling. It took until the Wednesday to cry about the accident – four days until I allowed myself to be upset. In a way I felt envious of the driver, who was in floods of tears within seconds of knocking me off my bike.

On the Thursday I had a physio appointment, arranged through the driver’s insurance. My stiff neck and shoulders were diagnosed as a whiplash injury, which would explain why they were still sore. I think, as whiplash goes, mine is a pretty minor one (neither running nor swimming were painful). The physio massaged the area to within a millimetre of my pain threshold, but it felt good.

A friend at Edinburgh Triathletes (the great bunch of people who have gotten me into triathlon) lent me her bike – Betty – to replace my dearly-departed Doreen. So I got out for a short ride one week after the accident – a tentative foray into whether I was ready to face traffic in training-mode again. It was slow and extremely defensive, but I managed it. The most concerning thing was my neck, which didn’t like being in the leaning-forward road-cycling position at all. I started to doubt whether I’d be able to take part in the Etape Caledonia in three weeks, as this was a 130 km cycle. If my neck wasn’t better by then it would seem counter-productive to the middle-distance training to put it through that kind of stress. This would be really disappointing, as I’d planned it to be a practice run of Schiehallion – the big hill in the Aberfeldy Middle Distance cycle.

I’ve seen this youtube video before, and laughed at how ridiculous the triathlete’s commitment to their training sounds – “Yes, but I will be an IronMan”:

But I never imagined I would so easily fall into this robotic hypnotic state where nothing is allowed to interfere with training. There is a certain machismo about these endurance events, whereby personal frailties are considered best swept under the carpet and ignored. A sense that if you’re going to successfully complete an IronMan or similar event no weaknesses are allowed. To a certain extent it’s good training to push on through difficult times, but there has to be a limit.

What I think is amazing is that so many ‘normal’ non-bionic people manage to train for and complete these endurance events, despite all the crap they might have had to deal with along the way. So I’m going to carry on training with that in mind, and with a good helping of new-found emotional intelligence: knowing when a night on the sofa with a tub of ice cream is the healthiest thing for me and the best training possible at that moment.

(By the way, and speaking of ice cream, if you’re in Edinburgh you must try the Persian saffron and cardamom ice cream served at Pomegranate Restaurant and Hanam’s. It’s beyond words.)

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