By: Heather Nielson
I’ve been injured every season for the last four years of bike racing. I know I’m not alone but the older I get and the closer I get to being competitive at the national level, the less patience I have for putting up with it. The time off the bike, the soreness, the constant re-bandaging, the training through the pain etc. I’ve broken a tailbone, both clavicles, injured my back, sustained a severe concussion, torn my right hamstring, injured both knees, gotten stitches and lots of road rash. It comes with the territory and I’m not complaining but I’ve also learned that there are more parts to crashing that you have control over than you think you do. The last second touch of your brake in a wet corner, the split second overlap of the wheel in front of you as they swiped the other direction. ‘It all happens so fast!’ We all say; as if to absolve us of any responsibility. The better you get at racing, the better you get at not only handling your bike in tight packs and at very fast speeds but also at anticipating what’s going to happen. You get better at reading body language, the race, the energy of the group, the terrain, the weather, your own body & what it is and isn’t capable of doing and when and what could all go wrong and when. You become less reactionary, more calm and you take fewer dumb risks so that you’re in a position to take ‘better’ risks when it counts to WIN.
There are two parts to coming back from injury: the mental and the physical
My own ‘achilles heal’ is braking in wet corners. Two of my worst injuries were sustained going through wet turns on a decent. I had formed a bad habit of playing a ‘movie’ in my head over and over again every time I rode through a wet corner. I had subconsciously laid down the neuro-muscular framework for creating the same problem over and over again. I worked with my mental skills coach Carrie Cheadle to re-write my script. In other words: the neuro-muscular pattern that I have developed had to be overridden and a new one laid down in its’ place. It’s a lot like breaking an old habit, &/or trying to form a new one: it takes time and deliberate practice and patience. Every time you crash, you need to break it down into all of it’s components, just like you would post-race. What happened, when and why. What parts were in your control? You may find that there are more parts in your control than not. You’re not necessarily a victim. Empower yourself with the resources & knowledge necessary to prevent crashing in the future as much as possible. Write all of that down & start to think about all those new pieces of the puzzle every time you ride and race so that new neuro-muscular patterns can be laid down.
The physical part of injury is a very fine line. We suffer as bike racers & learn to embrace the pain. The pain from injury is different from the pain of pedaling past your ‘perceived’ physical limits when someone attacks, or you’re on a climb. Learning to listen to your body to accurately discern between ‘I can and need to keep pushing through this pain’ and ‘riding through this is only going to injure me further’ takes a long time and a lot of self awareness. Never stop working on that piece of the puzzle. Stop ignoring ‘nagging twitches’ that come up after you’ve changed shoes, saddle, fit, cleats etc that could turn into an over-use injury a week later that puts you out for a month or more. Don’t pretend you’re not sick when symptoms start to show up & immediately assess: neck up only: ok to ride. Neck down: off the bike and in bed! Learn to properly care for road rash & make extra rest, protein in your diet & physical therapy higher priorities. Recover just as hard, if not harder than you train.