Injuries suck, we all know that, and it’s easy to slip into a negative, downward spiral. Why not take an injury as a chance to start afresh and rebuild without any bad habits?
Juliet Elliot spoke to the people in the know, mostly riders who’ve had some bad smashes over the years, to find out how best to make an injury a positive experience in the long term.
Words by Juliet Elliott.
Taking a gamble
If you ride mountain bikes, the possibility of hurting yourself just comes with the territory. The way I see it, when you take ownership of a mountain bike you (reluctantly) accept that possibility. Riding on uneven surfaces, at speed and in close proximity to rocks, trees and drops, well ‘it’s an accident waiting to happen,’ according to some.
But though I accept the risks, I don’t entirely subscribe to the theory of mountain biking simply being dangerous – it’s entirely possible to minimize the risk of accidents by riding very, very slowly and sticking to flat, boring tracks, but you know, yawn…
I think that the main reason we tend to push on despite a possibility of injury is that the kind of people who are drawn to mountain biking tend to be more risk averse than say, your couch potato type. We want to want to challenge ourselves, progress and take the odd chance and we’re willing to gamble for the rewards we get from riding bikes.
Sometimes, I mess up
We’re a diverse bunch and what’s an acceptable risk differs wildly from person to person, as does the level of thought that goes into weighing up the pros and cons of taking on a new challenge. Despite what my non-mountain biking friends (and parents) think, I’m actually a fairly cautious rider – I carefully consider things before blinding plunging in and finding myself somewhere I don’t want to be, such as upside down. But sometimes, just like the best of them, I mess up.
I’m now past the worst of six weeks off the bike due to a shattered thumb (hurrah!) so whilst I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself, I spoke to some of the UK’s top riders to find out how they deal with time off the bike and to get some tips on dealing with it myself.
First up, Madison Saracen rider Manon Carpenter. Manon reckons the best thing to do is some light exercise that avoids the injured parts, “just to keep things ticking over” and more importantly to “make sure you focus on recovering from your injury properly so you can be in the best shape possible when you return.”
It’s a strategy Canyon rider Joe Barnes agrees with, telling me “If you can keep yourself moving and keep other areas working, then coming back to full form is a lot easier and quicker.” He recommends ‘going by feel’ and tailoring training to weather and levels of fatigue, much as you might when you aren’t injured. “Turbo stats can be fun also to see some improvement, and as things improve you can start to test your limitations again,” he adds. “A gentle canal bank ride or roady spin can lead into some XC trail bikes and full on gnar. It’s all about progression and patience.”
Personally, I found it hard to stay motivated to train or exercise when I was injured – there are only so many turbo trainer sessions that I can stomach, so what then? Manon reckons I needn’t worry too much. “Sometimes forced rest can be a good thing; it’ll leave you more motivated once you’re ready to ride again.”
It’s a philosophy Dan Atherton shares. He tells me “Coming back from an injury is a huge motivation. You’re well rested and ready to get training.” It also gives you the time to get a bit of clarity of what you actually want from racing and what you want in life.”
Not feeling like I need any clarity – what I want from racing and from life is to be on my bike – I quiz Manon further. She recommends spending your injury time figuring out some fun trips, suggesting “Once you know when you’ll be ready to ride again, you can start making plans to what and where your going to ride so you have something to look forward to!”
Wideopen team rider Kye Forte agrees with Manon’s strategy of filling your down time rather than wasting it. He tells me that he spends some of his injury time drinking ale, something I’m fully backing! He goes on to explain that it’s worth finding a new a skill to pass the time without wasting it, telling me “last time I had a long stint off, I spent it learning how to do 3D drawings on my computer.”
And with that, my research is complete. It turns out the best way to deal with injury is a combination of rest and relaxation, gentle exercise, beer drinking and shopping for mountain bike holidays. Doesn’t sound so bad after all!