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Jun 06

Mark Walker: Comeback

Whilst I never usually do a report for a club time trial and road race league, this first week of June saw me enter these two events as my first races since April, after a lengthy period off the bike due to a broken collarbone. I’ve missed the joy and pain of racing but I’ve also missed the reporting side of things too.

 

First things first – this is not a report to make you feel sorry for me, although you can do if you so wish ;-). Having gone through the struggles of injury, I thought it would be an idea to pass on my experiences, as I was desperately looking for information from others when I was out injured to try and find out what to expect and whether my season was over or not. And whilst each injury is different, for instance my broken collarbone seemed nothing in comparison to Matt Johnson’s from last year, it was still an injury I had to overcome.

Where did it all go so wrong?

My annus horribilis of a season started to unfold around the final training session of the year at Sproatley, when pushing to my limit in an overly large gear, I stressed my knee a bit too much and brought back an old recurring injury of mine. I would struggle to do more than a few miles for the next few weeks without it causing pain. The problem was I was off to Majorca just a week later. How am I supposed to do 500 miles with this thing flaring up again!? I panicked.

 

Fortunately I managed the problem ok and still got in 500+ miles for the week and didn’t have a wasted trip. However the problem was still clearly there and upon the advice of friends I got it checked out by a local physio. The problem, and this seems obvious to anyone with half a brain, is that I’ve never recovered properly. I’ve spent years of cycling just getting off the bike and lounging in a chair post ride. This caused the muscles in my thighs to tighten up and fill with all sorts of waste product most likely causing the knee to be pulled ever so slightly out of position, which in turn caused the pain.

 

After some quite brutal massages (thought massages were meant to be relaxing) and the purchase of a foam roller, the knee started to free itself off. I’m still using the foam roller and I fully recommend you getting one as so far no issues. However all this meant I missed races, let teammates down at team time trials and was far off the pace in training. Just trying to live with Danny Posnett and Will Thomas on the flat was a struggle.

 

Eventually I got there, and entered my first proper road race at Squadra’s event on Easter Sunday. Although cramping on the last half lap I was pleased with my form considering what had happened the past few weeks, and the knee was 99% OK with just a slight twinge now and then. All good to go from now one I thought.

Getting Run Over

For the following Monday we thought we’d have just a steady recovery group ride in the morning. I was supposed to be at work but decided to rearrange to go in the afternoon instead so I could get out with my pals. Upon reflection not my brightest idea.

 

After about 10 miles we headed down into South Cave via the long descent from Beverley Clump. It was here where going at speeds of 35mph I moved to my right having gained on a fellow rider. Unbeknown to me a driver came past trying to overtake on the short straight and pulled in to make sure he wouldn’t encounter any cars coming head on. Only he had a trailer on the back and in one fell swoop it collected me and pretty much ended my spring campaign there and then.

 

I was taken to the hospital and was told I’d broken my collarbone. The classic riders injury but my first broken bone in my life. I was further despondent when told there was a chance it could have to be operated on if the bone became out of place during the healing process.

 

Fortunately that didn’t happen, but my first thought was the classic ‘why me’. Why now when my favourite race the Keith Carter classic was just a week up the road, why couldn’t the driver have just giving me a bit more space and why did I have to go for a ride instead of going to work in the morning. All normal thoughts I’d imagine considering what had happened, but I learnt that the first thing to do is to just accept it. Accept that things are going to be tough for a while but realise that it’s only temporary. Once I’d managed to think like that it was only then that I could look ahead and plan what to do with myself. Setting myself little goals helped with the process too.

 

Those first few weeks where hard. Struggling to do the absolute basics like putting my socks on, became such a challenge, and having to have my food cut up felt like I was a toddler once again. Fortunately I’ve got some of the best friends you can imagine. Neil, Mandy, Danny, Josh and Matt, I sincerely appreciate you coming round at various times and making those long early days feel that bit shorter and more bearable, it certainly helped take my mind off things.

 

However, enough of the sympathy vote, as things would start to improve. The turbo is perhaps the most boring way to train, but for anyone with an injury such as mine, it can become an absolute saviour. Within 2 weeks I was back on the bike and the feeling was a mix of relief, joy and excitement. My fitness hadn’t completely eroded so I was still able to hit threshold, despite my folks pleading for me to take it easy. They were understandably concerned that I didn’t do further damage but I was in no mood to take it easy, I’d done enough of that for the past couple of weeks. However half an hour was my limit as my one good arm propping me up would start to give way. Along with the arm, a half an hour was enough due to the boredom of a turbo mixed in with the pain in the legs made it hard to endure anything longer. But I was riding, which was enough in itself.

 

I decided to head back to work to get away from the monotony of home life and to make myself feel useful. Feeling absolutely useless was hard to take, so although I wasn’t doing a great deal, I was at least doing something at work which helped.

 

Further scans at the hospital showed the bone was starting to heal, albeit somewhat slowly. By the end of week 4 I was starting to move my arm slightly. It was a sign things were on the up. I was now in proper interval mode on the turbo too and little things like taking the sling off and using both arms to hold on the handlebars felt like a massive achievement.

 

One final visit to the hospital I thought would confirm that the bone was fully healed and I could get outside on the bike. The arm was pretty much in full use now, and although much weaker than usual I had no real issue with movement despite the odd twinge. So it came as a real shock to learn that the bone had only half healed. I couldn’t believe it, I felt pretty much brand new and some doctors telling me that the bone is only half healed! Unfortunately where its broken there are few blood vessels at the top of the bone meaning that the healing process is so very slow. I was advised to go back for a further x-ray in 6 weeks. 6 more weeks! I had a decision to make. Do I avoid taking the bike out and stay inside for 6 more arduous weeks or do I risk it. I hadn’t asked the doctor if I was allowed to cycle again in fear of the answer, so I chose the latter option (obviously) and decided to get out on my bike the following Thursday.

 

It felt abnormal when I did get on my bike. So used to being fixed in one position, I was all over the place once out on the road. I felt like a young child learning to ride a bike without stabilisers for the first time. I was initially worried I was going to swing into a car and start from scratch all over again. However I persevered with it and it soon became a natural feeling.

 

Being back on the road brought all the little things you take for granted like the bumps in the road, the wind in the air and the beautiful sunshine (although not sure if anyone takes that for granted in the UK) made the ride feel like the best in my life. I was buzzing and also surprised how quick I was going. Nothing to worry the top riders in the region obviously, but I wasn’t far off where I’d left. Elloughton Dale wasn’t the obstacle I thought it would be and my ride coincided with the 3rd round of the East Yorkshire Road Race League. It was great to see familiar faces and say my hellos, but I suddenly had an urge as the racers flew by. ‘I want to be in that bunch’ I thought. I’d promised my folks I wouldn’t race until the bone was fully healed but now there was no way I was going to stick to that.

 

After a couple more weeks I got a call from my usual 2-up TT partner, Will Thomas. ‘Do you fancy riding on Tuesday Mark’ he suggested. ‘I dunno Will, I’m not sure if I’m up to it or if I can ride on the TT bike’ I initially thought. However, the thought stayed with me and my arm, although not at full strength, was strong enough to prop me up. Within 12 hours I’d texted Will and was on the start sheet for the following day’s club TT at Sproatley.

 

Now a new set of thoughts came into my mind. I’d being out with the guys the previous Thursday, and although I kept up, I was hardly pushing the others to their limits. I wondered if I’d get dropped or if I’d lose control of the bike. I felt an obligation to Will to not go too slow to ruin his result, and in turn lose him points in the TT series. But then I thought all I can do is my best, and let’s see what happens.

Race Week Part I – Time Trial

3,2,1 Go. Into the unknown I went. Starting the TT didn’t feel like much of an issue. It was back-wind so I perhaps kidded myself that I was in top form, as the Garmin was reading 30mph plus to start off with. This is easy, what was I worrying about I thought to myself. Then Will came through. Oh! It suddenly wasn’t that easy as Will was going about 2mph quicker, not a lot perhaps, but enough to take me into the red. Besides the fitness, you lose all your skills when you’re out for a large period of time. I struggled to get close to his wheel at first so I wasn’t getting enough of a draft. Cornering, as most can testify, was never my strong point, but at the first 90 degree left-hander Will put about 10 bike lengths into me.

 

The next section was a strong headwind and this is where I was found out a little. Lacking core strength and muscle mass I struggled to put the power into the pedals. I felt my body moving side to side as I tried to put the power down.

 

We completed the lap with a decent 25mph+ average. I was just about finding my way into the ride now and learning where to position my bike in respect to Wills. The second lap felt easier than the first, I was cornering a bit better and getting into a decent rhythm. I was still not going fast enough for Will I suspect, as he flew passed me on the straight just out of Sproatley not long after I’d gone to the front to take my turn. I kept up but I was using all my energy. So when Will indicated to move level with him upon arriving at the finish I didn’t have a lot left to give. I just about got level with him come the finish line to finish in a pleasing time of 33:44. In fact I believe that’s a personal best for the two of us on that course and at an average speed of 26.1mph I was chuffed and a little surprised at myself. We came 3rd on the night just 4 seconds behind the 2nd placed rider, Danny. I wondered if my poor cornering prevented us from getting second on the night.

Race Week Part II – Road Race

Buoyed by Tuesday ride, I just simply had to race the following Thursday in the 4th round of the EY Road Race League at Etton. Feeling like a 10 year old who’d been grounded by his parents, only to sneak out (I seriously need to move out soon!) I got myself to the start.

 

I debated which group to go in considering my absence and the fact I was on my winter bike with my best bike being repaired. Group 2 seemed the logical idea, as by going in group 3 I could easily get dropped and have even less chance of staying with the scratch group resulting in a DNF. However pride took over and I decided to go in group 3 and try to be a help to my teammates, Josh and Matt.

 

The first lap wasn’t too bad and I felt in control. My cornering was still shocking and I was losing ground in the corners forcing me to sprint to the riders up ahead losing me valuable energy. By lap 2 it wasn’t just corners I was having to sprint out of, as the groups pace had increased. I was now hanging on and starting to suffer. That feeling of pain right at the bottom of my lungs that I’d not felt in months reappeared. It was about to get even quicker too, with the scratch group catching us. I knew I couldn’t hog the front as I needed the draft of the other riders further down the bunch to allow myself to stay in the race. I took a few turns and was on the front just as we merged with group 2. Group 2 was massive so it took a while to get to the front. Initially I just joined on the back of group 2 and stayed mid-bunch as I was now well and truly in the red, and forcing myself to get to the front straight away would have caused me to blow and get shelled out the back.

 

It was strung out for large parts of laps 4 and 5 with riders easing up, slowing down, easing up, slowing down and so on. Not easy to maintain, as each acceleration is like a mini interval. This was in part to use catching group 1 and Dave Shackleton attacking as he does. I was too far behind to see what was going on but he formed a group with our own Graham Morgan, who would go onto take a very good 2nd place, and Paul Rymer. Once they were gone the pace eased.

 

I was feeling better and more refreshed now, especially as we were on the last lap, so started moving up just before we came into South Dalton. Riding on pure adrenaline and enjoyment I attacked on the back road. I couldn’t quite believe what I was doing, but I was thrilled to feature in a race once more. I’d gained a decent advantage, only then I suddenly realised I was slowing down. My pace went from 27 to 26, 25 and eventually 24 mph. I was in the red and starting to blow. I couldn’t persist with the move and was caught soon after. I was still on the front though and thanks to turbo work, was recovering pretty quickly. Danny suggested to light it up on the final climb to the finish with him following. We came to the sharp left-hander at the bottom of the hill and I duly sprinted up the hill hoping to drag Danny away from the bunch and to help him get a top 5 result. However when I looked back there was no one following me. I was even more in the red than before, so I had to ease up and watch the pack go pass. I hung on to the rear of the group but there was no recovery this time and I eventually came in for a 30th position or something.

 

Overall a very pleasing week of racing. I’ve still got a way to go to be back up to full speed, but considering the last couple of months I’m just happy to be back riding. And the moral of this story? Well, I think that’s very much a case of realising that ‘shit happens’. You’ve just got to accept it and move on. Get a turbo when injuries such as mine occur and they will save you weeks, if not months, of trying to get some fitness back. And once you feel up to it, then get on the bike and enjoy cycling again.

 

Mark Walker
HTRC RR Secretary