It seems like an age now since that fateful day where I was lying there inhaling gas and air as if it was keeping me alive! I had hit the deck on a practice run, a small crash, nothing out of the ordinary, but the consequences of the crash certainly took me to a land of uncomfortableness I had never yet visited. As I lay on my back my left foot was pointing up at the skies as it should do, the right one, however, was not too keen to stand to attention! A fracture/dislocation of the ankle, causing the right foot to point over to the right was the start of a big recovery ordeal; could I ever get back up to speed?
It had been a pretty quick recovery in terms of getting back on the bike and up to some kind of riding again. Read here the first three stages of recovery from getting back on the leg to getting out on the enduro bike again:
It’s funny, but as you get back into a type of normal life with more frequent riding, work and training, then you would think it would be quite a quick thing to get back up to speed, but this wasn’t so. My determination was full-on when it came to almost ignorant drive to get back up to fitness; so this was soon achieved. But when it came down to speed on a bike and pain management, that was a different story altogether.
I’m still on the tools some days, swapping laptop for a hefty big Stihl chainsaw working the occasional day as my original trade as a Tree Surgeon. Some of these first days back were a real leveller, even having to admit defeat several times, going home before lunch, needing to swap the big chainsaw boots to a cold compression wrap and sit with the foot raised as the swelling abated with the searing pain; days like this brought me down low, as a light at the end of the tunnel seemed un-reachable a few months in. When it came to those winter rides with my buddies, I was fine on the climbs, just suffering the manageable pain, with the downhills only giving the occasional reminder off any big drops or compressions. But I was the “pain in the arse” mate when it came to a choice of riding venue, as certain ones that involved lots of hiking back up the downhills were pretty-much off-limits, due to the hiking bringing back heaps of pain! This, however, ended up being a silver lined cloud on some rides, where I would find myself grinding out some of the climbs on the bike, where mates would be walking, this speedily increased my leg strength in a kind of unvoluntary way!
So the fitness was soon recovered and actually exceeded in quite a big way, through determination and that extra climbing to avoid the walking pain, but the speed was still a big issue, the idea of crashing and hurting the ankle always in the back of my mind, as the pace picked up. This too, however, ended up being a cloud with a silver lining, as the only way to steadily pick up the speed without putting the foot down was to ride smoother than I had ever ridden before and to make myself stay clipped in. Even if I thought things were going a bit pear-shaped I had to keep that right foot clipped in and away from danger. Occasionally a crash was inevitable and I would go down with the bike, fortunately not catching the foot, but each one of these crashes actually working wonders for the confidence, giving realization to the fact it wasn’t just going to break again!
During my winter training with my mates, of which the two best ones were elite riders, we would go out in the rain and mud, spike tyre fitted and each week I would try and keep up, as they rode off at speed on each technical muddy downhill. But slowly and surely I would start to keep them a bit more in sight every week as my confidence grew. Eventually I could hold my own, not quite at elite pace, but certainly back up to speed, even feeling fitter, stronger and (dare I say it) like a much better rider than before the accident.
The season was upon us and I hit it head on, starting things off with a few podiums at some smaller (now defunct) UK Enduro events; could I really have got faster than before? Next, it was onto some of the British Enduro races and I ended up posting much better results at them with some of the fastest veteran racers in the country. The pinnacle of this was to actually earn myself my first ever national series podium mid season; I had done it, but there was one final task to achieve! I was and still am feeling fantastic about my riding, but there was still a proverbial elephant in the room, so to speak; this being that fateful day at the Mini-Enduro in the Forest of Dean at the start of November 2015. Eleven months later in November 2016 and I was back, the same race and the same venue, the idea of what I was about to do having laid slightly heavy on my mind during the week running up to the event.
On race day I headed down with photographer Doc, none of my mates present from the year before, even that felt a bit weird. We used up one of our lives on the motorway, as we overtook a big truck just as it hit a huge load of water, nearly drowning our little van as the huge wave hit! The tracks at FOD had been chosen to be way more techy and tougher than the previous year, with one of the proper downhill runs also being used this time; this being full of jumps, drops and lots of stuff to catch out riders. The other two were very slick and off-camber loamy, root-strewn stages, pedaly in places, but both needing full-on concentration to get through. As the morning went on the tracks got slightly less slick and I felt that winter mud-training got me through the tough conditions, especially as we had had it so dry for such a long time in the UK.
I went for it on stage one (the downhill track) nailing the jumps, pinging off the drops and got down clean, the same went for stage two, but I made a pretty dumb-ass mistake on stage three, losing several seconds, as my biggest rival rode past me just to rub it in! The three stages were done, I hadn’t crashed once and to be honest didn’t even think about the ankle once during the whole day of racing, except for when one rider started giving it the big stories of savage crashes; I asked him to change the subject! I even managed second in the category at the end of the day, bringing home a trophy and some swag to add to the collection.
I was buzzing at the end of the day, having well and truly put that demon to bed, it felt so good to have conquered my fears and beaten the injury. It is definitely not totally better, I still walk with a limp after a big day on my feet and certainly won’t be doing any running for the foreseeable future, but it just goes to prove that a positive mindset and blind ignorance towards getting better that attitude worked for me. As I sit here writing this, with tomorrow seeing me back at the specialist after requesting my metal-work to be removed from the ankle during next winter, I know for sure that small operation will be a walk in the park compared to the last one and I actually look forward to it!