Cross is Coming, Just not so Soon

I’d really, really prefer to be spending this weekend at Cheq or Jingle CX, but…..

Rather, I’m home training because I’m still coming back from a late July ulna fracture. I haven’t been chatty about the “gebroken arm” (Dutch) on Facebook because, well, I’m a pretty private person. I thought I’d save writing ‘till the experience was more in my rearview mirror (hindsight being 20/20, you know).

I had a great racing block in July. I did the final two races of the Midwest Flyover Series, as well as 4 days of Intelligensia: lots of crits. The plan was for a solid training block with lots of races, followed immediately by a totally off-the-bike vacation at my mom’s house in Maine. There’s some unavoidable risk in crit racing, so when I made it through the block entirely rubber-side down, I was relieved. I raced my last race on Sunday, had an endurance ride planned on Monday, and then a very early morning flight to Mom’s on Tuesday.

On Monday night, I rolled out of the parking lot at my workplace for my ride. I turned onto a twisty, narrow bike path that skirts our work property. As I was just spinning out, I was going very slowly, sticking to the right side the trail. Then, a high school boy on a 29er came flying around the left/outside of a blind corner, and crashed into me head-on. He didn’t even have time to skid. I managed to get my arm in front of me to ward off the blow, and he rode straight through my arm.  (He was fine.  He was larger.  His bike was larger.  He “won.”)

Thanks to my Garmin’s auto-stop functionality, I know I made it .11 miles and one minute and six seconds into my ride.

Big Red Workout in Training Peaks

The moment when you are damn sure you’ve broken your arm, and you recall enough high school biology to know it’s your ulna…..

Nightstick fractures are isolated fractures of the ulna, typically transverse and located in the mid-diaphysis and usually resulting from a direct blow. It is a characteristic defensive fracture when the patient tries to ward off an overhead blow from an assailant (or local law enforcement officer) branding a bar-like weapon.

I was lucky? I was lucky because the first doctor said an over-the-elbow cast for 8 weeks and 3 months healing time. The second put me in functional brace for 6 weeks.

Getting Fitted for the Brace

I was on the trainer 4 days later, although it was just a spin, and at that point I could only touch the handlebars with two fingers.

So, it’s been 7.5 weeks (but who is counting), and remarkably, I am fit. I have been able to get in high quality, high-intensity training, even though (or because) I was inside on the rollers for four weeks. “Binnen” (Dutch=inside) on the rollers in August is, um, not anyone’s happy place. How badly do I want it?” (Badly is the answer.) Thus, our cellar smells decidedly like a locker room, my bartape is starting to reek, and the one time our internet went down (taking away my Apple TV), it was a code-red emergency!

Lucky for me, for whatever reason, after a week, the jarring of running caused me no pain…and so I ran! Given my race plans for the season, building up my running is critically important. My morning trail runs before work have been indescribably refreshing. I ran for many years and, it seems, I missed it! I’ve been able to build into CX-specific efforts: short, hard hills, stairs, and sand. It’s been great to train my weakness!

But, it hasn’t all been rainbows and butterflies.

First, there was the “Maine vacation at the beach” that was instead spent sitting on my couch in an enormous splint, working from home, typing one-handed.

“Maine” This Year

Maine Last Year


I was also overly optimistic about my return to racing. I held out hope that I’d be ready to do Green Mountain State Race (5.5 weeks post crash), but had to call it. I made Chequamegon my come-back goal and scheduled Trek Cup as my first CX race of the season. However, at 6 weeks, when my doctor cleared me to ditch the brace (except on the bike), he also told me 4 more weeks without racing. He used the word “crumple” when describing what would happen to my arm were I to crash: “We’d be right back where we started.”

It’s hard to fault that logic, so the beginning of October is now the aim.

I learned a good lesson. Always ask, “And when can I return to competition?” Turns out, brace off, I’m functional like a normal person. I can drive my stick shift, floss my teeth two-handed, and carry small-sized objects. This does not include potentially hurling myself at the ground.

Of course, I’m really not ready to race yet. Bumps are simply too much. And, there is that little matter of not quite being able to pick up my bike…yet. (If I had a dollar for everyone who has pointed out that I, a lefty, am so lucky I broke my right arm! I simply give a pinched smile, and say, “I know.”)

I’m trying to reframe this whole incident as an “opportunity.” I’m not the slightest bit religious, but I’m more than happy to believe in “fate” at the moment. We all know what often happens to riders who are forced to take some time off. (They get faster.) And relatively low volume with hard intervals? That is CX prep. I also have a very long season planned. In February, when it’s dark, wet, and cold, and people are losing their minds, I hope to be going strong.

That is not to say that I haven’t thrown myself a few pity parties here and there! I found weekends to be the hardest. Without work and training at The Fix Studio to distract me, I’d get into a moody funk. In those cases, I let a very select few see me break a little around the edges…..

Lessons Learned

Ask for help. Asking for help makes me very uncomfortable. However, when you have to ask a friend to tie your shoes, it’s time to learn.

If you cannot put on socks or zip your jersey without pain, you are not ready to ride outside. I know, obvious, right? However, for a while, every three days or so, I half-carried/half-dragged my bike out the front door, mounted, rode off…and returned 4 minutes later.

Note how far you have come, not how far you have to go. I started a journal immediately post-crash noting daily improvements. Because, at the moment, I cannot ride over bumps, but I CAN open a can of tuna. (That took 6 weeks!)

Emphathy and tough love each have their place. Sympathy creeps me out, but emphathy has value. We can’t all be strong at every moment. Be real.

At the same time, my coach doesn’t allow me to dwell; we are always looking forward.  He pushes me to train, to rest, and sometimes to chill…and not let my emotions be a limiter.  I needed this steady influence to keep me pointed in the right direction.

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. –Rudyard Kipling

Work with a sports psychologist. I’ve been working with Kristin Keim for about a year now. Her support helped me to find (and maintain) strength and perspective—re. empathy above.


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