Just before the summer full of plans was about to start, keen enduro racer Nicole Mallett smashed her leg in a number of places. The first instalment of her story is not for the squeamish. For the next part of the tale, we join her as she tries to enjoy that summer she had planned, and get back out on a bike…
It’s been a long uncomfortable few months, but I wouldn’t say it’s been particularly horrible or depressing. Obviously the whole summer’s plans were turned upside down for me, starting with our trip to Crankworx only two weeks after my injury, but I’ve made the most of the cards I was dealt and actually had an enjoyable summer. For starters, I’ve not been able to work since my injury – I work offshore on shifts with very long days, usually between 12 and 15 hours. The three weeks before breaking my leg I’d worked every day, about 92 hours in each week, 276 over three weeks, which I partly blame for my accident, so it’s been a great period of rest.
Rest, did I say rest?! For now at least, my full time job was now getting better, and the long road to recovery started once I came out of surgery.
Four of my nine weeks in a cast were spent in the Alps, taking on the role of top cheerleader for my other half and friends who were all seeing through the big summer plans we had made. Keeping my cheerleader smile on for so long was hard, especially when I watched the races thinking ‘that should be me, why, why, why?’. But you can’t turn back time. When everyone set off on their bikes, for the first few days I felt like the kid that was never picked to join in the school games. After the first big race of the summer, the Mountain Of Hell, I was so down on myself. OK, I admit there were tears, and I had managed to hold back on these quite well! There was only one thing that could perk me up. It sounds cheesy, but I just wanted to feel the wind in my face on my bike. So my other half, Dave, got my cyclocross bike out for me to roll down the Alp d’Huez descent, following me down in our race van in case I couldn’t manage. With my orthopaedic boot this was quite a sight! But it helped my head, and this temporary fix became a daily event during the holiday, taking my bike up on the free bus and waiting for the group to get to the road at the end of their day to descend with me.
My nine week checkup came pretty fast, but I was left feeling so deflated afterwards. I thought I’d go in, they’d tell me to come out of my boot and get on with life. I actually thought I’d be able to ride. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Walking and riding without the boot I felt like I’d lost my safety net. There was nothing helping hold me up, nothing to stop me wobbling or, God forbid, banging my heavily scarred leg.
I saw numerous physios and seemed to make a great amount of progress within the first four weeks, but then plateaued. Simple rides down the canal were all I could manage and after that I’d need hours to rest even just to walk, and the range of movement in my foot and ankle just didn’t seem to be improving.
12 weeks in I went on the #HopetechWomen evening ride. In my mind I was fixed and should get back to normal. ‘Just try and block out the pain, pretend it’s all OK’. It was sooo good to be out on the bike – an e-bike loan – and in good company, but although I really enjoyed the ride, the pain was immense (I think I hid it well though!). Any small bumps felt as though my leg was going to explode, and unknown to me my muscles were not yet strong enough. They sure let me know later on though when my leg gave way. My muscles gave up on me… that’s me told! I decided to leave the trails for a bit longer…
This seemed like a good excuse for a new bike. With the trails off the menu, I turned to the dark side, and bought a lovely road bike. The plan: to be fit enough to ride the roads in Finale, Italy, in October, where my other half would be racing the EWS (another event my leg was keeping my out of). Only problem: every time I flexed my foot or stepped onto it I could feel the pins inside my leg catching on tendons. In stepped Richard at Fit4Physio who gave me a rehab plan to work to, which appealed to my competitive goal driven personality. With weekly goals to achieve and someone checking up on my progress I felt I was back on track. My main goal on the long list… Finale. I had to train hard to make sure I could reach my goal of two to three hours riding a day in Italy for five days. I spent a lot of time at the gym, three pilates classes a week, three to four training sessions prepared by Fit4Physio and three to four rides a week between 60-120 minutes. It wasn’t particularly ankle or leg orientated, it was a plan to strengthen my whole body.
Did I do it? Oh yeah! In five days I rode 210 miles climbing over 35,000ft.
Goal achieved, time for another one…. to get back out on the trails. But did I want to?
Most of us have been here at some point – injured and unable to ride. Taking part in a high risk sport and pushing our limits at races, it’s something we come to expect. I’m well practiced at being broken. As usual, for the first few weeks, even months after the injury, I missed the trails. I sent my bike to a friend to ride to save me looking at it! My social media pages were filled with colourful happy pictures of friends riding and racing all over the world, and I’d be thinking I WANT TO PLAY TOO!
But suddenly I didn’t feel that any more. I was getting my pedalling fix on the road bike and I seemed to lose interest in wanting to go and ride rocky, rooty, gnarly trails. Even in Finale at the EWS my road riding was making me so happy I had no regrets about not doing the race. This was quite worrying…. had I become a roadie?
On a big road ride in The Lakes with one of my good friends, he pointed out my favourite trail running down the side of the mountain, but I just shrugged at him and said ‘I’m really not interested anymore. I don’t want to go there’. Oh the shock in his face! What was it that made me feel this way? Was it because it hurt so much last time? Or because I’d realised how serious injuries can be? The unbearable pain was definitely a factor. If I went over anything other than a perfect Tarmac road the vibrations going through my pins into my tendons was… well, you’re probably wincing just reading about it.
But then Singletrack tried to tempt me back to the trails by sending me a big wheeled electric surprise in the form of a Focus Jarifa. My first ride was at our friends’ wedding. I wanted to be able to join in that pre-wedding bike ride with everyone else. The butterflies in my stomach were the size of eagles. I was so anxious, nervous and yes… I was scared! I was going into the unknown. Would it hurt as much as last time? On an unknown trail, could I manage? And not just an unknown bike, but one with big wheels and a motor?
The nerves lasted all ride – it was easy compared to what I’d normally ride, but very muddy and slippy. Not weighting the bike properly for the first few muddy sections I managed to wheel spin, slide, and scare the sh!t out of myself. I was scared about so many things and being on an unknown trail with high grassy sides I kept thinking ‘what if I catch my pedal, what if I slide, what happens if I put my bad foot down and it gives way again?’ But, the fears aside, I really enjoyed the ride and was amazed that I could still walk afterwards. My e-bike got a lot of attention – it’s a good looking bike which on first glance doesn’t look like an e-bike unless you notice the big display unit on the bars.
So that being a success, I decided to plan another ride, this time to a trail centre I’m familiar with to spare me some of the apprehension about what the trail was going to throw at me. Llandegla is usually a recovery kind of ride for me, or somewhere we’d go if the weather was too bad to be going out onto the hills with a map, and the prospect of going there never really excites me that much. Again, I had the butterflies, the nervousness. Do I go blue? Sod it, let’s go red route!
Boom! The excitement about getting back out with my best friend on our Monday ride. I’ve never been so stoked to have ridden a trail centre, I found my happy place again, on two wheels, a bouncy bike and rocky trails. I’m backkkkk!
Over the last few weeks I’ve become a bit of a trail centre lover. Whinlatter used to be my local and has always made me happy, but again, nothing could match the feelings of utter joy when I blasted round there on the Jarifa. I must have looked a little over excited with my perma grin! With the cold and wet weather and the metal in my leg grinding against itself, tendons and bones, I couldn’t walk afterwards, but I honestly didn’t care. I’d been out riding trails.
My appetite for trails reignited, it was time for another set back: the metalwork needed removing to get rid of that grinding. Heading back under the knife, I have my fingers crossed that the bikes aren’t going to be gathering dust for long…