Writer and injured rider: Nicole Mallet

When I heard the bones snap and ligaments pop I knew immediately my big summer of biking was over. From starting the year planning not to race, I'd ended up entering the Megavalanche, Mountain of Hell, Enduro World Series La Thuile and EWS Finale, so it was set to be a busy summer. In preparation I'd started training hard (something I've never really done) and entered a few UK races to get me into the racing mindset. I didn't expect my season to finish before it even started at a small UK race.

When I saw my leg pointing the wrong way, I was very melodramatic, I spent a good 5 minutes shouting at myself and at my bike before gathering myself together to get off the super steep track to get help. I knew it was serious from the angle of my foot, crazy lumps in my leg and crunching noises as I bum shuffled to the fire road, but even until 8 weeks in, I don't think I actually realised HOW serious an injury I'd incurred. I had several fractures on the fib, a clean break on the tib and just to top things off, dislocated my ankle, snapping all the ligaments on the way! I just kept telling myself it was just a broken leg, and even at that, it's a big injury, but it was a lot more. What's more annoying is that over 7 years of riding Iv been out with major injury for 4 summers. Maybe it time to rethink my hobbies?!!!

The road to recovery started once I came out from hours of surgery to reconstruct the bones with plates and pins in some synthetic ligaments. A bike ride seemed so far away but I needed to make sure I could do as much as possible to make myself heal fast. Obviously my summer of racing was over, but then it's cyclocross season after that right?!!

I've learnt a lot about recovery, the main one being lots of sleep and rest, which I'm not very good at but I tried my best. Secondly diet, I'm a healthy eater most of the time, but making sure I ate the right foods and no alcohol or caffeine for the first few weeks would all help. Friends who had been injured and friends of friends all helped me out by passing on their advice which I'm so thankful for, otherwise I would have been swallowed up by many many articles on the Internet. Knowing such a wide range of athletes I thought it best to take advise straight from those who've been there and done that.

4 weeks of my 9 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. 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. I got around the races on my cyclocross bike with my big orthopaedic boot! (A funny sight!!) After the first big race of the summer, the mountain of hell, I was so down on myself, there was only one thing that could perk me up, ok, It sounds cheesy but I just wanted to feel the wind in my face on my bike. So my other half Dave, got the 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! The 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! I also started getting my leg moving in the swimming pools out there, I started by just sitting with my legs in the water and moving my ankles, then progressed to walking in the water and by week 7 I was managing to swim a few lengths. It did feel odd, as my leg felt weak, and sometimes as if it really didn't belong to me.

My 9 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, no boot within a week, even down the canal! 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 to stop me wobbling, holding me up or God forbid banging my heavily scarred leg.  I started at the gym as soon as I could, and started off lightly with swimming and aqua-size. I was the youngest by about 50 years but to be back exercising, raising my heartbeat at relatively low Impact felt like I was starting to get my life back. The Aqua instructor then suggested I go to her Pilates classes. It's only since I've started biking again I've realised what a big impact Pilates has had on my strength. I'd recommend it to anyone...I've found a core and some glutes hiding!

I saw numerous physios and seemed to make a great amount of progress within the first 4 weeks, but then plateaud. 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 an ankle just didn't seem to be improving. 

12 weeks in I went on the #HopetechWomen Tuesday night 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 and in good company. Rachel Walker was behind getting me back out, I wouldn't have even tried without her encouragement and providing me with a full suspension e.bike. 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 strong enough yet. They sure let me know later on tho when my leg gave way. My muscles gave up on me...that's me told! The e bike was a revelation, I wouldn't have been able to do the ride without, but I decided to leave the trails for a bit longer...and turn to the dark side.

Keeping smiling was hard as I felt pins inside my leg catching on tendons everytime I flexed my foot or stepped onto it so decided I needed to do something about it. Racing friends of mine are very good physios with their own business, working with some of the countries top athletes...it was time to make a 6 hour round journey to pay them a visit and get some answers and help.  Seeing Richard at Fit4Physio was a major turning point in my rehab, and I genuinely could keep on smiling. Being competitive I'm driven by goals and now having a rehab plan to work to, 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....to be able to ride in Finale, Italy in October. I was down to race the EWS but obviously this wouldn't be happening, my other half was though and I was determined that I wasn't going to be cheerleader for this one. I'm one to think something good always comes out of something bad, or maybe this was just my excuse to buy a new bike?!?? So I treated myself to a lovely road bike, and this was to be my ride for Italy. I had to train hard to make sure I could reach my goal of 2-3 hours riding a day in Italy for 5 days. I spent a lot of time At the gym, 3 Pilates class's a week, 3-4 training sessions prepared by Fit4Physio and 3-4 road rides a week between 60-120 minutes. My full time job was now recovering! It wasn't particularly ankle/leg orientated, it was a plan to strengthen my whole body.

Did I do it?!? Hell Yeah! In 5 days I rode 210 miles climbing over 35000 feet! I was blown away by what I managed and it was relatively pain free, I even got time to sit on the beach and swim in the sea post ride. Obviously being goal driven I couldn't finish my holiday without a challenge. I told myself "Today I will ride 100" whether I made 100k or 100 miles I'd be happy with whichever! I managed 100k, a very hilly 100k at that, 7500ft of climbing along the coastal hills.

So what's the next goal???? Unfortunately I think I'm going to miss this years cyclocross races, but what's keeping me going now? People keep asking if I'm training for something special as I'm putting so much effort in... Well at the moment I'm training for my next operation - I'm having the metal work removed. In my mind, if I train hard before hand i'll come out of it better, I also think I'm going to come out of it bouncing around like TIGGER again but I that might take a little more training.