A welcoming club on the North West of Edinburgh

A Day Not to Remember, 19th June 2022

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It’s been just over 10-weeks since breaking my collar bone, three ribs and gaining some pretty gruesome gravel rash in a crash during the inaugural “The Northumbrian” triathlon.

This race report is part of my “therapy” since my triathlon life was abruptly stopped.

“How could it have happened to me?” I thought as I gathered my gels and tyre levers than were strewn across the road. A fellow competitor asked if I was okay and, at first, I thought I was until I tried to lift my bike.

The swim had pretty much gone to plan, a steady effort out of the melee, resulting in a slightly longer swim than most and just off my expected pace.

Transition was 100m or so from the swim exit and my bike was all set for the 55-mile hilly cycle, the first of which was the exit ramp from transition. I had the bike in the small ring and the Tannoy gave me a high five as I cranked over the pedals up the steady climb out from Kielder, Waterside Park and on the long outward-bound leg to the bike circuit.

The weather was good, a little cool and I’d opted for a short-sleeved gilet, which I’d worn under the wetsuit in the swim (top tip if you want to avoid the comedy show of a wet triathlete trying to put on a gilet).

I began to settle into the bike, passing several cyclists, keeping one eye on my head unit to stay inside my target power numbers.

With such an early start breakfast had been light and I decide to eat my first piece of solid nutrition rather than one of the gels taped to my top tube. I must have looked down just a little too long as when I lifted my head again, I realized I was too close to the verge. I attempted to correct my line whilst still on the tri-bars, but things were getting out of control quickly. The front tyre blew out and I lost control of the bike. I realised that I was going to crash, and it wasn’t toward that nice soft verge, but on to the tarmac – travelling at 40kph I knew it was going to hurt.

I fell, between the tri-bars and the tops, letting out a yell of pain or disbelief as I hit the deck. What followed was the slide, that same slide you see so often in the Tour de France, and then, I finally stopped.

In just a few seconds I was on my feet, aware that I needed to get me and my bike off the road to avoid a further collision. “I can’t believe I got aware with that”, I said out load as a I dusted myself off, surprised to find only minimal skin loss on my legs.

A quick inspection of the bike and I decided to repair the front tyre while considered whether to continue or head back to the start for medical assistance. Then I tried to lift my bike, I couldn’t, a carbon fibre time trial bike and I couldn’t even lift it an inch with my right arm, a quick feel of my right shoulder and I confirmed my worst fears, either my shoulder was dislocated, or that was two halves of collar bone I could feel – race over – I needed medical assistance.

Kielder is a beautiful unspoilt landscape, not a phone mast in sight, and no mobile phone reception. The race start was also where Helen and I had stayed the night before the event and so, I set about figuring how I could get back to the start and not get carted off to Newcastle Royal Infirmary!

A race motorcycle buzzed pass and I turned to him with my “good side” and signalled that I had a puncture, and no assistance was required, a trick I had learnt some 30-years earlier with a crash on an alpine descent on the first day of a holiday!

I still don’t really remember how I got the tyre off; the new inner tube in and slightly more incredulous, hauled the tyre back on. I thought I could get back to the start if I select a small gear, I can coast down the hills and should manage to ride up the hills, even with one arm.

I rested my right arm in the elbow support of my tri-bars and set off on the sad trip back to the start watching all those competitor cruising along on their outward leg of the bike.

When I arrive at the left turn, into what I had hoped to be the end of my bike leg, I had to admit for the first time that I had a mishap, my right-hand side clearly on show as I edged gingerly down the hill past the marshal toward where I knew Helen would be enjoying her breakfast in the van having seen me off on the bike around 50-minutes earlier.

Everything began to unravel from here, I couldn’t walk, let alone move from the bike. Helen steadied me as, with one hand on my brake lever we edged down to the medical tent who were awaiting my arrival.

A good medical team rallied around me to assess the extent of my injuries as I shivered and shook. They wanted me to get to hospital, but it was going to be quicker to drive than wait for an ambulance.

This was the first indication of how life was going to be a little different for a while as Helen got granted “special” access to T1 and T2 to gather my kit, before dismantling my slightly lighter bike which too had been filed down as I slid along the road and loaded the campervan for our trip to Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Two hours later, and I got an immediate assessment in A&E, before being dosed with morphine to await x-ray and CT scans.

The registrar was clearly used to dealing with sports people as I discussed options with him still wearing two thirds of my tri-suit, the rest having been cut away to tend to the gravel rash, his third question was “how’s the bike”? The outcome confirmed some broken ribs and a broken collarbone – season over type injuries. I was sent away with my arm in a sling and bag of painkillers.

Recovery was painful, not just the physical discomfort, but the inability to do anything including basic needs. A summer was now going to be spent, not training for the World Championships in September, but trying to avoid any contact with the sport that I love as it just added to my deteriorating mental state.

A sling is typically sufficient for a collarbone to re-join but a week or so later and I began to suffer severe back and shoulder blade pain, sleeping was becoming more difficult and the pain, rather than subsiding, was increasing. My shoulder was clearly in my field of vision, it had never been so before.

My follow up appointment couldn’t have come soon enough, even walking was problem as I left the x-ray room and shuffled along the corridor at the fracture clinic at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. Instead of the bones re-joining they had moved across one another – I need an operation.

Four days later a Sunday evening around 7:30pm I get a 20-second call to be at the hospital at 7:30am the following day, 20-mins later the surgeon calls and explains how a metal plate will be fitted, fixing my collarbone in place, and putting my shoulder back to where it used to be.

Thankfully I remember nothing about the operation, other than the comedy of two nurse trying to squeeze two surgical stocking on my calves to aid blood flow (theirs or mine, I wasn’t quite sure).

I came round from the operation as if a switch has been turned on, and was immediately offered tea and sandwich, you never turn down food if you are a triathlete. I couldn’t see my shoulder anymore; it was back to where it should be.

The surgeon breezed pass as I was leaving and commented “that looks a lot better” clearly the seal of approval.

I didn’t sleep that night, still wired from whatever they give you to wake you up from an operation, rather than from the pain, things were looking up.

Three weeks later and the sling was off, the arm, having been immobile for 6-weeks was stuck, and I started the process of gaining mobility. That process continues.

I have some miles stones just days away now, my first run, my first swim, and my first day back out on the bike!