Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Peace & Quiet

I did something I've never done before this morning. I woke up around 4am and was restless, my head spinning with a thousand thoughts. Suddenly the episode of Top Gear I watched yesterday popped into my head - Jeremy Clarkson had done a piece about how no-one just goes for a drive any more, so early in the morning he got up and hit the open road in a Mercedes.

Inspired by this I got out of bed and hit the open road on my ever so faithful Surly Cross-Check. It's been a long time since we rode together, too long. But no matter how long I leave her in the shed gathering dust, I can always rely on her for perfect gear changes and steady, reliable handling. So off we went into the damp, dull morning to do what was at one time a regular route, but is now almost forgotten.

There's a certain peacefulness at that time of the morning that I love but rarely get to experience, even missing out on it at 24 hour races this year. Yes I was at Twentyfour12 for a few days, but had to leave just after the race started on Saturday afternoon. It's around 2am at those events that the atmosphere shifts from an adrenaline pumped competition to a mellow camaraderie, every rider just trying to make it safely through the night into the dawn. For many it's also a unique experience, how many of your friends can you say you've sat drinking beer and eating bacon sandwiches with at 4am? How many of your friends have you seen sleep? It's not something that occurs in every day life and is actually a very personal and trusting moment.

Rolling almost effortless through the now familiar lanes, Surly was leading the way and my mind wandered back to the peacefulness of working night shifts at The London Studios. In a 22 story building bustling with thousands of people during the day it was rarely quiet - except during the early hours of the morning. I'd walk down the corridor to the restaurant on the 2nd floor that looked out over the South Bank of the River Thames; St. Paul's Cathedral and Blackfriars Bridge in the distance. For those of you that have ever watched the local London News it'll be a familiar view. London would be shrouded in serenity. I could stand for hours at that window in an oneiric state, looking out onto the world watching nothing go by. Once or twice I ventured down onto the stillness of the South Bank and just stood and watched and listened - I felt like I had the city to myself, I loved it. Too often I hear people say how much they hate London, when what they actually mean is they hate the people in London. Quiet and empty like that, London is simply breathtaking.

An hour later I was home, calm and peaceful. Last week was a strange week, but it seems so far away already. I think I might like bikes again...

Thursday, 16 July 2009

10 Things Not To Do With a Broken Rib

After some extensive research over the last couple of months, all in the name of medical advancement of course, I've been compiling the definitive list of top ten things not to do with a broken rib. Some of these things have been stumbled upon in the course of everyday life, others have been pursued purely to benefit humankind so that others in a similar state of disrepair will not attempt such acts.

So, here it is, MountainBikeGirl's Top Ten Things Not To Do With a Broken Rib:
10) Get up, finish the lap and work for the following 2 days at a bike race - this will just extend the period of adrenaline fuelled painlessness and will ultimately compound the inevitable discomfort experienced when finally the 'morning after' arrives.

9) Paint the landing ceiling. This can and does in fact include painting any ceiling. I don't know why I thought painting the bathroom ceiling would be any less painful than painting the landing ceiling, or the stairwell, because it isn't.

8) Clear out the loft. Frustrated at not being able to paint anything or do DIY, it seemed like a good time to clear out the loft - because obviously pushing heavy boxes up through a small gap in the ceiling whilst hanging onto a ladder is totally different to painting the ceiling. I can now state with a certain amount of fact that these two seemingly very different tasks do actually involve similar movements of the rib cage and upper body muscle usage and both result in rib pain.

7) Rearrange the shed. Defeated in my attempt to clear out the loft, there was only one thing left to do - tidy up the shed, something I've been meaning to do for 18 months. Why would this be a problem? There's no reaching or stretching, hardly any upper body movement at all, it's just moving some old paint tins surely. No. My shed is full of bikes, boxes and cumbersome items. Moving anything, even slightly, involved a one-footed, unbalanced stretch to reach the intended item, whilst holding on to an unstable, precariously placed object exactly an arm and a fingernails length away. Once again this task was rapidly abandoned in the now familiar pose of right arm dangling and left hand holding rib.

6) Go Trail-Blazing. Quite often the event work involves finding new bits of trail or course to use. Nervous of riding anyway I was quite happy to get off and walk down anything I was unsure of. Sadly this was made all the more difficult by using a new set of pedals that aren't 100% compatible with SPD cleats whilst riding over rough, boggy grassland. I persevered until the fourth 'stuck in my pedals' fall, which also happened to be the first time I fell to the broken rib side, and called it a day. Sometimes, it's just not worth it.

5) Chopping down trees/machete work. Although I'm naturally a lefty, I'm distinctly more accurate with a machete when using my right hand. This means that a branch or sapling that would normally take 3 or 4 attacks using my right hand, takes about twice as many using my left - obviously resulting in more upper body work and more rib movement. So, do you take the chance and do less work with the more accurate but damaged side, or more work with the less accurate, intact side? Answer: play the "I'm just a girl" card and get a bloke to do it for you...

4) Lift metal crowd barriers onto the back of a truck. You'd have thought by now I'd have figured out the whole 'heavy-lifting, stretching, moving' combo was a no-no. It's amazing how an injury like this makes you aware of how much work your ribs and core are always doing.

3) Get a two-wheel drive quad stuck in 3ft of mud with no tow rope of any kind, in the middle of a forest, miles from the arena with no radios or mobile phones, just as it's getting dark with two escape options: a) I stay in the woods by myself in the dark with the quad while Paul takes the other quad to go and get help, or b) I drive the other quad back to get help, taking a route that either involves lying on the floor for 20 minutes with my hand up a gate post trying to undo the stiffest padlock in the world or taking a tricky off-road route and lifting two sets of Harris fencing out of the way. I tried both, after 20 minutes and huge amounts of shouting and swearing I gave up on the padlock and risked the unknown route. Over an hour later I arrived back with a tow rope and within 5 minutes the quad was free and we were all heading home.

2) Mow a 4ft high, uneven "lawn" covered in sticks and twigs with a flymo. Less of a flymo on this occasion, more of a liftmo - with me having to hold it in mid-air to get it to cut the grass whilst skimming over the covering of sticks left over from cutting down the 60ft Ash tree earlier this year. After 3 hours I'd managed to cut an 8ft square patch in the middle, the edges would have to wait, another few months wouldn't hurt and cutting the lawn twice a year is more than enough in my eyes!

And finally, the number one thing not to do with a broken rib:
1) Attempt to walk the full 180 mile length of the Offa's Dyke Trail in 6 days. Never has my body experienced such complete and utter shut down in a final and crippling statement of defiance. It had had enough. It was barely coping with what I'd been asking it to do for the last 5 weeks and this was just a step too far, literally. I'd made it through the first day, 30 miles carrying a full pack, but had started feeling dizzy and light headed towards the end. I put it down to not eating and drinking enough and was sure I'd be fine in the morning. I wasn't, nausea and blurred vision put an abrupt halt to the epic adventure after just 9 miles. I sobbed as Tony and the lads walked off into the distance and I promptly collapsed in a heap by the side of the road in Pandy - pale, shaking and weak with a throbbing pain in my rib. "So there!" my body screamed at me, "I tried to warn you, you wouldn't listen, and now look at the lengths you've driven me to." Fair point I suppose.

So there you have it, 10 things that you really, really shouldn't try and do with a broken rib, and if you do, don't say you haven't been warned. But I hope my research hasn't been in vain and if this blog post makes just one person think twice about attempting any of these tasks, then my suffering will have been worth it. Stay safe out there kids... ;-)

Monday, 13 July 2009


Well, I've been away a while and what a 7 weeks it has been! There have been plenty of visits to muddy fields for mountain bike races and venue recces, I've been up and down and backwards and forwards across the country, sent hundreds of emails and made dozens of phone calls to strangers.

I've started a new job; I've run my first mountain bike event and launched Britain's first 100 mile mountain bike race; I attempted to walk Offa's Dyke and failed miserably (more on that at some point) and had a sense of humour failure getting a quad bike stuck in 3ft of mud in the middle of nowhere at sunset.

Then there have been those surreal moments, like having an 8 hour conversation that finished at sunrise with somebody I barely knew. I spent a day at the Victoria and Albert Museum looking at 400 year old works of art; I saw Rowan Atkinson play Fagin (with a hint of Mr Bean) in Oliver! in Drury Lane, laughed a lot and sang every word of every song. I didn't go to Mountain Mayhem. That's right, I didn't go to Mayhem, for the first time in 9 years.

Sadly, the one thing I haven't done is ride my bike. Partly due to a rib that simply refused to stop hurting, but also I haven't had the time or motivation. I'm not in love with mountain biking at the moment. The fates have joined forces against me and I'm just not having a good year.

I've had this feeling before though, not just with mountain biking, but all the sports I've played throughout life and I find it's better just to give it a rest for a while and do other things. The feeling of wanting to go for a ride soon comes back. Trying to force a ride at this stage, knowing I'm not fit, that I'm not going to enjoy it and I'd rather be doing other things, is futile and will ultimately make me less motivated to ride and prolong the down time.

So it's a while longer off the bike for me, for no other reason than I don't fancy it. But as Dodger once said "I'll be back sooooon!"