Monday, January 21, 2013


A recent forum post about recovery and returning to cycling and/or competition following serious injury prompted me to remind myself of my first attempt to cycle following my accident and hospitalisation in 2007. I've had an extended break from the bike and competition  this past 12 months and it's time to start again, at least the riding bit. Competition maybe, we'll see. I'm hoping a few moments of retrospective thought will aid my motivation levels for the days and weeks ahead.

Not counting my miserable attempts at turning the cranks on the hand cycle ergometer in the hospital rehab ward, below is a picture of the power file from my first attempt to cycle post-accident, which was nine months after my accident:

10-minutes at a little over 100 watts.

That was on my bike fitted onto a fluid trainer loaned to me by a mate (thanks Peter B) as by then I'd handed off my awful magnetic resistance unit to an unlucky sod (Peter W). I used a 100mm left crank arm made by another mate (thanks Steve D) as at the time I was unable to bend the knee far enough to pedal with a full length crank.

I didn't have a specific bike leg at the time, just the leg with running shoe (my first prosthetic), and used a flat bed pedal instead of the regular clip-in bike pedal.

I only managed a few similar efforts that week, then a break for a while as I had a bad back problem which took me back to hospital. I tried again in February 2008 which again was only a few attempts before a break of several months because I was having a lot of leg and prosthetic problems. Those were several bad months.

I really got going in June once I had a better prosthetic and a cycling leg system worked out (thanks again to Peter B for the adapter plate idea and prototype). Training in earnest started on my Thunderbird 7 set up on Friday the 13th of June with a similar effort, this time 15-minutes at about 100W. Clearly my lucky day. Thunerbird 7 became my friend.

When rehabilitating for cycling - an indoor trainer set up is ideal. You can try things out, test yourself without being overly concerned about regular outdoor safety matters, ride without the extra strains caused by undulating terrain, adjust the bike set up in a way to help that might not be feasible outdoors, and know that if you have a problem you can stop and not be far from help.

Within two years, I had attained 60-minute maximal race power of 327W.

Recovery from injury takes time and requires patience. The more serious the injury, the more time and patience is needed. It also require persistence and perseverance. There will be set backs along the way which at the time may seem permanent and can be rather depressing, but usually turn out to be temporary and simply serve to encourage one to become creative in finding solutions.

And you'll always be wondering if you'll ever regain full fitness or ride as you used to. One can never really know the answer to that question unless they persist and have patience. Set no limits, focus on applying sound training principles and set some sensible goals along the way. I started out at 30% of my previous fitness level and I ended up eventually beating it. It took three and a half years.

For some it might come more quickly, others will take longer, and some may not get there because the impact of the injury is too severe. Whatever level you get to, the journey back is worth it and is the most important part, and you just may amaze yourself at what you are capable of.

While progress along the way is great and helps motivation, I did ride through pain at times. You can do that when determined enough. Sometimes.

I had a hole in the side of my knee for two of those years (sometimes a small ulcer, sometimes deep and pretty gross). I trained and raced on it and it would hurt, at times badly, other days not so bad. I got good at shutting it out on some days, while on others I would cave in and cry my way home. After one race I had hurt my knee so badly it took several weeks before I could walk again, let alone ride. I never felt it during the two-hour race. Within minutes of finishing, I was a mess and knew I was in trouble.

I learned over time that the pain was not a necessary element to training (it was holding me back no matter how much I tried to block it), nor did I have to put up with it. There were solutions, although sometimes they would be found accidentally which would prompt me to work out why and resolve it if at all possible. A change of leg design eventually cured my knee hole.

So, if you're on the wrong end of an serious injury causing incident, and are making those steps to recovery and rehab, just keep in mind it's definitely possible to improve. Just take your time, have the patience and persistence, find solutions to the inevitable problems and set backs along the way, and record your journey  as you'll never know when you might want to look back and respect the retrospect.


Andrew R. Coggan, Ph.D. said...


I'm sure that I speak for many when I say, welcome back! I look forward to reading future blog entries, especially about your own personal return to fitness.


darren said...

Hi Alex

Great advice re recovering from injury.

Really enjoying you posting on your blog again.

Hope your riding is going as well as your coaching.