The Long Sure Path

“When in a hurry, take the long sure path.”

While I can’t remember where I stumbled across this gem of a quote*, I’m glad I did. The truth in it applies to many aspects of life, but perhaps none more apt than recovering from injury.

For a good chunk of time following the crash, I was on bed rest. There isn’t much you can do with a broken pelvis, so my training plan looked something like this:

fitness
Seriously, just ask my teammates. All I wanted was pizza while in the hospital. So they brought me pizza in the hospital. And caught my head with a pillow when I passed out from pain. And let me eat pizza when I felt better. And then held my hair back while the pizza came back up because the pain meds made me sick. And then brought me pizza again the next day because hospital food. And then made me laugh for hours even though I had cried so much. And then packed up all my luggage and delivered it to the airport for me. With a coffee. And a breakfast sandwich. My teammates are beyond amazing.

I’m making progress and celebrating small victories, but with each, I want more and struggle with patience. I desperately want to be healed, feel whole, and find my form again.

I am in a hurry.

But this is exactly when to choose the long sure path.

We athletes love to believe that we’re special, that our vascularization and muscle tone (for which we admittedly dedicate great effort) grant superhuman healing abilities and allow us to hurry back to competition faster than the average jane. While those adaptations certainly don’t hurt, we are nonetheless very human indeed and rely on the same physiological healing processes as all other human beings. My human body needs rest and time and very tedious physical therapy exercises to re-gain mobility and stability, which must come before the training necessary to re-gain strength and speed.

Sure, I could let desperation get the better of me and attempt to shortcut to VO2max efforts and five hour training rides, but that would be hubris. I would have to bypass critical steps and risk further injury, further setbacks. There are no shortcuts without consequences.

When in a hurry, take the long sure path.

The long sure path requires grounding expectations in reality. For me, that means letting go of ego and meeting myself very honestly where I am. A great deal of my personal identity rests on my strength and speed on a bike. I know my first rides outside will demonstrate — quite harshly — how very far I am from my usual strength and speed. (My ego winces just thinking about it.)

But there is no shame in those first difficult, slow steps. Humility, yes — humility as the corollary of respect for the path ahead, for what I know it will demand of me.

We all travel many paths, and can define them in arbitrary ways of our choosing. For this path, I chose to reset my Zero Point. The next phase — getting back to training on the bike — will require letting go of my ego (getting out of my own way again) to start rebuilding.

My athlete ego would prefer to hide away from the world during this phase. My athlete ego would not want anyone to see me on a bike until I’d reached some arbitrary threshold of form, to avoid judgement. (She calls herself a pro? But look how slow she is! She has no quads!) My athlete ego would love to buy into the fantasy that being an athlete makes me special.

But this is a fact: I am not special. I am a human being. I happen to love racing bikes, but being an athlete does not give me a special pass to shortcut the healing process or the training process.

I am like you, whoever you are. We are human. We have goals and want to reach them, the sooner the better. We are in a hurry. So let’s take the long sure path.

Setting aside my ego, I’m going to post all of my slow, humbling rides to Strava as I build back, starting with my first ride outside since the crash — today. I realize that “slow and humbling” is relative, but so are most things in life. Your Zero Point is different from mine, as are your goals and measures of progress, but probably for both of us, the beginning is the hardest part.

Not a bad welcome back to the open roads.

All things considered, sharing these early rides will be hard for me. I’m sure plenty of folks will look at my files and judge away. I’m going to work on choosing not to care about that. I’m not going to pretend that this process wasn’t slow and difficult and humbling. I am, after all, a human being.

So, my fellow human being, will you join me? Chances are, you’re looking to improve something. Maybe you’re also a cyclist, and would like to be stronger. Maybe you’d just like to get outside and move more.

Well, every path to a goal has a beginning. Meet yourself where you are. Decide to begin. The first steps are hard and feel very far way from where you want to be. But that is the nature of a path: you are always furthest from the end at the beginning. And that is okay. We are on the long sure path.

You can find me on Strava by clicking here.

Why not start with me? Sign up on Strava and record your walks, runs, or rides. Post your profile here, and we can progress together.

You don’t have to be fast. You don’t have to beat anybody.

Just begin.

And keep going.

*If you know the reference for this quote, please let me know!

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The Long Sure Path

12 thoughts on “The Long Sure Path

  1. Honored to be one of your first Strava followers 🙂 I think of you all the time – you were such a great role model for the Stanford women back in the day. I had a pelvic stress fracture a few years ago, so I know the recovery isn’t easy, but you’ll be back out there before you know it!

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    1. Kate – thanks for the comment and compliment! It was awesome getting to know you on the bike back then, and by the way, I still wear the scarves you made for me! And thanks for the follow on Strava … and the kudos. 😉

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  2. Amber, like you I’ve been ripped from the cycling world by the bite of injury. In fact, a little more than 6 weeks ago I crashed out of a race with 5 broken bones, fractured in more places than I can count, a lung that punctured like a paper thin racing tubular and a concussion that made contemplating the whole thing a difficult experience. I was admitted to the hospital on a cold, windy morning, and released nearly a week later to budded trees and warm sunshine.
    In the 6 intervening weeks, I’ve dealt with the pain, with the loneliness that comes from having your social vice taken from you, and with the insecurity of a slow and (un)steady return. Try to do too much and set yourself back 3 days. Do too little and have the energy and enthusiasm TO set yourself back 3 days.
    It’s a no win situation.

    I’ll follow your Strava progress. It’ll give me hope that I’ll be back out there soon. And honestly, my first thought when I saw your metrics from that first ride back….”man that’s pretty fast for someone with a broken pelvis.”

    Keep riding, keep writing. It’s comforting to know that even the pros, even the best, go through the same torture we are all subject to.

    Or….come to Philly and have a beer. That’s an option too.

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    1. Rob, I am so sorry to hear about your accident. The healing process is lonely. Even with support from family and friends, the path is very personal. Keep fighting the good fight. And really, as lonely as it can feel, you are not actually alone. I’m out here on that same path, facing many of the same struggles. And we both know there are many, many others going through the same. Thank you for the follow on Strava! I’m glad my rides can help motivate. And for the record, my pelvis is technically no longer broken, but back in one piece. 🙂 We’ve been doing x-rays to be sure the bone callus looks good. I definitely would not be back on the bike if the bone hadn’t healed enough! So far, so good though. Just working on that patience thing, which is a serious challenge!

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  3. RayG says:

    Yep, been there, doing that. Started again two weeks ago, 3.5 months after getting hit by a car. My injury not so bad in the short term – Grade 3 posterior cruciate ligament – but that didn’t make me feel much better about it. That first ride back was so nice. So slow and flat, but so nice. I’m still smiling like an idiot after rides.

    https://www.strava.com/activities/305268504

    You’ll get bored if you follow me, because I only post special rides, not everything. I’ll be out there, though, and now I’ll have another reason the smile about riding.

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    1. Ooof. I’m sorry to hear that! One silver lining of injury is how it makes us appreciate what we can normally do. It is so easy to take health for granted, to take pedaling for granted. I can relate to “smiling like an idiot” after those first rides! It’s a good reminder to stop and appreciate all that we CAN do. Thank you for the link – I’m following you on Strava now and will be cheering on your progress from afar. It can be slow going as we get back to full health, but take heart in knowing you’re not alone!

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  4. Thomas says:

    I saw a sneak peak of this blog on Cyclingtips/Ella, and im glad i decided to go read it.

    Your story is hugely motivating and inspirational. even though i have no broken bones (just a knee with a lilfe of its own from time to time) i feel like i can relate to the thoughts you describe.

    You’ll be back before you know it 🙂

    http://www.strava.com/athletes/4957193?utm_source=top-nav

    Greetings from Denmark 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to click through to read my post. I’m glad you found it worth your while! I wish you the best with your knee. I’ll be sending Kudos via Strava! 🙂

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  5. Joey Anzaldua says:

    Hello Amber, I am glad to hear you are healing up well and thank you for such a great read while putting it all into perspective.
    I had to have a left hip replacement just last year and I was eager to get fit and back to riding and competing. Just like you stated, I was met with further set-backs and some pain, muscle imbalances I had never been faced with. I am now trying to take my time but is it ever trying and depressing/lonely. My ego is definitely supported by my strength and capabilities so when that departed a big part of me slipped away as well. So on to the slow trusted path I continue as you stated.
    Thank you for the words and wisdom. Best wishes on your continued recovery and return.
    Joey

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    1. Thanks for writing Joey. The process of healing rarely involves steady progress, and it is lonely, even with support from friends. So much of the journey is in the mind, and that internal struggle is deeply personal. We talk about ego, but it is also more than that: it’s personal identity. Questioning (and possibly redefining) identity is hard, but the personal evolution that results can be very rewarding.

      For what it’s worth, I highly recommend Injured Athlete’s Toolbox (http://injuredathletestoolbox.com). Heidi Armstrong is a genius and has helped me (and many, many others) enormously through this process. You will be amazed by how much you get out of simply reading her website, let alone talking with her. I wish you the best on your Long Sure Path. 🙂 And thanks again for the kind words.

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