I’ve done it before; I’m planning to do it again. I broke my collarbone first in 2006 and it took me about 6 weeks to race and then 2 months out I was racing at my best at the Philadelphia International Classic against CSC, T-Mobile, and all the big pro teams at just 22 years old. However, that first time was the worst so I empathize with all of you greatly. I wanted to go back and win collegiate nats 4 weeks later, but it was impossible. However, now I’ve learned how to do it from yes, lots of practice. Everyone asks is that 4 times? Well, answer is I’m not 100% sure I lost count because I don’t want to know all I know is between 2006 -2009 I broke both of my collarbones once or twice a season and it ruined my “pro” career. Luckily, I figured out I could make way more $ with a lot more flexibility as an amateur anyway. In 2008, I broke my collarbone at the beginning of February in my first year racing pro with Time Pro Cycling and thought taking only 1 class towards my UF civil engineering degree that semester may have been a waste as I did it to go on the 6 week California trip. I decided, I was going to compete anyway. A wise man said, this is where you become a “dedicated athlete”, and I have kept that by me for the last years. I wasn’t going to sit back and feel bad for myself I was going to do EVERYTHING I could possibly do.
Here are my steps:
Figure out if its displaced and won’t heal back on its own. Surgery sucks, if you don’t have to have surgery its better. However, if there is a gap between the bones and its moving around after a day or two you pretty much need surgery. Every day you wait is slightly slowing it down.
Ride the trainer. Yes, it is never too early to ride the trainer. I usually ride the day after crashing and/or braking it because its gets the pain pills and fog out of your system, start blood flow, puts me in a WAY better mood, and as a general rule of life. Riding fixes EVERYTHING!
Ride the trainer. You can take some days off after the injury to heal, but if I were you I’d plan not to because the easiest way to stay fit is to just make sure you pedal the bike even at 30 watts or 100 beats per minute for 30 minutes you are maintaining fitness and staying sane believe it or not. Once you start to feel better you can try and push it and ride hard, but really there isn’t a rush for that. In 2008, I did a lot of suffer videos, watched a lot of bike races, and figured out how to do hard intervals and I actually got stronger. This past break this year, I was just overwhelmed with coaching, the team, my amazing girlfriends graduation, and life that I just got on the bike and pedaled stupid slow for hours while I worked. I set up my laptop at the end of the bed and my trainer facing it and put pads on the bars and just typed and talked away.
Don’t feel bad about taking pain pills. This isn’t fun to deal with even with no pain, so why suffer extra. It’s not like you are going to use them once you feel better. However, I personally hate the narcotics so I try and get off of them within the first couple days. 2 tylenol and 2 ibuprofen every 6 hours is my magic concoction that is right at the limit. With surgery and recovery they don’t recommend the iburprofen though because it reduces the swelling which helps the healing process so be careful with that however, there aren’t 100% concrete studies on that. Bottom line, take the meds. In 2008, I got a long Tylenol looking white narcotic that was awesome and didn’t mess with my head and I could study and ride pain free and not take a bunch of pills, sadly every time since I’ve tried to get it and never seem to be able to! The surgery sucks so make sure you get enough pain pills and don’t get behind on the max dosage!
Stay positive and enjoy the break from traveling and try and do everything you’ve been neglecting even if that means watching a little extra TV, you’ve earned it. It’s okay to enjoy yourself every once and a while this is that time. I had an IPA (high alcohol content tasty beer) after I crashed at Dana Point on May 3rd, 2015, when I was pretty pissed off and I felt WAY better. I realized my life was pretty great and being upset about getting hurt doing what I love, but still being okay enough to have a beer and live my life, I was pretty darn lucky actually and I actually enjoyed the rest of the night with our awesome host housing and Adam Farabaugh. It was nice to know how much my girlfriend Dany cared and loved me too.
As soon as I realized I could ride with my arm outstretched and each day I pushed it a little tiny bit more I realized I could get outside at any point if I was super careful. So, I waited for perfect conditions got a friend to ride with me to keep me in check and went out and conquered my fears before I road inside too much and got more scared.
Do the physical therapy that your doctor may not even recommend. I’ve had a bunch of different surgeons and you have to ask for a script, but when I first did it in 2009 I learned a lot and I actually made it 6 years and probably 20 crashes without another break. I also learned that if you do the physical therapy and hit the gym the recurring pain will go away and they will teach you some great exercises that work for you. My favorite if you are cheap and don’t want to go that route or have already recovered and want to add now are:
Push ups with your forearms on the ground where you just are essentially bringing your shoulders up and down while you do a plank and doing it with 3 sets of 15 for instance
Light 3-20lb weight held in front of you and lift up strait from 6 o’clock to 9 o’clock forward, all the way outward, and in between for another 3 sets of 15 at the most weight you can handle without serious pain working your way up every other day.
Then just do all the machines until you are strong enough to get serious and go back to a normal routine without pushing it and hurting yourself.
Dips can break your collarbone again so don’t do too much weight be careful at first that’s why physical therapy is best they won’t let you overdue it but they will push you a lot more than you would usually by yourself safely.
Another thing to realize about the trainer is it is always going to feel about one zone harder than it actually is so if you bring yourself to do some extended tempo/threshold/vo2 efforts you are going to really come back strong and fit. I hit my first climbs in 2008, less than a month out and was climbing better than ever because of that trainer time. In fact, I finished 10th at the end of the 100mile Beaumont stage of Redlands Cycling Classic 8 weeks out from my broken collarbone. My last suggestion is, once you are able to get outside for a week or so start to put in serious miles. You should finally have a little extra time because you aren’t traveling to races and try and take a day or a half day off from work when the weather is good and piece together a 20+ hour week or three. With this you will come back stronger than everyone who is out there racing week in and week out, getting burnt out. You will be mentally hungry and after 3 hard weeks of training you will also be stupid strong, which is hard to get midseason. If you hire me for coaching I can write a plan to really get you back fast, but this should help you even without a plan.
I finished 20th and 40th this past weekend in some of the toughest races all year with 200 invited starters and a big hilly hot crit and a 110 mile UCI Road Race with 280 turns, 10k climbing, a flat tire involving massive crazy caravan time, rain, and only 11 amateur and 55 finishers less than 4 weeks out from a broken collarbone and surgery. Likely, I would have won the local training race last night too at the end of a 7+ hour day had I not double flatted so it is safe to say I’m back in 1 month. I’m still taking 2 Tylenol every 6 hours or so, but its getting better every day. I can’t take anything for granted as I pretty much can’t crash again this season so it’s a huge risk and you have to be careful and adjust the way you race with a much higher level of risk aversion! This is a good habit regardless, as I’d always rather race the next day than finish 5th as I love racing. ALWAYS, be thinking where the next crash will be and realize that every single crash is your fault you can always avoid it. I got destroyed from behind out at Dana Point after I braked because of a big pile up in front of me, but maybe had I been more to the right ready to move around it or not braked so hard I wouldn’t have gotten taken down from behind so try and always leave space and be thinking about an out! Be careful out there and enjoy every minute of the journey that is bike racing because if you are racing your bike you are a seriously lucky and blessed individual!