Monday 16th February
As I lay in the snow, I could hear those words from an imaginary conscience, echoing loudly. I sat up, looked down and hoped the reason I couldn’t feel my foot was just due to the cold.
As I tried to wiggle the foot, some feeling started to return. A wave of embarrassment kicked in, surely
I cannae hae of broken my ankle sledging, I'm supposed tae be going skiing tomorrow, how the hell am I going to get down off the mountain …
In an effort to appear normal, I struggled to my feet. I applied weight, and whilst it was sore and rather unstable, it held and I was able to walk off the trail back down to the car.
A rest day followed; which was then followed by a day on the downhill skis (boots cranked tight to protect the ankle).
Then another day on the skinny x country skis (painkillers by the dozen) before a morning “Fat Biking” on the trails above Canmore. Technical single track… nae bother, but an easy approach trail with an inch of powder snow over blue ice, combined with a brake application, and gravity took over again.
Reflex kicked in, foot down, ankle collapsed (with a sharp pain), my shoulder took side impact (tearing the ligaments in the acromioclavicular joint) and I was in the snow once again… and aye, very close to tears.
In the few minutes it took him to arrive, a years’ worth of adventures already planned out disappeared, before a feeling of hope brought them back into 3D view, the nurse showed me the x-rays – a stable Weber “B” fracture with two cracks showing in my fibula.
There was a brief debate with the registrar about surgery, and thankfully the nurse fought my case not to have the injury plated and pinned. A backslab cast was applied and I was sent on my way home with crutches and painkillers.
With no weight bearing permitted, even the simplest task took forever. I considered a trip to the toilet warranted medium term planning. I adapted a plastic kit box to enable food and drink to be transferred between the kitchen and living room, where Sons of Anarchy binge viewing took place.
I'm not proud of it, but I soon found that mixing whisky and Dihydrocodeine gave good relief from the mental pain long after the physical pain had subsided – a wee habit I quickly got under control when I ran out of Dihydrocodeine, thankfully.
As the process of recovery progressed first with a resin cast, then with the application of a boot which allowed air to get around the ankle, hope slowly returned.
Turns out the physiotherapist was as much up for a challenge as I was and soon I was given a set of exercises to build range of motion, stability before moving onto the commencement of rebuilding strength.
Some days that target was a simple walk round the block. The adventure calendar was cleared of previous plans and new ones that were achievable were added. Instead of racing, I turned to working at races, with marshalling on the open hill being the role of choice.
Realising the recovery was going to be in months rather than weeks, I put in a couple of key dates with the main one being on the start line of the Ben Nevis Hill Race which is held on the first weekend of September each year, 2015 being my 10th consecutive run. The other was being able to spectate and support pals running The Highland Fling ultra, which was a race I should have been doing.
On the eve of The Fling, a brief moment of madness filled my head as I thought about starting the 53 mile run and seeing how far I could get, but was calmed when I hobbled up the stairs back into the flat.
Early the next morning, I did head up to Balmaha to see the race come through, and a last minute decision saw me climb slowly to the high point on Conic Hill where I would have the opportunity to see the runners prior to the descent into the control point.
The usual suspects were running, and I met them with encouragement and abuse in equal measure – it felt good to be back on the hill (even if fairly stationary).
The highlight of the day was meeting a runner called Katie (who I’d known only through social media), when she jumped off the trail, tugging my beard before heading into the distance.
I had an idea of where my own future was heading. I didn’t realise at the time, but sitting on Conic Hill considering the situation, was the second turning point. The decision not to return home, and to point the van north to see the race through the last few miles above Crainlarich, set a course that was to prove key to sitting writing this today.
Despite having driven the A82 many, many times, this felt different and it simply wasn’t sustainable to stay still any longer.
Suffice to say; the rollercoaster started to level out until I was able to hit the second big target of 2015, the Ben Nevis Hill Race. In writing this, I’ve thought back to what actually made a difference – no doubt support from good people played a part, but the biggest thing that promoted recovery was to attach meaning to it.
Some days it was being able to attend a gig (made it to see Tim Barry, Sam Russo, Cory Branan, Chuck Ragan and Nick Cave), other days it was being able to walk round to see my daughter without assistance, then it was being able to run for 10 minutes, the list could go on…
Oh… and before I forget, you’ll remember Katie from the Highland Fling and Conic Hill? Well, it turns out we get on pretty damn well and been Team Beardy & Blondie ever since.
Maybe being broken was actually what I needed. #brawtimes