Energised Ambassador Claire Doherty’s latest blog

Last week saw me finally getting back into the start of some decent training following a virus I had been fighting for the previous month. I was looking forwards to the weekend just gone, I would have my first really long bike ride of the year, in the form of the Chiltern 100 sportive (actually 110 miles as I had entered the Grand Fondo) and the start of my husbands 40th birthday celebrations that evening.

I had decided to ride the sportive on my TT bike – people shake their heads at this and ask why? Well, why not? As it is the bike I will ride for my Ironman races and other triathlons I like to get as many long rides done on it as I can. I was not planning on TT’ing the route or even riding fast. I had agreed to ride the first 50-60 miles with a friend at very relaxed pace and saw no reason why I shouldn’t ride my TT bike. Besides, it gives all you cycling purists something to moan about 🙂

Sunday arrived and what a glorious day it was. Warm and sunny, perfect for a long ride. I arrived at Bovingdon and saw a few people I know, including my friends and fellow Ironman triathletes Jen and Paula. I was really thrilled to see them there and we all started off together riding at a nice relaxed pace and chatting about Paula’s amazing Ironman Lanzarote race, where she had placed second in her age group. We philosophically chatted about how there are no guarantees in life, I was blissfully unaware as to quite how ironic this particular topic of conversation was to prove to be! The miles ticked by as did the climbs, some of the descents were amazing and I was loving it! We stopped a couple of times — once after my chain decided to fall off and jam against my frame and then for a refreshment break. At 60 miles my friend peeled off and I decided I was going to put press on and ride hard.

I had 50 miles to go and I told myself that riding harder would give me a much needed confidence boost, so thats what I did. I didn’t stop at any of the of the following aid stations, and I rode at my usual pace whilst still enjoying conversation with fellow riders. At about 102 miles in I was talking to a chap about my bike, as you do, and he informed me we had 2 climbs to go, one off a roundabout just ahead and then a right bastard out of Chesham (sic). My legs felt pretty good and I was looking forwards to getting to the finish and calling my husband. The first of these last two climbs approached and I spun up it, passing the usual suspects who would then speed past me on the descent ( weight does have its advantages!). Down the other side on a roughish road surface at circa 35 mph I had nothing to worry about, it was a long, straight descent. We then approached Pednor Lane and a bit of a bottle neck was developing. I could see a gaggle of riders up in front all slowing down and a few cars crawling along, all of them trying to get down a narrow road. I slowed to what must have been somewhere between 10-15 mph, not wanting to get so close to the congestion that I would be forced to come to a standstill. I was thinking of the cold beer I would soon be drinking and the curry I was going too be eating that evening.

The next thing I recall is thinking something along the lines of “ gosh I seem to be flying, oh look heres the road an inch from my face”. A fraction of a second later my thoughts were a jumble of pain and confusion. I couldn’t move; my head and neck were screaming in pain. I opened my mouth to speak and felt a small gush of something warm and salty, the undeniable taste of a bodily fluid that only confirmed I was hurt. I shouted out for help and felt hands tugging at my bike, to which I was still firmly wrapped around and a voice asking if I could unclip myself. My bike was pulled from me.

A man who introduced himself to me as Charlie knelt down beside me and told me he was a Dr.  Then a voice behind me told me that they were from St Johns Ambulance and asked if I could sit up. Two things came to mind, first that I was in a lot of pain, second, that I really probably should not move. Not yet.  Through a split lip and a slow but steady trickle of blood, I conveyed these thoughts and was assured that I was correct and shouldn’t be moved until I had been checked over.

A  lovely lady with a radio appeared and knelt down to talk to me. She was asking me if she should move my bike to the wall, who was she I wondered in my confused haze. I asked for my husband and fumbled for my phone, which sods law, was dead. The Dr, Charlie offered to call him from his phone but of course I don’t know my husbands mobile number! I asked him to call home-where my eldest son answered the phone and told us that his dad wasn’t there. After a couple more calls my husband was tracked down — he had come to meet me at the finish line. Meanwhile the lovely lady with the radio was telling me that she had closed off the road — how strange I thought, why would a random stranger close a road? She then told me not to worry that my face would heal and that it would be fine. This was when I realised that the pain I was feeling was a reflection of the damage I’d done. She then told me she had radioed for an ambulance and I recall really looking at her and suddenly the penny dropped — she wasn’t just wearing a police uniform and playing with a radio, she was actually a police woman! I had definitely chosen the right time and place to have a bike spill!

So the ambulance arrived, I was checked over, moved to a trolly, said good bye to Charlie and his friend (no course PB for them — so sorry!), and was taken off to Stoke Mandrevile A&E. I was telling the paramedics that I really didn’t think I should go, but noted the concerned glances that they exchanged and so did as I was told.  I was upset that I had managed to ruin my husbands birthday celebrations but as usual he shrugged it off as though he would much rather be sitting waiting in A&E for hours to come.
People were giving me sideways glances and a small child, around 5 passed me and looked right at me and pulled a face which said“ohhh thats nasty!” I tired to smile, but my face wasn’t, and still isn’t working. I assumed that he ran off because he wanted to find his mum, but on reflection now wonder if the narrowing of my eyes I performed to try and replicate a smile just freaked him out!


A nurse and plastic surgeon later and I was informed I would need minor surgery under local anaesthetic, to stitch my lip and clean the gravel from my face, with the possibility of further corrective surgery once things had healed.
Home I went with instruction to return the next day, which I duly did and waited for my turn in theatre to arrive.

I had been discussed on the ward round and it had been decided that I would cope better with the procedure if I were to have a general anaesthetic. I had prepared myself for a local and to me this was a pretty big change of plan. If I am to be objective, with my medical head on, I know that it’s not a big deal. However it wasn’t just a case of it taking longer to prepare me, for my recovery or the effect of the drugs over the next few days that was an issue. It was primarily a psychological issue — I wasn’t prepared for it, had not considered it and people who know me well know I can’t cope with sudden changes like this. I was starting to feel very anxious and upset.  I took a few minutes and deep breaths and whilst I waited I worked through all my fears in my mind. I would be fine.

A lovely nurse arrived to tell me that I couldn’t be operated on and would have to come back the next day. I burst into tears, tired and hungry, I wanted to go home and stay there. I re iterated that I didn’t want a general anaesthetic and that if this is what the issue was, I was more than happy with a local. She patted me on the arm and told me she would go and speak to the Surgeon. Ten minutes later she was back with a smile, telling me that it was my turn! An hour and several local anaesthetic injections later I had a cleaned face, two stitches and had learned that the plastic surgeon and some of his team were racing Blenheim Triathlon Sprint distance and had been practising their swimming in a oxfordshire lake.

So, now I am home with a second round of enforced rest. No swimming until my face has healed, no running until the whiplash has resolved and cycling…. One of the first things my husband said to me as we sat in A&E : you have to get straight back on that bike as soon as you can. He is not often right (ahem…), but this time he definitely is. I will get back on my bike and I will go for a gentle pootle around, once I have it back from my local bike shop where it is being checked over. I refuse to be scared of something that I love. That is not going to happen. I had navigated the pot holes and the swerving paths of some of my over tired fellow riders, I had descended carefully ( I’m a whimp and I do use my brakes!), I had fallen or been knocked off on the flat.

With 7 weeks to until IMUK, I am not going to be where I would have liked to be fitness wise, but I feel completely fine with it! I am not going to put myself under any pressure, other than to enjoy what I do. If I can still take part and get around great, it will be a good days training and I still have the option to race the euro champs in September. If it turns out that I can’t race, so be it — life’s path is not a straight run along an unwavering line, but more of a meander through a maze and often an unexpected turn leads us to a place more rewarding and more fulfilling than we could have ever imagined.  After all, when nothing is sure, anything is possible.


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