Earlier this year, 14-time iron-distance champion Lucy Gossage put together a great feature for us around goal setting. Full of practical advice, not just for sporting performance, but life generally. Well worth a read if you’ve not done so already.
Here, we wind the clock back to 2016 and one of the most challenging periods of Lucy’s professional triathlon career – breaking her collarbone two months before the IRONMAN World Championship.
How can you recover from that, and still perform at the biggest event in the sport? Well, Lucy did make it to Kona – and finished ninth in the professional ranks – a quite remarkable effort.
“I still, even now all these years later, get messages from people who break their collarbone asking for advice”, she told me.
Here, in her own words, is how she did it.
Broken collarbone to Kona podium – in two months
In 2016 I broke my collarbone 60 days before the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii. One week later I got it surgically plated, and just over seven weeks later went on to finish ninth in the race. That was my last Kona; three weeks after the race I returned to work as an oncologist.
Let me be clear: my experience of recovery from a broken collarbone doesn’t make me an expert, and if you’re experiencing the same injury, you should definitely consult and follow the guidance from a doctor! But, because people know this story, at least once or twice a month someone who has broken their collarbone contacts me and asks what I did to recover. Each time I reply, I vow to put it all into a blog. So here I am.
It goes without saying that my Wattbike formed the mainstay of my training for the first few weeks. What I’m writing here does not in any way constitute medical advice. However, I hope that if you’re reading it after breaking a bone, it will provide you with at least some hope that your season is not over.
A few things to bear in mind though. Firstly, I got mine surgically repaired. Recovery from a collarbone that is left to heal without surgery will be very different. Furthermore, I was coming at this as a full-time professional athlete, with lots of time to train and a very tight turnaround before the last World Championship of my career. There is absolutely no need for most people to do anywhere near this volume of training or to put them under the pressure I did to stay fit.
For most people, and in complete contrast to what I did, my first bit of advice would be to not stress and forget about training. Use the enforced break as an excuse to see friends and do all the things triathlon normally stops you doing. You’ll lose a bit of fitness but it will come back quickly, and the break (ignore the pun!) will probably do you the world of good mentally.
Tips for if you do want to continue training
- Make the Next Generation Wattbike Atom or indoor trainer your friend. And bribe friends with cake /coffee/alcohol to keep you company. I was lucky to have the Olympics to keep me company. Nowadays there are so many virtual apps, such as Zwift and The Sufferfest, that it’s relatively easy to vary your sessions and keep them interesting. The freeWattbike Hub app is also great to jump straight into a workout too. If it’s sunny, move the Wattbike outside.
- As well as being incredibly convenient and safe, the Wattbike also provides instant feedback through the Polar View and now the Pedalling Effectiveness Score tools. They can provide additional instant feedback at a time when potentially body imbalances elsewhere can impact your pedalling style. Seeing those improve as you heal is another motivator. At a time when you can easily feel down, seeing progress is very welcome!
- Don’t try to run before it’s repaired. It will be too painful. Believe me, I tried! Instead, take yourself walking or use the cross-trainer single-armed if you feel you want to do something more vigorous.
- If you’re desperate, you can swim before the operation. It may not do your swimming any good but it definitely did my head good. I strapped my arm to my side using an old race belt and mixed up sessions compiling kick and single-arm swim. I think I got up to 3km! Don’t swim for at least 10 days after the surgery, and until your surgeon or nurse practitioner tells you the wound is healed. A wound infection would be disastrous.
- Get a good physio, who is enabling, not disabling. Standard NHS advice is very conservative. My physio got rid of my sling three days post-op and gave me a range of mobility exercises which I did religiously, three or four times a day, for the first week or two. Paying for some decent physio advice, and then doing the exercises they give you, is money and time well spent.
- If you’re going to train fairly soon after your surgery, I would suggest not taking painkillers. You need to know when you’re doing too much. If you’re in too much pain to train without them, then you probably shouldn’t train.
- I was able to jog slowly the Saturday after my surgery on Monday. I couldn’t run quickly so did lots of very easy jogging instead. Focus on being proud of what you can do rather than stressing about what you can’t. Your training may not be specific, but you can do enough to stay fit and general fitness gets you a long way.
- Don’t go out on the road on your bike until you’re completely confident the bone is stable and you have zero pain going over bumps. I did my first couple of outdoor rides very slowly on a mountain bike.
- If you have an Ironman on the horizon, embrace the long indoor trainer sessions. They are gold-dust when it comes to the Queen K. The mental and physical strength you gain from these will pay dividends for years to come.
- Keep your friends and family close.
- Be proud!
Many years down the line now, I can’t believe I put myself through the level of training I did after my operation. I had no structure or plan and ended up doing more hours than I would normally do. My run mileage was ridiculous – it was all super-slow but I would jog with anyone and everyone, as much as anything because it was the only social bit of training I could do. Bonkers!
A Lucy Gossage mega indoor bike session…
- 10 min easy.
- 5 min as 30 sec hard 30 sec easy.
- 5 min easy.
- 5 x 50 min at IM watts, 5 min easy. 2 x 1 min hard at some point during each 50 mins.
Of course, your training doesn’t need to be quite so extreme. Check out my Overgeared Strength session within the Wattbiker Workouts on the Wattbike Hub app, just one example of many ways to train in a structured manner
My take-home message is simple. A broken bone is uncomfortable and inconvenient, but it doesn’t need to end your season if you’re determined it won’t. This little video sums up my experience.