• Elliot Cooper

A Break

Updated: May 23

Sunday 27th of May, the first day of reconciliation week. I’m off to spend some time on the land, carrying my acknowledgement of the traditional owners with me. My training for Yamanaka Onsen 80km on June 23 is coming along well. Over the last few weeks I’ve cemented my ability to comfortably run sub-20 min in off-road 5km events, placing 1st at Coombs Parkrun and 3rd at the tougher Mt. Ainslie Parkrun. I have several weeks of 100km plus weeks under my belt with considerable climbing. Mutsumi has also signed us both up for the Kowen Trail Run half marathon on the 17th, the day before we fly to Japan. Today We are setting out on an important training run over the Bullen Range from Miowera Pines to Cotter Campground and back.

We start out well, but about 5km in it becomes apparent that we are not on a ridge, as we should be. This affects both of us more than it should and it becomes apparent that for whatever reason, neither of us are in the right headspace for the day’s run. After a bit of back and forth and some advice from a concerned ranger, we take a path the heads in the wrong direction for a couple of kilometers but gets us on the ridge. The road leads to a gate, which we climb over relieved that we can now focus on our run. But I’m still angry with myself for taking the wrong road. I don’t feel like talking. Mutsumi is saying something to me as the road angles down and then, about 100m from the gate, the toe of my right foot catches a rock. Since the road is curving down and away from me my hands miss completely and I tumble directly onto my right shoulder. I hear a crack. I roll over, striking my left hip on the ground. When I stop tumbling my first thought is, ‘It’s ok. I often fall. There’ll be a bit of skin off and a couple of bruises, I’ll finish the run’. Mutsumi rushes over to me, she’s saying ‘sorry’ over and over, I’m not sure why. She grabs me, and tries to help me up. I lift my right arm and scream as a bolt of pain shoots through my right shoulder. I use my left arm to get up and say ‘well, today’s run is over’. Now I’m really angry at myself for falling, and start to whinge a bit, ‘No Kowen Forest race. no Yamanaka Onsen race. Everything is fucked’.

Mutsumi tells me to sit down in the shade of a tree and I do. I try to understand what the problem is. I realise I can move all my fingers without pain. It occurs to me that maybe I haven’t broken anything. But I have no hope of lifting my arm: the only option is to turn around. I remember how Kilian Jornet used his running pack as a sling after he dislocated his shoulder at last years Hardrock 100 (and continued on to win the event). I take the vest off and loosen the straps. Mutsumi helps me put it back on, wrapping it around my folded right arm. The support the vest provides is very good and the 5km walk back to the car is relatively painless. We get into the car and the feeling is that there’s no emergency here. We decide to drive the Tidbinbilla road around the west side of the Bullen Range to take in the scenery and get better idea of the scope of the Range. As we get to the northern end I can see parts of the 4WD track that I ran many times a few months ago, and again regret not finishing today’s planned run.

We get back to the suburbs on the Cotter Road. Finding internet signal, I search for a doctor’s practice that’s open. When we arrive there are only 6 people waiting, and the doctor sees us in about 40 minutes. He asks me what I did, he types a few details into his computer, prints out a referral and sends me upstairs for an x-ray. Through all of this, except for the fact that I know lifting my right arm will cause me pain, I’m fine. When the radiologist sees me he laughs and asks me if I’ve been crying. I guess that I must be looking a bit worse than I feel, and laugh at his joke. ‘Ok, take off your t-shirt, stand this way, stand that way,” he says. I go back down stairs and the doctor soon calls me in. He looks through the x-rays on his computer screen and says ‘come and have a look’. We stand up and move to get a better look at the screen. There it is. A fracture in the collarbone. No mistake. It’s very bad news but by this point I was expecting it. I receive a prescription for painkillers and orders to buy a sling. I turn in my prescription at the pharmacy and find a sling. The pharmacist offers a seat for me to sit down at while I wait. She returns with the pills quickly and I stand up to pay. And then, I’m not sure. I know I’m looking in a different direction. Ugh, where am I? I can see a fridge with soft drinks in it. Oh, That’d be nice. After all I am a bit thirsty. Um. I dunno. I can feel something behind my knees. A chair? Yeah, a sit down would be good. I sit down. It is a chair. That’s good. There are some people around me. Saying things. Mutsumi asks if I want a drink. Yes. I’d like one of those energy drinks. ‘A Coke’, why did I say that? I don’t like Coke. I drink some Coke. Yuk. “I’m fine” I say, “I can walk”. I stand up, take a step and feel consciousness drain from my head to my fingertips. The last thing i can feel is Mutsumi’s hands grab me as she says ‘help’. Next, I’m sitting down with my head between my knees. Now there are more people around me. I smile, “thank you everybody, but I’m really ok”, Mutsumi says that she will bring the car around. I stand up. A woman grabs my arm. Now the doctor has come out. He’s tearing open the packaging of the sling and putting it on my arm. “Put this on” he’s saying “Now get in the car and go home”. I’m smiling at him. “Thank you” I say to him, to the people hanging on to me, terrified I’m going to collapse again. After another sit-down, I thank everyone again and make my way to the car. I get in and shut the door. “Well, I didn’t expect that to happen”. We drive home. I ice my shoulder, take a couple of painkillers. I don’t remember much of the rest of the day.

Monday.

Coffee with mum and dad at Tilley’s. I take a painkiller which might explain why I feel a little tired. I’m also a little worried about calorie intake. The sudden drop in exercise load means that I’ll be burning about 1500 calories less per day, and I don’t want to put on weight. I avoid solids, but risk a hot chocolate. We walk back and I ward off the sleepiness with an energy drink. I struggle through some Japanese study. We watch some TV and have dinner. I’m exhausted. I take another pain killer at bedtime. I’m noticing that most of the pain I’m feeling comes from tenseness in my muscles.

Tuesday.

I wake up feeling a little better and decide that I won’t take any more pain killers. It’s the day to go back to the doctor for an ultrasound. We get there at about 8:30am and the doctor doesn’t take long to see me. He asks if I need anything more to manage the pain and I say I’m fine. He gives me the radiologist’s report and a referral for an ultrasound. He suggests that I might want to wait a few days before doing the ultrasound as it’s likely to be painful. I say I’ll risk it. Upstairs the ultrasound operator is gentil and the arm movements required don’t cause much pain. No soft tissue damage is detected. Good news. On the way home we find a chemist that stocks comfrey cream and buy some. In the evening Dave and Marsha drop by with some food they have cooked for us. What great friends.

Wednesday.

I decided it’s time to step up treatment. The components of this treatment will be: sleep, gentle yoga with a focus on breathing, Wim Hof method including cold shower. Ice pack treatment 2~3 times a day, apply comfrey cream 2~3 times a day. Walk for more than an hour. I will eat twice a day, and avoid alcohol completely. I decide to stop wearing the sling while sleeping as I don’t move in my sleep and it only causes tension in my shoulder. I walk to the O’connor shops. Long time since I’ve been there.

Thursday.

Today I notice a couple of things. First, a yellow band in my skin from my right shoulder blade over and down to my armpit at the front. The second is that my arm straightens pretty easily now. During the morning’s yoga I find that while in table-top position (supporting myself with only my left hand, of course), I can allow the back of my right hand to rest on the mat and lower my right shoulder. This allows the muscles around my right shoulder blade to loosen and relax. The relief comes quickly. I decide to repeat this after wearing the sling, or whenever those muscles tense up. Mutsumi and I take a walk to Civic.

Friday.

I sleep late. My face hurts. For some reason my rosacea has worsened over the last couple of days. The yoga feels good and I can do more of the poses comfortably. Balancing on one foot is no trouble, nor is hands on hips. The Wim Hof breathing and the cold shower also feel good. I can lift my arm a little to the side without pain. I realize I can now comfortably turn my head enough to see the damage the fall did to my left hip reflected in the mirror. Today’s walk is to Dickson shops.

Saturday.

I wake up to my 6:45 alarm and instinctively prop myself up on my right elbow. “Ok Google, stop alarm” I say realising that I’m loading my right shoulder, and lie back down. It hurts a little, but not too badly. We have brekky and drive to the Burley Griffin Parkrun. I take photos while Mutsumi runs 22:52 and places 3rd female. It’s her best 5km time and a strong effort. Later I check the results: I could’ve run 2nd.

We head to our next event: Nara Canberra Peace Park working bee. I’m not able to do much beyond holding a bag open while somebody else stuffs leaves and weeds into it, but Mutsumi does a lot of work. We’re happy to be there. Back home and into the treatment regime, Yoga, Wim Hof, cold shower, comfrey, vitamins, calcium.

Sunday.

I wake to a burning sensation on my face. I layer on face cream, then rub comfrey into the shoulder. Brekky is quick. Today we’re attending a group run in the Molongolo gorge run. Donna, Sara, Sarah, Dan, Ian, Russ, Mutsumi head off for the run. I walk and check out the trails. It’s beautiful here. I realise I can hike comfortably, even on steep terrain. This gives me an idea. We join the others for coffee at Millhouse Queanbeyan. It’s good to chat and get to know some of the GunRunners a bit more. Home for Yoga, Wim Hof, and any icy shower. Monday.

I sleep late and wake up feeling good. I’m straight into my regime: yoga, Wim Hof breathing, cold shower, comfrey. Yesterday’s idea was to keep up my fitness by hiking. I hike up and down Mt. Ainslie twice. Exercise feels great. I return home thinking I could’ve done much more. I ice my shoulder again under a cold shower. There are clear signs of improvement. I can lift my arm out to the side a little without pain. This means I can get back to doing a bit of cooking.

Tuesday

First thing today is exercise: 3 hours hiking up and down Mt. Ainslie. It feels great to get the heart rate up and the lungs working. Four ascents totalling 850m of vert. For a 13km hike. I look for steep routes and discover the old quarry route up the eastern side of the mountain. On the last summit a group of school kids arrive in a bus. The must have been watching as I disappear over the edge because I can hear their voices behind me. I look back and see that a group of them are watching me descend. I guess a guy wearing a sling taking a steep route down the mountain is more interesting than the view down ANZAC parade if you’re 11. Back home for icing and comfrey. Yoga and Wim Hof happen later.

Wednesday.

I struggle out of bed at 9:30 after a bad dream. Today I want to do 1000m of vert. I eat brekky and realise that the breakfast I’ve been making for the past few months is now causing me discomfort. I’ll have to rethink that one. Mutsumi and I do a yoga session. I can only follow about half of the postures. I do a Wim Hof meditation. I want to get outside, so the cold shower will have to wait. I still can’t put on a t-shirt so I put on a polyester shirt. I jam a drink bottle into my back pocket and head off. I make my first ascent up the gully, then head down the quarry track. Exiting the single track onto the fire trail I decide to turn left and follow the power lines down further so I get maximum altitude gain on my second ascent. The I notice a trail off to the left. I can’t help it, I just want to see where it goes. I walk through the bush and come to a cross trail near the road. I’m not sure which road this is, but I know that Mt. Pleasant is on the other side of it. I can’t see a track continuing on the other side, so I turn left thinking this will surely get me back to Mt. Ainslie summit. It does, eventually, but about half way up this trail comes out at the road again and this time there is a path leading away on the other side. Again curiosity wins. A 4WD track leads me up a slight rise to the summit where I find a solar-powered trig station, a cairn and the remains of some old fence. From there the 4WD track drops steeply away to the left, I follow it down and find myself on a familiar track, the one which crosses on the east side of Mt. Ainslie and ultimately becomes a single track which leads up the east slope of Mt. Majura. I’m more than an hour into my hike and I’ve done less than 400m of climbing, so I do 3 ascents of the steep section I’ve just come down to earn some vert before heading back to Mt. Ainslie summit. I cross the road again and find that there is single track here leading all the way to the summit; Another fine route to look forward to running when I’m no longer broken.

For the rest of the hike I stick with the gully for the most altitude gain in the shortest possible time and distance. 3 and a bit more ascents get me my vertical kilometer. I then head straight home for an icy shower, food, vitamins and comfrey. Tonight is the Mont event with Andrew Lock, the only Aussie to climb all 14 8000ers.

Thursday.

I sleep in again, but wake feeling motivated. Mutsumi wants to go to black mountain; she’s never been to the top. We do some yoga followed by a Wim Hof meditation, then breakfast and off we go. We park at the Frith road substation. I want to get in as much vert as possible. Mutsumi opts to explore the trails in the area. After 2 hours we find each other as I descend from my 6th summit. Mutsumi has covered most of the trails and even spent some time in the botanical gardens. We head home for a well-deserved lunch of roast veggies. My shoulder is feeling better all the time. I can now lift my arm out to the side almost level with my shoulder without pain. A week ago, even the slightest movement in that direction was very painful. Amazing.

Friday.

It was hard to sleep. I was hungry. We’d made hummus yesterday and it was so good that I kept waking up and thinking about it. The weather forecast is for rain all afternoon, which is bad because we’ve got tickets to the footy tonight (the Raiders lead in the second half, then appear to give up and lose by a field goal). The forecast for rain motivates me to get hiking post-haste. Yoga will have to wait. I grab a banana and a crumpet for brekky and head out the door. The shoulder feels good, but I’m sticking with the sling to restrict movement. I notice a mild tiredness in the legs, but it’s not going to slow me down; I’ve got to get 1km of vert in before the rain comes. I take the steep route up the west gully and repeat the route until I’ve ascertained my goal. Six ascents give me 1123m of gain. At the summit I hear Mutsumi call out to me. She’s half way through her run. I head back home for a bowl of roast veggies, a tofu sausage, and a big dollop of hummus.

Saturday

Before bed last night I checked facebook and saw a post from the Yamanaka race organizer about a course change for this year. He said Mt. Sandoushi would be cut and instead the course would include Mt. Kaninome. The Mt. Sandoushi section is of the Yamanaka course that tests a runner’s psychological resolve the most. It follows a ridgeline that seems to go up and down and up and down forever. There, I have seen men sitting on the side of the trail, trying not to cry. It doesn’t seem right to cut it, so I post a response to ask if they course will maintain it formidable amount of accumulated elevation gain.

We wake to rain. I’d be happy to go to Parkrun and walk the course, but it’s more for able-body people like Mutsumi, and she’s not so keen. I figure if I wait until about 9am the rain will stop and I can head do my Mt. Ainslie hike. We do a yoga session, but even then the rain doesn’t look like stopping, so plan B it is. I put a movie on the TV and get on the exercise bike. The movie is ok, and I work up a sweat. On facebook a message appears: the race director says he has made an error in his calculations: Mt. Sandoushi might be brought back.

Sunday

It’s two weeks. Two weeks since I took a dive onto my right shoulder. Two weeks since I first thought my plans to run a fourth Yamanaka Onsen Trail Race were in tatters. I get up and head out for my hike. Up and down, up and down, like that ridge on Mt. Sandoushi, 60 kilometers into the race. It’s cloudy and there’s a bit of rain about, but my spirit is strong. I keep my arm in its sling just as a reminder, so I don’t throw my right arm out to balance. I feel good. Really good. I make my last descent of Mt. Ainslie and as the trail levels out I increase my pace to a gentle run. It’s only been two weeks, and I probably shouldn’t, but for those few steps I feel lightness and rhythm as both feet leave the ground.

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