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The Long Road To Recovery

And How To Enjoy The View

By Lova Chechik

The author and brother, Yasha, take the A Class win at the 2018 OMM in the Black Mountains

“Cyclist vs Bus: bullseyed windscreen” it says on a whiteboard under my name. Injuries suspected “Head injury, ? pelvis, femur #” – not sure what those mean, but they don’t sound good.

Four hours and several CT scans later, I was announced the victor. Nothing was broken! It seemed like I had gotten off easy with just a sore head and a cut-up elbow. The helmet had a couple of cracks in it, so I must have taken an impact on the head, but I was confident I’d be back to normal life in a week or so.

To give a little background on myself; having retired from the sport of orienteering at the ripe old age of 15, it wasn’t until I was a 20yr old student in the flat Oxfordshire countryside that I discovered running.

My brother had stumbled across some cheap OMM entries; I took no persuasion, and that was that. A few years and OMMs later, and I moved to Sheffield, which conveniently backs onto the Peak District and has a half-decent fell running community. I entered a few races and was introduced to the Bob Graham Round. This takes place at a much more relaxed pace than racing which allows you to actually have time to look around and enjoy yourself – proper hill running.

I was hooked.

My first real season was 2018-2019, and friends kept mentioning different series and challenges to consider; British champs, English champs, relays, mountain marathons, Lakeland Classics, the classic rounds, old county tops and the list goes on.

My response was, “Yes”, and what a season it was! 3 mountain marathons, 2.5 classic rounds, 6 long Lakeland races, and the British champs (and relays) is what could be called “a few races too many”.

No-one enjoys reading lists of races, so I won’t bore you with the details but towards the end of the year, I moaned of tiredness; turns out I had low iron and I think my body was telling me that I was generally overdoing it.

I pretended to learn from my “mistakes” and started looking forward to 2020. My body forced me to rest over winter (by means of a chest infection) but I was back up and running by the time the national lockdowns started.

Moot Hall provides an unmistakable backdrop to another tick on the list

Fortunately, myself and my two housemates all cycled and ran, and we had the Peak District on our doorstep. Personally, I look back at the first lockdown with great fondness, but I appreciate the privileged position I was in. The lovely weather, quiet roads, and “one outing a day” rule, meant we went out and enjoyed a lot of long runs and rides.

COVID made me realise that I relish just being outdoors and exploring. I was surprised to see how race-oriented some people are, that the cancellations caused them to lose any motivation to get out and run. Luckily, I was still enjoying getting out and making the most of the weather and the Peak District.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and in early July, I was knocked off my bike by a bus. I have vague recollections of an ambulance and being in the trauma ward in a neck brace.

Flying the colours for DPFR in 2018, part of the Peak's 'half-decent fell running community'. Photo Credit: Dave Keyworth

Returning home from A&E I was naively optimistic of a quick recovery. I’d heard of concussions before and had just assumed the weariness and memory-loss wore off after a couple of days. A week later my bruising was mainly gone, but I was still spending most of the time in bed, in a brain fog. A month later and I realised that things weren’t just going to slip back to normal. A 10min jog would send me to bed for a couple of hours, I was still struggling with short-term memory, and looking at screens tired me out.

I decided to limit myself to walking, but initially even that would wipe me out. Slowly but surely, my body got used to movement and I was able to walk for 30-40 minutes a day.

Having spoken to therapists and friends, it turns out that post-concussive syndrome is also known as mild traumatic brain injury (which sounds a lot more serious). There are vague definitions and timescales, but fatigue and headaches persisting for over a year aren’t uncommon.

Uncertainty in prognosis is never easy, but the knowledge that most people make a full recovery was comforting. I was now in a more positive mind-set, however still unable to work or exercise, so I searched for different ways to fill my time.

Being late summer, I began noticing apple trees on my walks, some on public land, others not-so public. I’d often come home with bags of apples, sometimes asking permission, other times scrumping. Lots of apple crumble was made and several jars of chutney still take up a substantial amount of cupboard space. I even made a foraging map of apple trees, berries, and wild garlic to keep myself occupied.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and in early July, I was knocked off my bike by a bus. I have vague recollections of an ambulance and being in the trauma ward in a neck brace.

This obsession eventually passed and I moved onto benchmarks. These are small marks engraved onto many walls and buildings (map here) and were used for mapping purposes as far back as the 1830s. Not all mapped benchmarks still exist, but finding one provided me with a little sense of satisfaction. They were something to look for, and do, on my walks. There are even different types of benchmarks, but I’ll leave that for you to discover.

Next came fire hydrants; I’m sure I’ve bored many a friend talking about these on walks. Once you know what one looks like, you’ll see them everywhere!

As time passed, my walks grew longer. I was shown an app called “Turfs”, which is a mix of geo-caching and Pokemon Go. You roam around, collecting virtual checkpoints called turfs, earning yourself points. Others can steal your turfs, so it can become competitive and you can see when other ‘turfers’ are out. I ventured to new places in search of these mythical turfs and smugly stole turfs off a few friends.

Taking a little more time to slow down and enjoy the views during lockdown
A much coveted Benchmark in the wild

Due to reduced exercise and lockdown restrictions, my baking yield went through the roof. Every couple of weeks I’d bake cookies or cake and go on a tour of all my local friends, delivering baked goods. It was a nice excuse to catch up with friends without having to make plans or committing to a run – and I’m sure they appreciated the cake.

Nowadays, I can tell that if I turn up unannounced, people quietly hope that I have brought cake.

And now that I’m able to go on longer walks, I can return to one of my favourite activities; exploring the Peak District.

With the help of something I call the “magic pink book”, I have a new way of finding excitement without the need to go too far. This book contains a copious amount of information about the local area, detailing history, stone circles, plane wrecks, memorials and various trods.

It’s been a handy guide for planning walks with my friends and has encouraged us to explore places we’ve not previously visited and I’m sure not all of the information is available online. A beck may not lead anywhere so might not be a runners’ dream, but with directions to plunge pools and stone circles, it makes a perfect walk.

As hard as not being able to run has been, I’ve found ways to keep myself occupied and entertained. There are many things to explore which don’t require you to travel long distances. If you’re unable to train normally, rather than looking at what you can’t do, find the little things which you can do, and hopefully they will make recovery an easier journey.

If you’re unable to train normally, rather than looking at what you can’t do, find the little things which you can do, and hopefully they will make recovery an easier journey.

Recovery is still a work in progress for me. Some consistency seems to be returning, but it’s hard to make concrete plans. Body and COVID permitting, the Saunders Mountain Marathon is my current “comeback” race. Introducing my 15-year-old sister to the sport I’ve grown to love, so hopefully my body can cope with her pace. From there, I’m happy to put racing on the backburner and let myself find my feet again in the hills. We’ll see where I’m up to by October, but I hope to see you at the overnight campsite at the OMM.

The author in his natural habitat, chasing becks

Many thanks to Lova for this uplifting and honest take on his personal journey through lockdown and injury and back into the hills.

He can usually be found in the kitchen talking to his sourdough starter or poring over maps of esoteric Peak District landmarks and occasionally on an OMM podium with brother, Yasha.

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