“What goes up…” &cetera.
I was up. Severely up. Cat 3 for bike racing, winning local trail races, maintaining a solid week-on-week training schedule.
And I was signed up, too, for another triathlon, this one an Olympic distance bruiser that should have been pretty routine. I don’t even remember where it was, just that I wanted to test out my swimming form somewhere nearby and not too challenging.
I haven’t looked at these results before, so it’s interested to think about where I stood in that race. The event was Olympic distance, meaning a 1-mile swim (or thereabouts), 40 km bike, and 10 km run. Obviously, I had the bike and run down, and I’d been working on the swim all summer. But swimming in the pool or in a non-competitive lake crossing was one thing; the group start of a triathlon, I knew, was a different beast.
I remember going to the race with Lawren, and I remember waiting lakeside for the start. We hung near the back -- his swimming was almost as terrible as mine -- during the lead-up to the race, including during the obligatory announcements by the race coordinator. These were done without aid of a microphone, and included the important instructions to stay slow on the downhill on the bike because there were curves and they hadn’t been swept of gravel.
I missed that part.
Just before the gun, I positioned myself near the middle of the pack. We dove into the water, and I swam furiously through the course, losing minimal ground in the process. Remember that I was in the bottom 1/3 for most of my other races, so this was definitely an improvement. I hopped on the bike and started passing immediately, blowing by people on the flats and across the rollers and up the big climb away from the water.
At the major downhill, I took an outside line and smoothly slid by another rider. Coming to the corner, though, my rear wheel lost purchase, and I fishtailed badly, my bike skidding left, right, left, right, before my front wheel had turned enough to throw me over the bars. At close to 25 mph, I hurtled forward, rolled once, and slid to a stop on my back, my bike bounding down the hill another 30 meters or so.
Adrenaline pumping now.
My thumb was severely displaced, and my knee was a splatter of red pouring blood down my leg. My helmet was destroyed. Shredded bits of my jersey flapped against my back. This was the time, though: pain hadn't registered yet. I dashed down, grabbed my bike, and threw it on the other side of the road where nobody would run into it. Passersby gaped at a bloody mess.
Now to the decision. Bleeding profusely from leg and, presumably, my back, I could go up the hill to the aid station I had just passed or down the hill to the next one, which was indeterminately far away. Having “just passed” an aid station when you’re going 25-ish mph means it can be a long walk, but I gritted my teeth and girded my loins and screwed up my courage and verbed various other nouns in the interests of just getting back there.
When I arrived, the volunteer was horrified. She obviously didn’t expect to see a mangled body walk up the hill to this station. But there I was. She plied me with some water, and I passed out briefly while sitting on a utility box. I regained consciousness only when the wee dream-like scenario that was playing out in my head -- being at the doctor and having a conversation with someone -- resulted in my head slamming against something, which turned out to be the box itself.
An ambulance arrived, and I was whisked to a local hospital, treated for abrasions all over my back, diagnosed with a broken thumb, and given a lot of pain medication. My knee had a hole the size of a 50-cent piece through all the dermal layers, but the internals had somehow survived intact. Even now, I remember my quadriceps femoris, exposed and pale and straight against the pink and red disarray of the surrounding wound.
The road rash on my back required daily maintenance and forced me to sleep upright for weeks. My thumb was surgically repaired, and I spent a month with my hand and wrist in a cast. The knee hole healed very slowly as the flesh built up from bottom-to-top and around the edges where the pieces had been sewn back into place.
And yet I rode. I remember commuting home down the hill in the cast, each small bump feeling like it might throw me again and re-open the newly-scarred or as-yet-unhealed tissue. What manner of madeness compelled me to this course?
I was 25 at the time, and every passing day felt like a prime day lost. So I tried to stay in racing condition. This meant riding the trainer and getting back to the daily running routine. Once all the healing was done and summer slipped into autumn's rearview mirror, I was only barely less well-off than before the crash. There was one race left: the first race course I’d ever done as a cyclist.
A few friends joined me this time, and told them what I remembered from years earlier about the Apple Fest: it’s got a couple major climbs. I started cautiously with the pack through the rollers, but on one of those major climbs -- one of the 5 or 6 or 8 -- I embraced that old cycling aggression and pulled away from the field. Riding out front with a group of a half dozen or so, we stayed away, then strung out across the road over the final 8 miles. I remember the effort of the last two miles, an explosive emptying of long-unused legs anxious to show their capability. I won.
My friends, needless to say, did not appreciate my advice about the race complexion. Then again, I honestly didn’t remember the course being full of climbing.
This was the unfortunately happy end of what could have been a remarkable season, and though it gave me satisfaction to close with a victory, it was unclear just how much I had left.
I packed away my warm-weather kit and hunkered down for winter.
Next up: Interpersonal Inclinations and Competitive Chaos
Mash out. Spin on.