Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The fear of crashing

For those of you out there who cycle, raise your hand if you like to crash. Ok, now raise you hand if you are afraid of crashing. That's what I thought. (In my mind, more of you raised your hand the second time.) If you cycle for any length of time you are going to go down at some point. It may me a simple dead bug, a gentle slide or something more serious that ends with a ride in an ambulance. The question is - does the fear of crashing stop you from getting out there and enjoying the ride?

I used to be very concerned about crashing while road riding. And I have virtually quit mountain biking because of crashes (I seem to go down almost every ride and rocks really hurt). My friend Sarah did her first road race last month and she only had 2 goals, 1) get a good workout, 2) not crash.

We have good reason to be concerned. You can get seriously hurt, or worse. We all know Barbara Warren's story too well at this point. We also all know someone who knows someone who went down hard. Don't ask my coach, Tim, about his history of crashes unless you've got a beer in your hand a few hours to kill.

But then you watch the Tour de France and these dudes crash all the time. Sometimes in quite spectacular fashion. And most times, they get up, wipe the dazed look from their face, get back on the bike and ride to the finish. So the new question is - Is it possible to crash and simply get back on the bike and finish the ride?

I went a long time before going down on the road bike but this seems to be my year. Here are two previous descriptions of my crashes this year.

Terrible Two training ride - (I was having good thoughts just before the crash.) All of those thoughts changed when I hit the ground - HARD! I actually got to see the crash unfold in front of me. I knew I was going down and also knew there was no way to stop it. I was descending about 20 mph, keeping things slow because the road was very wet. As I rounded a 90 degree corner I was greeted with a cattle grate in the road. I tapped the brakes and tried to go over the grate perfectly perpendicular knowing I was still at too hard of an angle. As soon as the front tire hit the grate the bike slid and I was bounced of the ground on my right side and then took a decent slide down the road. I ended up completely separated from the bike on my stomach and my first response was (well, you know)! Time to assess the damage. My shoulder and head hit very hard but nothing broken. My hip was starting to swell and I knew it had road rash. My elbow was also bleeding but what the hell - it could have been worse. Get up and get the bike. It seems to be okay. Back on and down the rest of the descent.

Colorado Courage Classic - I touched Brian's back wheel and dead bugged. As I hit the ground, on my right side, I naturally ended up on my back looking behind me. And that's when I knew I might be in trouble. All I could see was a front wheel and the face of panicked rider heading for my head. I immediately curled into a fetal position and braced for impact. Surprisingly, I didn't feel anything at first. But as I collected myself, I was noticed I was sore and there 3 Air Force Academy guys down. We all took stock of bodies and bikes. With no bike damage or major injuries, they head out and we followed just a short time later. As I start to ride, I notice my left thigh is really sore. The full story was I basically dead bugged into the path of these 3 guys as they came flying over the hill, in a congested area, and passing on the right (not a smart move). The first guy was the one who barely missed my head but he still went down. The second guy, to quote Tim, "used my ass as a ramp" and went flying over his handle bars into a ditch of tall grass. The third guy also manage to miss me but still went down as well. So, we ended up with a 3-1 ratio. Once Tim realized I was not hurt, only a little bruised (no biggie) he called it "the best crash ever."

So what's the point? Surprisingly, these crashes are helping me get over the fear of crashing. I now know I can go down and bounce back up with little more then some road rash and bruising. I not saying it's fun, but I have decided not to let concern about crashing stop me from enjoying life (notice the switch in terms).

So get out there and ride! Ride safe! Ride sensibly! Ride within your abilities! But most of all, ride!


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