Monday, May 30, 2011

Living Up To the Name: Bike Crash on Training Ride

The damage was a LOT worse than it looks.
There's one thing about being the Disaster Magnet. I know the next disaster is always on the horizon. I'm usually prepared for it. The bad thing is never knowing when it's coming. I ask people all the time: "are you sure you want to ride/run/swim with me? I AM, afterall, the Disaster Magnet." Everyone laughs. They think it's funny. They think I'm being overly dramatic. They think I'm just making it up.

I'm not. I'm one of the most accident-prone people you will ever meet. I'm the walking embodiment of Murphy's Law. If you don't believe me, just ask my new biking partners. They now know.

It started innocently enough. As one of the newest members of the Bike Authority-Fleet Feet Multisport Team, it had been weighing heavily on me to join one of our team-oriented bike rides. But, until May 7, I was focused on my training for Ironman St. George and did not want to do someone else's workout. However, once my race was over, I promised myself I would say "yes" to the first team activity I was able to make.

This first opportunity came in the shape of a long bike ride on Saturday with several teammates: Kim Shaheen, Gary (don't know his last name), Steve Thompson, Jason Davis and Ed Slovenkay. I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep up, but if I ever want to get faster on the bike, I've always known I would have to ride with the really fast people. There were six of us to start with, all planning different distances - but three of us wanted to get at least 100 miles in.

We started out at 6 a.m. - a nice change of pace for my lazy sleep-in-until-noon attitude. And since I was the "new" kid, I spend most of the ride in "follow" mode. We started out riding through Cuyahoga Valley and it was at this early point in the ride that I realized the significance of this weekend. It was Memorial Day Weekend, the very same weekend that disaster struck in 2003 when I was hit by a truck. But at that point in our ride, I did not sense any impending doom because of it.

Much to my surprise, although I did drop back a few times, I was able to keep up with this group for most of the ride, even on fatigued legs. And after about 40 miles, we were down to a group of three: Ed, Jason and me.

At this point in the ride, I was having second thoughts. Had I made a mistake thinking I was of their caliber? Would I not be able to hang with these two speed demons? Would I slow them down? There was only one thing to do: draft. I would have to stay within a foot of them in order to live out the dream of "riding with fast bikers." And that I did. I lagged on the hills, but I managed to catch up when things leveled out (or maybe they slowed down to wait?). I let them do all the talking. Ed and Jason are good friends and they were discussing bikes and components and routes and whatever while I huffed and puffed away hanging on their back tires and trying to hear snippets of their conversation - mostly hoping they weren't saying "geez, who invited the slow chick?"

When we finally reached what is known as the "gas station where we always stop," I was extremely relieved to find that we had over 65 miles in and we would be going "with the wind" on the way back. "With the wind" is a relative term in Northeast Ohio because, as I've noted in many blogs, the wind usually shifts to blow in your face no matter which direction you ride in. (Jason and Ed will confirm that.)

So yeah, we stopped at a gas station for a pitstop and to refill our water bottles. The mini mart had an overwhelming smell of fried chicken, and I was overcome with an urge to forsake my vegetarian ways at that moment. The three of us talked nutrition: I proclaimed my new love for First Endurance products (for which I was testing concentrations that day) and Gu Roctane, Ed downed a Power Bar and mixed up a couple bottles of Inifinit Nutrition while declaring his passion for Power Bar Gel (the caffeinated ones), and Jason downed... wait for it... beef jerky. I kid you not.

Ed and I would soon learn that Jason was the smart one. On the way back, he taught us the ways of the jerky. We coined a new acronym, the B.J.P. (the Beef Jerky Pull), and I learned how to "just hang on" while Jason seemed to effortlessly pull us through several upgrades. At one point on a very flat part of route 82, we reached a steady 25 mph. I was ecstatic, only to find that Jason was disappointed we didn't reach 27 mph. I hope it was the wind and not me that slowed us down.

By the time we were within 20 miles of home (we all live within a few miles of one another), Jason and Ed were both declaring how their legs now felt "great." I was feeling utterly fatigued. The only reason I hung on as long as I did was because I had no idea how to get home. But once we were in a familiar area (Cleveland Metroparks), I was about ready to back off and just let them go - I told Ed it would be ok if they did. For the next few miles I was able to hang on, but I don't know if it was a conscious decision on their part or if they just slowed down a little.

I almost wished they hadn't. Because at 95 miles, they would learn why my nickname is Disaster Magnet.

I'm not exactly sure what happened, but while drafting, my front wheel went into a rather large rut in the road and I completely lost control of my bike. I was probably riding somewhere around 21-22 mph.

Unlike my previous bike vs. truck accident, I had a lot more time (say, three seconds or so) to process what was happening. In those three seconds, the following things happened:
  1. I tried desperately to regain control of my bike
  2. I thought about how I was going to land
  3. I yelled (I think - only Ed and Jason know for sure exactly what I said)
  4. I wondered what bones I would break
And then I was on the ground. I don't know how long it took me to speak, but the first thing I noticed was not the pain, but that everything was out of focus - I can only describe it as "seeing double." Having been through closed head trauma (in that previous accident), I was scared that this was something different and much worse. I waited for things to come back into focus. They eventually did - and then I was aware of the pain. And aware of Jason and Ed trying to talk to me.

My right side and hip are STILL bleeding.
I had landed on my right side and my shoulder jammed into the side of my body. I moved my arm around in circles to check if something wasn't working. The pain was bad but my arm was functional. My biggest fear was if I had cracked a rib or something not obvious. My knee was bleeding and my hip had been chewed up pretty good. Damn, I ruined my favorite bike shorts.

I assured the boys that I did not have to call my husband (their suggestion) and that if my bike was operational, I was finishing this ride... dammit!

We checked the bike. The handlebars and aero bars were out of alignment but Jason and Ed helped by shifting everything back into place and after a few more attempts at movement, I was convinced I could ride the last however-many-miles we had left. We DID witness one miracle: all three of my water bottles stayed firmly in their cages during the crash.

Unfortunately, the remaining 13 miles would involve one of the worst hills in the area during which I would find my rear derailleur was bent and could not get into the lowest gear. But I persevered and made it home while having to listen to Ed and Jason's apologies (silly boys, they thought it was somehow their fault) followed by joking that I slowed them down. (Perhaps I even did it on purpose to slow them down.)

I'm going with the explanation that this was just a simple team initiation (I think the proper term is "hazing").

When I got home, my husband Jim insisted that I go to the emergency room (he was convinced that one of my pupils was dilated). I waited a bit, got a shower and then decided he was right. My biggest fear was that I broke a bone in my arm because I couldn't make a fist without excruciating pain in my elbow (it's strange how these things come to light later). I insisted that on the way to the ER, we drop my bike off at Bike Authority - it needed a new rear derailleur and some handlebar adjustments which were completed almost instantly by the amazing Mike Vanucci (who texted me in the ER!).

After several hours in the ER and one x-ray, it was determined that nothing was broken. The doctor gave me a prescription for 800 mg of ibuprofen and sent me on my way with one warning: "the worst is yet to come." 

This knee never gets a break. It still
has scars from winter running falls.
Boy was she right. I don't think my 46-year-old body will bounce back like it could 10 years ago. Two days later, the pain is starting to shift and localize in my shoulder, chest and elbow. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to sneeze (this is very bad now that I'm in the throes of spring allergy season). It hurts to lie down. It hurts to get up. I can't even blow my nose without pain. But my knee, which hurt the worst at first, is actually feeling much better.

I took Sunday off and haven't decided if I will race the Mooseman 70.3 next Sunday. I'll make that determination in a few days after I attempt to swim and run. Swimming will likely be the most difficult - my DeSoto T1 wetsuit will be next-to-impossible to get off with a compromised shoulder. (The saving grace may be the wetsuit peelers at Mooseman - I remember they were very good.)

Ed and Jason have both checked in with me to make sure their hazing didn't knock me out for the season. They CLAIM this is the first time they have been involved in a bike crash. Obviously, these two haven't truly lived. They say I scared them when I didn't speak right away after going down. They SAY they felt bad I crashed. Bring it, guys!!!! (and they know I'm joking.)

Jim is considering wrapping me in bubble wrap until Kona.

With a nickname like Disaster Magnet, nobody knows better than me that these things WILL happen. I'm just happy this particular disaster happened in a training ride and not a race.


  1. I LOVE the bubble wrap idea !! Way to go Jim !! Hey !! Maybe we could market arm warmers made out of bubble wrap.. hmmm....

    Glad to hear it was 'only' bumps and bruises.


  2. I happened upon your site and was excited to find that you had not only done the Ironman St. George this last month, but you also are from Cleveland. I have to say that you are amazing, you killed the Ironman and have given me inspiration to work harder - it was my first Ironman. I was wondering if you would be okay with me using your photo of the triathlon picture you took at the rewards ceramony, of the 3 stick figures. I'm updating my blog and thought it was perfect. If you ever want to kill someone in training, give me a shout, I could really help boost your self-esteem :)

    Thanks, Loni

  3. Thanks Loni, and sure, feel free to use that photo. I thought it was hilarious. If you need the hi-res version of it, just let me know. St. George was an amazing (and amazingly-hard) race, and I hope to go back there someday. Maybe even next year.