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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ride safe...

  A Mooseman race report will come at some point-but, before then, I just wanted to put down some thoughts that have been going through my mind the past several days, that, at this time, just seem more important.  The one thing that I absolutely hate about triathlon is how inherently unsafe biking is, and how easily the course of one's life can be altered because of this.  I've talked a good amount about my own struggles with bike skills, sure, but I'm referring to a greater degree about the risks we face in sharing the road with cars.

  On Tuesday, I debated all day about what I wanted to do for my ride later on that evening.  I'd get home from work around six, and then I had a simple, 90 minute aerobic ride planned.  Should I hop on the trainer to avoid traffic, or hit the roads to make the time pass more quickly?  After spending the afternoon half awake and exhausted, the fresh air and sunshine woke me up a bit as soon as I stepped outside at the end of the day, and an outdoor ride won out.  I was about halfway through, and had settled in and was enjoying myself when, within minutes of each other, came two of my closest calls ever with cars-one, a woman who almost turned left into me; the other, a woman who decided to pull off into the shoulder immediately after passing me.  Shaken, I thought to myself, is this national "drive like an idiot around cyclists" day or something?  I pulled it back together, and finished the ride unscathed.

  The next morning, I turned on the TV and heard the news that's been circulating around the Rochester cycling/tri community.  On the same day, at the same time that I'd had my near misses, about 40 or so miles away, Kevin Royston wasn't so lucky.  He was struck from behind by a motorist, who fled the scene, leaving Kevin for dead by the side of the road.  He had to be airlifted to the hospital, and while I don't know the details of his condition, I do know that there's no way his life will ever be the same.  I don't know Kevin personally, but it doesn't matter; I, as I'm sure anyone who's ever ridden a bike on the road is, am disgusted, saddened, sickened, and angered over this story, and toward that driver.  In my opinion, few legitimate excuses exist for hitting a cyclist from behind.  The accident occurred around seven in the evening; maybe sun glare played a role, maybe there was a curve in the road, I don't know.  Unfortunately, given the driver's response, I have my doubts that those factors played a roll.  I can only assume that the driver was drunk, high, texting, driving without a license, driving without insurance, or, worst yet, just an ass who couldn't handle sharing the road and wanted to teach cyclists a lesson.  Regardless, nothing excuses leaving the scene.  Nothing.  This driver, who I'm convinced is some lower sort of life form, decided that his (or her) desire to avoid getting busted for some giant driving-related transgression was more important than another human being's life.  This, to me, is just disgusting.  I, for one, have no idea how this person could go home that evening, and lay his/her head down on the pillow that night, avoiding any penalty, while Kevin, who had done nothing wrong in the situation, was fighting for his life.

  So here comes my diatribe.  I'm not going to pretend that I'm a perfect cyclist, or a perfect driver.  I'll admit to running my share of stop signs or making the occasional questionable turn on the bike, especially when tired and delirious hours into a ride.  I've ridden across roads before, and only afterwards realized that had a car been coming, I might not have been able to stop.  But, I try to correct myself, reminding myself often of every horror story I hear.  I know I'm taking my life into my hands with every mistake I make.  The name Sally Mayeroff may ring a bell to some; she was a promising sub-2:40 marathoner who had just earned her pro triathlon license when she was tragically hit by a tractor trailer while cycling, and killed instantly.  Sally was my age; I remember seeing her name in track meet results while running in college.  She had also run a stop sign when she was hit.  The story becomes just that much more sad-could this have been avoided?  I have to remind myself of this sometimes-as much as I'll be trying to hit wattages, speed goals, HR zones, whatever, when riding, it's not worth becoming one of these stories.  Stopping to unclip and be sure that a road is clear isn't going to ruin the training effect of a ride.  It's just not.  But, it could insure that I'll be riding again the next day.

  As a driver, I'll admit to routinely driving 10 over.  I get annoyed just as much as anyone else when others pull in front of me and go more slowly than this, when they brake before lights and I miss them, when they speed match in the passing lane, etc.  Again, I have to remind myself-is it really that crucial?  Is it really worth getting that worked up over?  The giant tan Buick cruising 5 under down Titus could be the cute little old lady I just treated in therapy, after all.  Of course, I usually still get irritated, but other than using some choice words in the confines of my own vehicle, I don't act on it.  After all, I'll get to my destination much later if I ram my car into someone.

  What happens, then, when cyclists and drivers mix?  I've heard all the arguments against cyclists on the road-we take up space, we slow down traffic, we weave, etc.  We shouldn't be on the roads.  We should just bike on bike paths, or even the sidewalk.  Well, trust me.  I don't like sharing the road with cars any more than cars like sharing the roads with me.  Whenever possible, I'll seek out the quietest, lowest traffic roads I can find.  If a bike path that catered to the serious, competitive road cyclist, out for 100+ mile rides, existed, I would live on it.  But, the fact of the matter is, those type of paths aren't around here.  If I were to take to most of the paths (or, worse yet, sidewalks), around here, I'd likely end up running over some poor, unsuspecting family.  Thus, this leaves me with the roads...for better or worse.  As one of my patients, who I've been treating for the injuries he sustained when he was struck by a car while biking, puts it, "people just lose their minds when they get behind the wheel".

  Sure, I'm a professional triathlete.  This isn't my profession yet, though (although, someday, I hope that it might be).  But more than that, I'm somebody's wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, trusted therapist.  Someday (although, no time soon), I'll hopefully be someone's mother.  All of these roles are more important.  The next time you run into a cyclist on the road...remember this.  I'm not just some idiot girl on a bike, making you pause 2 seconds so you can move 3 feet to your left to give me some clearance.  Look at the road.  Put down your phone.  Take a deep breath- I'm not going to hold you up by more than seconds.  Remember that.  Remember that to many people, I'm something other than that idiot girl on the bike.  I can't accomplish what I need to on the canal trail, after all.  So, in the wake of what happened to Kevin, in the midst of my rage towards the driver, and along with the thoughts and well-wishes I'll be mentally sending his way, I just hope that we all can take a second to just remember these points.  Time-whether it be on a ride or in a car-is not worth a life.                

Friday, June 1, 2012

How do you measure a year?

  Wow...so, somehow a month has slipped past without me getting a chance to update this thing!  Life, well, got in the way, as work, a couple of presentations, training, and the nastiness of the yard all demanded my attention, and everything else fell by the wayside.  I found myself in sort of an Ironman training funk, as well; enough work has been done that I've been feeling the effects, yet the heaviest training still remains, something that seemed especially daunting as I came off my last recovery week still just generally tired.  Plus, I'd just generally plateaued, I was just constantly tired and hungry, and somehow was managing to gain weight.  The breaking point came a week and a half ago, when I was sitting on the bike with a board placed precariously across the aerobars, trying to write up evals while recovery riding, all while trying to protect the sore palm and elbow that I had fallen onto while trying to u-turn on a too narrow street while biking two days beforehand.  I stopped the ride and tried to recollect myself.  Mary had the good sense to shut me down for the next day, and reassured me that the Ironman funk was perfectly normal.  I slowly began to dig myself out of the self-imposed hole I'd created.  I left some frustration out on the track.  My pool times (finally) began to nudge themselves downward, ever so slightly.  And my biking, well, remained the same.  But, now I've found myself within days of my next conquest-the Mooseman 70.3.

   Although Mooseman is taking a back seat to Placid this year, I'd be lying if I denied that the race holds a bit more significance for me than my previous 70.3s this season.  One year ago, this race set into motion the chain of events that has brought me to where I am today.  I had a single goal: the Vegas slot.  I just wanted to get there; I had no inkling whatsoever that I possessed the capability to eventually win the age group and earn the pro card.  I headed into Mooseman absolutely terrified because of that reason, and also because I feared the bike course.  One big climb, done twice, followed by a fast, technical downhill.  I'd still never actually even ridden with both arms down in aero.  Looking back in my logs, I can count on one hand the number of times I'd ridden over 2.5 hours in the three months heading into that race.  Only two of those rides were outdoors, too.  One of them was on totally flat terrain.  On the other one, I had to stop while trying to climb Bopple hill, and then had tipped over onto the pavement trying to clip back in on the climb.  Once at the top, I noticed that I still has a couple of gears left that I could have shifted down into.  Yes, although it may be hard to believe, my bike skills were once far worse than what they are today.  Yet, when race day arrived, I somehow managed to swim, well, not horrifically for me, make it up and down that hill twice on two wheels, and work my way to the front of the age group on the run.  I remember watching the pro women start, with a twinge of envy almost, just hoping that some day, I'd make it into that wave.

  Fast forward a year, and it's back to the scene of the original crime.  Obviously, much has changed in that time, while much has somehow remained the same.  I'm still in search of the elusive sub-33 swim split (I know time isn't always relevant for swims, but...come on.  It's about time to speed up).  I'm still fearing that downhill to some (somewhat large, especially given the forecasted rain) degree-I know myself well enough to know that I'll be up out of aero, riding the brakes, maxing out at maybe 35mph, and praying a bit on my way down.  And I'm still just hoping that come race day, my body will figure out what it's supposed to do, and allow me to do it.  But, at the same time, several things have changed, which leave me with some optimism.  I have coaches now; there's no guessing game on my part this time.  Obviously, I've ridden much more.  I can ride in aero, even if I still pop out the second the road starts to slope downwards.  And, we've been climbing.  As soon as New Orleans was over, Dave and I began to travel down to the Finger Lakes area for some, as I termed it, "big girl" riding.  The time to suck it up a bit had arrived; I couldn't use the "my next race is flat" caveat anymore.  A couple of the climbs on our long rides were similar in distance and grade to Mooseman's hills.  Yes, they sucked; no, it hasn't gotten a whole ton easier; and yes, I've had a few of those "oh crap, I'm not going to make it up this" moments that I fear will come about on Sunday, but, bottom line is...I made it up (to this point).  And, of course, I'll be starting a few waves earlier, with far fewer women, in the wave I'd watched take of with admiration last year.  All things considered, despite the quasi-taper I've been freaking out over to some degree, I should consider myself better prepared.  But, only race day will tell.

  So, that's where I stand.  The nerves are lesser at this point, and, in a way, the stakes are also a bit lower.  My usual fears of finishing at the back of the pro field are there, of course, but if it happens, it happens-it wouldn't be the end of the world.  I'll take the race as what it is-a good test of my progress in the past year, some more good experience in the pro field, and hopefully some solid prep for Placid.  Whatever will be, will be!