This weekend my wife completed the Half Ironman in Madison, Wisconsin. That’s no mean feat given a course that is hilly beyond belief. At several points the grade reaches 10% and a long steep stretch up a country road called Observatory Hill makes you want to stop and look at what you’re doing.
I know this because we rode the course together a few weeks back in anticipation of the race, When it comes to her training for the longer races, I’m her Right Hand Man. I may not do every mile with her but we cover large chunks of training together.
We’re fairly equal as athletes so it works pretty well. She’s the faster swimmer. I’m the faster runner. We’re about the same on the bike depending on the day and terrain.
Right Hand Oops
As she was racing yesterday in Wisconsin, I got out for a 10K run along the Lake Loop that skirts downtown Madison. My running has been picking up in terms of pace and volume, so I was feeling peppy after a warmup and turned around ready to bring the last three miles home at 8:00 pace.
The asphalt trail is heavily traveled by cyclists and runners. One has to remain alert for other foot and bike traffic. But I like to run on the thin dirt path next to the actual trail. It is the product of the footprints of thousands of other runners.
As I rounded a slight left turn on the path that skirts a tree, my toe caught a root that sticks up out of the dirt. The thump of shoe rubber was followed closely by the awkward thud of my face literally hitting the ground. My right side also took a beating, especially my right hand. It was dirty and bloody and sweaty all at once.
Back at it
After lying there cursing for a couple seconds, then looking around to see who’d witnessed my incredible fall from grace, I gathered myself into a vertical posture and brushed off the worst of the brown dirt covering me from knee to shoulder.
It’s been a long time since I hit my head on the actual ground. Growing up as a competitive kid, that happened quite a bit. But as an adult one tries to avoid that kind of casual trauma at pretty much any cost.
So I shook my head a little to gain my wits as I started back running. There was grit from the ground stuck in my eye and my vision initially seemed a little off. Within ten strides however, I was back on pace, a little shaken and worse for wear, but running at the original rate.
I looked down at my hand and lamented, “That’s gonna sting in the shower.” The whole hand ached.
Right hand redux
That worried me because my right hand is already messed up from another incident a couple weeks ago. I was cycling up a busy country road and approaching a vehicle parked by the side of the road. It was a tall white SUV and I was hustling along on the bike at about 20 mph while checking for traffic behind me when a man stepped out from behind the SUV and I had no time to stop. My front wheel nailed him in the left buttock and I flew off the bike in a heap on the road.
I was glad there was no traffic coming from close behind or I might have been run over. The guy that got struck with the wheel was cursing me right and left. It turned out his classic GTO was parked right in front of his SUV and he’d been looking under the chassis before stepping out into the road. He’d probably looked for traffic and seeing none, thought it safe to poke his butt out into the traffic lane.
Later the local police called me to follow up on the report. ‘Why was he standing in the traffic lane?” the officer asked. I gave my observations but honestly, it happened so fast that nobody had a chance to react.
I’d taken photos after the incident. There was no room for error and lots of potential for happenstance collision. My right hand took a beating when my bike struck the fellow. At this moment I’m not sure there is not a broken bone in that spot before my index finger there. I’ll find out Wednesday at a doctor’s appointment. It is still sore.
The right perspective
Some of this calamity stuff is the inevitable product of trying to go fast under all sorts of circumstances. That’s one of the tarsnakes of triathlon training and racing. It does come with some degree of risk. I’ve had enough incidents on the bike in particular to realize that short of riding like a tortoise, things are going to happen now and then.
Yet falling down while running was surely a surprise. But when I returned to the race tents at the Ironman after a shower and getting cleaned up, I learned that two people had succumbed during the swim portion of the event that morning. The cause was unknown, but one person unresponsive when the volunteer kayakers reached him and the other was taken to the hospital in critical condition. And as we later learned, another athlete had also died.
Several weeks ago following my collision with the guy tending to his car, one of my cycling buddies told me, “You should be glad. Things like that can go sideways in a hurry.”
It all makes me genuinely glad that things turned out alright, even if the right side of my body is a little sore.