Risks We Take: Quabbin Road Race Recap
Before I continue, please be advised that I am sharing details that may be uncomfortable for some viewers to read. I have also left out photos of injuries (not necessary honestly) and details of other riders involved in the incident (as I do not have their permission to share their personal details, nor do I want to). You have now been advised. Proceed with your own risk.
If you talked to me at staging, I would've gone on about how cold and under-dressed I was, and how much I regretted about my clothing (and life) decisions. It was indeed cold, wet and windy. Typical New England weather, ya know?
I was pretty eager to conquer the 64.5 mile hilly route. In my mind, this was a performance preview for the also hilly 70.3 in June. Before any race, I start running though different scenarios, whether it was positive or negative: from flatting to blasting across the course. One of these situations included crashing. I never wanted to experience it, but I'd rather be ready for it than not.
The first few miles of the start was neutral and downhill. We were chilled to the bone, and regretting our decisions to proceed with this race. Nevertheless, we continued downwards towards route 9, where the race began. There were about 20-25 racers at the start, and the same 5-7 racers staying at the front of the pack. As soon we hit route 9, we started to work so we can warm up. (I'm not kidding when were relieved to start climbing hills. We were frozen on our bikes.)
Myself and two or three other girls ended up pulling the group during the early, small descents, since we were some of the taller riders and/or used the descents towards our advantage. After one of the downhills, one gal was leading the group and I was right behind her. The road still had a slight downward incline, but the girl in front was slowing down...way faster than I expected. I started to move over to the right, checking to see if there was anyone on my right or wheel, and within in seconds of looking back up, I started to see her wheel overlap mine. I was about to say something and move out of the way, the back end her wheel collided with my front tire and I lost control of my bike at 20-22mph.
"Aw sh*t...I'm going down."
I don't remember how I fell exactly. I just remember losing control over my bike, flying through the air, slamming and skidding across the ground, possibly rolling over one or two times. I felt at least one person ram into me and I ended up curling into a ball and grabbing my neck and head as I felt the wheels of other riders riding on top of me.
As soon as the coast cleared, my first instinct was to get back onto the bike. But as soon as I sat up, I knew that I was not in a position to continue riding for another 55 miles or so. Some of the girls who were impacted by the crash got back on and rode off. Two other gals didn't continue. One of them was lying on the ground, clearly not doing so well. I could hear the neutral support car, medics and officials coming behind. The next thought I had was, "I know my name, what year it is, where I am, and who the president is. I can breathe normally, I have feeling in my extremities, and I can move my head and neck." (Thank you BU EMS for that training.) I was able to move and surprisingly not in as bad of shape as I expected. Granted, I had loads of caffeine and adrenaline running through my veins, which clouded my perception of pain.
All of this happened in less than two minutes.
A Call to Be Checked Out
I had no idea what condition I was in. I could feel the adrenaline rush from the accident, slightly clouding my judgement. I felt a bit hazy (but I wasn't surprised considering what I had just experienced). I kept my helmet on for a solid 10 minutes. No idea why. I guess it provided warmth in a way? As I waited for the second ambulance to arrive, my right knee became twice its' normal size (and bleeding from the scrapes), and I was barely able to bend it without pain shooting up my leg. My right forearm was bleeding through the cut up arm warmer, and I could feel the bridge of my nose was swollen and wet with blood. One of the first remarks the EMTs and officials made was how swollen my forehead was. To be fair, my forehead does protrude naturally (thanks to my Russian DNA 😉), so I didn't think much of it at first. It wasn't until I finally took my helmet off that I could feel the lump on the left side of my forehead.
I opted to get checked out at the hospital since my pain tolerance and caffeine rush could be masking any considerable damage. Not to mention the possibility of a concussion, even though I didn't seem to have any symptoms of neurological damage. After getting some X-Rays and an evaluation (and hanging out at the hospital staring at the ceiling for a couple of hours), I was cleared to be discharged. No broken bones. No concussion. Just scrapes, bruises, and maybe a strained ligament in my hand.
Stranded at the hospital, the only method of contact I had was the hospital phone, since my phone was in my car at the race site...10-15 minutes away. Initially I thought, "That's okay, I can ride my bike over there." Then I realized that my bike was also at the race site 🤦♀️ ...bummer. Luckily, the officials managed to reach out to my friends at the feed zone, to let them know I had pulled out and gone to the hospital. They were able to bring my car and my belongings after the race finished. A huge thank you to my friends for doing that for me!
The Next Day
24 hours later, I developed some soreness in my neck and right shoulder, and my middle knuckle on my right hand ballooned slightly. (Still had to do chores with one and a half hands, which was interrupted with a faulty thermistor in my washing machine. Just my luck this weekend 🙈)
Again, I was incredibly lucky so have come out of the crash with abrasions, soreness, and bruises (including my ego). I'm not in the clear yet in regards to my head injury, as concussion symptoms can appear days or a week after the incident.
*If you experienced a head injury of any kind, please go see a doctor to be evaluated. When in doubt, sit it out (and go see a medical professional if you haven't already). I've provided links to other concussion and brain injury resources below.
For Real Tho
If I said I wasn't disappointed or frustrated or even mad for a second, I'd be straight up lying to you.
I was frustrated that it happened before we even reached 30 minutes into the race (including the neutral start).
I was mad that I didn't pay a close enough attention.
I was mad at myself for not pulling out of the way in time or being able to control my own bike.
I was guilty for causing so much pain for the other girl.
I was frustrated that I ended up with minimal injuries and didn't get back on.
I was frustrated that this even happened in the first place.
But...at the end of the day, this was just another race. It was just an accident that could've happened two seconds into the race or two seconds before the race ended. I could've come out of the situation in a much worse shape. But I didn't. I came out of the crash alive, breathing, and able to function without much limitation. Even though I didn't cross the finish line, that was a win. My frustrations and emotions from the incident faded by the end of the weekend, and I was ready to move on and recover (with the exception of this blog post).
How's Supergirl (my bike)
Upon initial visual inspection with my flashlight, the frame and fork look intact, with no bubbling or deformities reflecting the light. The most obvious damage is on my Di2 shifters (RIP: quite literally rip; ripped the front of the hoods and some of the plastic), and the rear derailleur. The mechanics at Giant Boston were able to figure out why the rear derailleur was refusing to reset and shift (turns out the derailleur needed to be crash-reset about 3-5 times before magically working 😂). They also did confirm that the bike is in good condition, with no damage to the frame and fork. The only other adjustments that needed to be made was truing the rear wheel (not the front one surprisingly).
Since I'm poor and I'm not able to afford new Di2 shifters, I opted to replace the rubber hood covers for the time being. Once I have an actual salary and I have a slightly larger budget, then I'll consider replacing the shifters. But for now, I'll live with the scuffed up shifters. (I've got to say, it's still a look, especially now that both sides match one another. 💁♀️💃)
What I think cost me or saved me
Too many factors really. But there are several things that I took away from the accident (and a few things you can learn from it).
1) Learning to fall
This is one of the rare moments where I am thankful for my early training in gymnastics. We learn how to fall, avoid bracing ourselves, and preparing for impact. It was all done on soft surfaces (well, for the most part...not counting the damn balance beam 😂), but it still ingrained that skill.
*Some of the ways you can practice falling is riding on the grass or soft surfaces, or even going bouldering at a climbing gym and falling off the wall onto the mats (plus you'll get a good upper body workout in). As you fall, relax your body. This will allow your body to absorb and distribute the impact. Bracing or tensing your muscles will pinpoint the impact surface and cause further damage. That being said, don't fall from 20 ft onto the grass and get sent to the emergency room. Please be smart and reasonable.
2) Tuck and Duck
When you've got a herd of wheels rolling over you, the first thing you should do is protect your core and head. This means you tuck in, get your hands over your neck and head, and stay still until the coast is clear. If you're able to move out of the way, do it, but if you're not in position to move, don't.
3) Wearing layers
Even though I didn't wear as many layers as I should've in that weather, my leg covers, arm warmers, gloves, jersey, shorts, and shoe covers prevented a lot more damage. The sunglasses may have bruised my nose, but I'm glad they didn't break under pressure of wheels and crashing.
Granted, if you're in a warm weather race, I doubt you'll be wearing many layers (hopefully at least one layer...), as you'd suffer from the excess heat. In that case, try not to crash? 😂
4) Not getting back on
Even though I really wanted to, I didn't know how much trouble I was in physically. If I got back on with a concussion or broken bones, that would've caused so many more issues than if I stayed off. Not to mention, by the time I was getting transported, my knee was twice its normal size and hard to walk on initially. And yes, pro-riders would get up and move on in my situation. However, I'm not getting paid to ride my bike (unfortunately). I have classes and a life outside of cycling, so I wasn't going to risk it by getting back onto my bike. Again, when in doubt, sit it out.
This is probably my number one save. Helmets do save lives. With newer technology like MIPS and WaveCell, helmets are improving our chances of making it out of a crash alive, even possibly well.
*A few people have pointed out on my Insta-story that my helmet only has a small crack or dent, so I don't have to replace it. Listen 👏... just because there's minimal (or even no damage) on the surface of the helmet, there's no saying what damaged the foam inside actually sustained. My bike is named Supergirl, but neither myself nor my bike have X-Ray vision (I would've avoided going to the hospital right away if that was the case 😂). In this case, my head did hit the ground and someone did ride their wheel over my head as well (probably what caused the dent). As sad as I am about the helmet, it served it's purpose, and I am grateful for it, but it will be replaced.
6) Pure Luck
It's rare when you can control your movement as you fall off your bike, especially you're clipped into your pedals. I have no idea how my feet came out of the pedals (Thank god for physics and luck). All I knew at that point was I'm heading for the ground.
What Probably Cost Me (in the crash and/or the race in general)
1) Not pulling forward or communicating in time
Granted, things can happen really fast and unexpectedly, like going down a hill at 20+mph on a slick road. However, in general, everyone should always communicate with other riders in the pack. A non-communicative group ride or race can be a death trap.
2) Not wearing enough layers to stay warm
When you're freezing, you have less control over your bike and you may not be able to focus on the task at hand. Even if i didn't get into the accident, there was a high chance of developing hypothermia with the amount of clothes I was wearing. I misjudged based on my judgement that I usually use for running, not cycling. Not to mention, the extra layers of clothing could've saved me the scrapes 🤷♀️.
What To Do if you or another rider goes down
Not everyone goes through first-aid, CPR, or EMT training (although I recommend at least first-aid training). But here's a very brief rundown of what to do when you or someone experiences a crash.
0) Don't panic
You panic, I panic, they panic, it panics...you get the idea. Focus on the things that you can do and control (and breathe, oxygen helps with general function).
1) Check to see if the scene is safe. If not, try to relocate to or create a safer situation.
-If you go down on the road, you're most likely riding with traffic. Lying or sitting on the edge of the pavement isn't safe for anyone (cars barely notice cyclists moving on the road, let alone someone sitting on the edge of the road). If you can, move off of the road or (if possible) have a car put hazard lights on to protect the rider on the ground.
-If possible (and needed), remove your bike and gear from the road before you start assessing.
Airway, Breathing and Circulation.
-Is your airway open and clear of obstruction?
-How are you breathing? Is there pain? Anything moving abnormally when you breathe, particularly around the rib cage?
-What's your pulse? Is it strong, weak, normal? Check your skin color and see if there are any major bleeds that need immediate care
3) Responsiveness and Level of Consciousness: AVPU
-A-Awake: You know your name, where you are, what year it is and who the president is.
-V-Verbal: Responding to verbal commands. You may be aware of someone doing this to you, but you wouldn't be assessing yourself at this point.
-P-Responsive to pain (such as a pinch), you wouldn't be doing this yourself
-U-Unconscious or barely speaking or comprehending, you wouldn't be doing number 1 by yourself
4) If need be, call 911
-If someone is less than an "A" mental state and/or has difficulty with their ABCs (or you have no idea what to do) seek emergency services.
Again, this not the be all and end all for every crash.
DNFing is not fun.
Crashing is...honestly...terrifying, no matter how macho people try to be, or even how much I try to downplay it in a conversation. True, my injuries weren't severe as compared to the other rider who went down (or what other people tend to experience in crashes), but that comes down to sheer luck. Anything can happen, and you can lose your life in this kind of situation. My parents love to point out how much they "Told me so," warning me that this could happen. Yes. That's completely true. It's the risk that we all decide to take when we ride our bikes, run on the roads (or trails), and even when we drive everyday. It's a fact of our lives. But I am not going to let one accident deter my passion for cycling and triathlon. There were plenty of lessons learned that day, which I plan to take with me and implement in future training and events.
So, why did I decide to share all of this with you? I could've easily just said, "I crashed. I'm fine. I'm back on my bike and resuming training. Peace out." However, that kind of post wouldn't be beneficial in any way, and I would be downplaying the situation and the lessons I wanted to share with you. Group rides and cycling races are excellent ways to improve your confidence and handling on the bike. That isn't to say, there's no risk in riding in a group. I'm not trying to scare anyone from cycling or riding in a group. It's a risk we choose to take, and it's something we have to be okay with or at least be ready to deal with (just like driving a car with people texting and driving at 80 mph on the highway).
To everyone else who went down at Quabbin, I hope you are all doing okay and on the road to recovery.
What's Next For Me
Now that my frustrations are channeled into motivation, well, it's recovery and easier training this week. I've been moving around and getting ready for two more weeks of studying and exams. I do have to be careful still because the signs of a concussion could start creeping up a week or two after the accident. Once I get my bike back from the shop, hopefully, I'll be in a better position for my last training block before IM 70.3 CT on June 2nd.
Happy Riding (and speedy recovery to those who crashed),