Oh Look. Rocks!

I promise I wasn’t staring at this instead of the trail…
Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, the race that was for four consecutive editions was a pillar of my season has eluded me. At least this year, it has done so before the race and in slightly less embarrassing fashion than last year. Although, yet again, as it has ever year, I like to think that Ironman Arizona has taught me something. For those of you who fear my verbosity, I’ll save you reading the rest and just say, simply, that I will not be racing Ironman Arizona this Sunday. 
Last Wednesday afternoon, on my second trip down the fire-road I took the above picture from (I took that picture the first time down), I hit a small rock that was, in trying to piece together what happened afterwards, a bit too big to simply knock out of the way but too small to roll over. I hit it slightly off center, and it seems like it then slid out, twisting my front wheel and causing me to take the scenic route over my handlebars. I separated my left shoulder and dislocated my ring finger on my right hand, but thankfully did not break anything. I gave myself until Monday to see how I’d recover, thinking that if I could have a full week of normal preparation leading into the race, I’d still do it. But yesterday morning there was still a lot of pain and inadequate range of motion for me to feel that I could race well.

Oh look… ROCKS!

I’ve always said that in mountain biking – unlike road biking – virtually all injuries and accidents are the result of your own bad decisions, and as much as I’d like to chalk this up entirely to bad luck – and it certainly was unlucky; a few inches (or cm) to either side, and I am certain I would not have crashed – I don’t think that was the only reason. And so I decided to put some additional thoughts down that will hopefully serve as a reminder to me in the future and also perhaps help out some of you all who are nice enough to wade through all my words. I thought about simply saying, “I’m not racing” and leaving it at that, but in the time I wasn’t able to spend training, I did my other favorite activity – reading – and had some insights that my wife assures me were actually valuable. Always trust your wife’s judgement…
I was reading Michael Lewis’s wonderful book, Moneyball, which is as much about Oakland GM Billy Beane as it is about the wonderful power of statistics. Billy Beane had “it.” Whatever “it” is, he had it. A lot of it. But his career as a major league baseball player was certainly not what you’d expect from someone who had “it.” It was essentially unremarkable except for his likely being the first player in MLB history to voluntarily ask to be transferred from the roster to the front office. Lewis gleans from Billy, and from those who knew him, that his career – both the successes and failures – as a baseball player was largely the result of other people’s expectations of Billy and his own inability to deal with them. Billy was unable not only to accept failure – which is I think is a good thing – but to tolerate it – which is a destructive thing. And this is what resonated with me, because I think occasionally (or, as Jill would probably say, regularly), I am also unable to tolerate failure, though I think it comes from basically a sense of expectation that is diametrically opposed to what Billy faced.
I do not have the weight of expectation upon me. I am an American (meaning not a German or Australian). I wasn’t a college swimmer. Or a college runner. I did not even do either of those sports in high school. I didn’t buy a bike until my junior year of college. I didn’t do my first triathlon until I was 23. I am not supposed to be good at triathlon. I am not supposed to the kind of person who wins races. And I regularly believe that about myself. Now, this is most definitely not a plea for all of you nice people who regularly say wonderful things about me to say more wonderful things. It’s basically an admission on my part that for all the platitudes I truly do feel lucky to receive, when I see someone say, “he’s a second tier pro,” or “he’ll never win Kona,” that is the thing that sticks with me. And I will admit it’s because I often think the same way. The particulars of that are probably somewhat hard-wired into my brain, and I don’t know that I can ever not think that way, so I’ll just settle for trying to be aware of it and manage it in a productive way. If Billy Beane crumbled because everyone expected him to do well, I think I crumble (or crash, in a roundabout way) because no one expects me to do well.
I promise, this is relevant to my both doing and not doing Ironman Arizona…
I think that desire – or need – to prove people wrong was a lot of what drove me to sign up for Arizona after a disappointing result in Kona. Yes, I felt good. And yes, I do love the race. I swear that both of those were and are genuine sentiments, especially loving the race in Arizona, where you really get to mix it up on the three loop course with the age-group athletes. It is a special race to me. And I was eager to return. But I also think I wanted to prove that I was better than my 13th in Kona. If I finished the year with a win (as much as I said a podium, I think that was a subconscious lie), if I won three Ironman races in a year, if… Well, then that would prove that I wasn’t “second-tier” (of course it wouldn’t, though…). And, furthermore, if I won the race, then that would keep someone else from winning the race, which would preserve the “exclusivity” of being an Ironman winner. By racing – and winning – I could make sure that even if I was not first tier, I would prevent someone else from potentially leaping into the first tier, or at least, I could keep my own second tier more exclusive. This is the sort of bizarre mentality that I actually think (know) is pervasive among professional athletes. Not that other people being crazy justifies my own being crazy…
Okay, I still promise this is relevant…
So hopefully that explains the not-so-positive parts of why I wanted (needed) to race Arizona. But how does it play into the fact that I am now not racing. Well, on the day that I crashed, I was supposed to ride for four hours. But I was very tired, so I said to Jill, “I’m tired, I think I will only ride for two.” But then I started riding, and the idea of cutting my workout short started to bother me. A lot. I thought, “I should at least ride three. Maybe three and a half.” And, at 2:05 into my ride, I crashed. I crashed on a simple, non-technical, not-fast wide open road. I could say that it was because I was paying less attention because it was “easy.” I could say a lot of things – most of which would ostensibly be true. But in my opinion – which I think is true because Jill said she agreed, and she is much more sensible – I crashed because I was tired. 
Now, don’t take this as some sort of statement against training. This is not a “less is more” type of post. Less is NEVER “more.” However, sometimes less is enough. And I think that is hopefully something that other people might resonate with. I think the same struggles that I have are also things that a lot of age-group athletes struggle with. I’ve met enough folks for whom Ironman is a chance to prove someone else wrong. And there is a lot of positive in that, like when John Carson proved the doctors who said he’d never walk again wrong. But there can also be some destruction in it as well, like when John had to accept their position that doing Ironman was wrecking his spine. Triathlon – and Ironman, specifically – has given me a remarkable amount. But if I let it, it can also take things away if I let it. Thankfully, I got a not too harsh reminder of this on the trails. There’s a lot of this on Slowtwitch; there is the classic post “from an Ironman widow.” Sebastien Kienle, who is a fair bit younger than I am but in many ways a lot more mature, said it best in a recent interview with Slowtwitch – “It’s just triathlon…”
So I’ll be very sad that I won’t be there to race (I will be in town on Thursday night for the TriSports.com event, just in case you were wondering). But I hope that I can take away some of the lessons I am trying to learn (though it’s taking me a few tries, certainly), and I hope that some of you all might also find some value, even if it’s just saying, “wow, don’t let me become like that guy!” At the very least, one thing I’m sure of – keep the rubber side down.

Epilogue…

I got a phenomenal reply from @MonicaCohen on Twitter that I thought was an excellent summary.

The trick is to figure out what part of your internal dialog is the crazy saying “you can’t”, and intuition saying “you shouldn’t.”

Let me also say, I don’t think anyone should read this and say, “I won’t/shouldn’t mountain bike.” That’s certainly not my takeaway. I will continue to MTB, because I like it and because while the frequency of crashes is probably higher than on the road, the severity is generally not. I maintain that mountain biking is safer than riding on the road. It IS great cross training. It IS a lot of fun. But, just like riding on the road, it punishes bad decisions. You just need to expand your scope of what bad decisions encompasses. On the road, accidents happen when you run stop signs. On the trails, accidents happen when you don’t focus. On pavement, obey the rules of the road. On trails, obey the rules of your body. I find the latter much harder to do, but I also think it is – overall – something with a lot more profound and meaningful benefit to one’s life as a whole…

7 thoughts on “Oh Look. Rocks!

  1. Good luck recovering. I note that I have often gotten injured or sick when I ignore the “I am horribly fatigued, I should cut today's 2hr run back to 1hr” message my brain is sending me – natural distrust for the “take it easy” voice is hard to fight!

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  2. I started learning that lesson after I decided to go ahead with a sprint the day after a bike crash – I not only separated my shoulder, I bruised my ribs, sprained a couple intercostal muscles, and oh, yeah, tore the labrum in both my hips. The only possible excuse I have for why I thought that was a good idea was that it was less than 24 hours, so the full pain had not yet set in.

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  3. Yep. If there's a chance that the accident could have been avoided, that's a strong indicator that you're operating over your capacity. Too much, too fast = accidents. Big fan and hope to see you back soon!

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  4. Wishing you a quick recovery. In the event you have more time to read,the WSJ review by Michael Shermer on the Wisdom of Psychopaths might apply to anyone pursuing long distance endurance events. That hardheadedness may bring you success in the future once you distinguish between those voices mentioned in the epilogue.

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