Do many people quit because they fear crashing? Let's hear from someI'm a Cat 5 rookie with about a dozen races and three crashes since January. One was a black ice or slippery pavement lowside mid-winter, and no big deal. Another was at high speed at Baker Park, followed a week or so later by a low speed tipover. The Baker Park crash left me pretty much unscathed except for some lost skin and a general bruised and shocky feeling that stuck with me for a week, and the low speed tip, around three weeks ago, separated my shoulder and tore back & pectoral muscles. It still hurts, sometimes pretty badly. I was out for a month after the Baker Park crash.
A few weeks ago, on the way out to Greenbelt for my first race after the two most recent crashes (Baker Park & the tipover), the range of all possible bad results - the Parade of Horribles - marched across my mind and I felt quite gripped by it, an emotion somewhere short of panic, but somewhere past calm, cool deliberation. I took a deep breath when I caught myself going down that path, and got a grip. It struck me that the decision point was right there, the moment of truth as it's sometimes described. You either get back on the horse or don't, it's that simple, and if you walk away because you are afraid, you shouldn't kid yourself about the odds of coming back.
Probably because of the way I was brought up (in a supportive, but very tough family) and due to my formative experiences as a young man in the Army, I decided that I would be profoundly unhappy if I did anything other than doubling down. I grew up hearing "never take counsel of your fears" every time I faced a tough situation. When you are in a tough fight, you just keep going at the other guy, and never quit. When I looked at the situation and tried to reason out what kind of a reaction was in character, and logical for me, there was only one choice.
So I raced at Greenbelt, and the fear left, leaving in its place increased situational awareness and a safer racer. Albeit a safer racer who still has a very sore shoulder and an achy upper back & chest.
It must be a very tough decision for a lot of people to make. I didn't agonize over it because, aside from questions of fundamental morality, I don't have a conscience. To paraphrase another hardcore amateur cyclist, "I'm a decider... I decide things." No qualms. Yeah, I worry about my family and the thought about how much life insurance I have - and a plan to boost that next open season - went through my mind. But I know who I am, I am a risk taker and a fighter, and I had to race. It wouldn't be true to my character to give up due to my fears.
Surely, this can't be the right line of reasoning for everybody.
Sometimes fear is gutlessness, but when it comes to real risks and bigtime pain, going at high speed with only lycra for protection, fear is nature's way of telling you to proceed carefully. So while I would have hated myself for walking away because of who I am, that's only because I'm wired to operate in a particular way. I tend to value physical courage over self preservation, even where the risks are high and the only reward is the perpetuation of my own personal values system.
I cannot bring myself to criticize people who make a different decision. Going either way is a reasonable decision, and for some people, the smarter decision.
Bill Luecke also writes:
With regard to the injury rate, it would be enlightening to compare the injury data to the overall injury rate in other competitive sports that have dangerous, uncontrollable situations. Say for example competitive regional downhill skiing, or rugby, or maybe even mountain bike racing.I played rugby for close to 20 years, at a highly competitive level in the U.S. and a decent level abroad, regularly facing territorial (or regional) level competition, usually as a role player, a hard working grinder who always took one for the team. In my (anecdotal) experience, on a squad of 45 players, it was normal to have 3 to 5 players on crutches or in casts at any one time working through year-long injuries like ACL tears and reconstructed shoulders, or occasionally a cracked vertebra, greenstick fracture or ripped tendon. Moreover, by the end of every season only a few beastly freaks of nature were free from nagging injuries and serious wear & tear, minor joint sprains, torn muscles, etc. The risk of serious injuries, like separated shoulders, concussions, greenstick fractures and blown knees seem pretty comparable in both sports, with more collarbone injuries in biking, more blown knees in rugby.
There are also fewer nagging injuries in cycling. For the last 10 years of my playing career, my post game ritual (aside from beer) included icing my knees and shoulders for the evening and day after a game. In fact, the famous beer drinking and staying up late really waned in the last several years of playing, and was normally replaced by a quick two beers right after the game with the opposing team, followed by swimming and sitting in a whirlpool at Bally's, all of which alleviated the regular bruising. I had to do that just to be able to train effectively, in order to play up to par.
Rugby and bike racing strike me as having a similar risk risk of catastrophic injury, I'm speaking about skull fractures, fractured spines and shattered hip sockets. These injuries didn't occur often in rugby - I'd see one of each maybe once every couple years of my playing career, and generally at amateur games I was spectating at rather than playing in - but they happened often enough, and everybody knew of an incident like that occurring to some regional team each year, that safety was *always* of concern to referees, coaches, and veteran players. Among the top 16 teams in the U.S. - that's an active roster of about 450 players each year - I know of one case of permanent quadripelegia occurring in the last 10 years or so, and a number of injuries where temporary parlyzation of that nature was incurred. The risks of bike racing strike me as similar, with one operative difference being that a heck of a lot more people seem to race or just ride bikes than play rugby. And oddly enough, we were discussing groin injuries this morning when one of our young guys pointed out that a bike can knock a testicle clean off, which I consider to be pretty catastrophic. But then I've seen an angry player twist another guy's nut off in a pileup after a tackle, and an inadvertant knee to the jewels is probably comparable to a top tube attack.
The two safety wildcards are cars vs. bikes, and angry rugby players vs. the world. I don't recall anybody getting hit by a car on the rugby pitch, but I've seen bicyclists hit, and regularly see close calls. On the other hand, few cars will circle around on their own accord to take a second crack at a bicyclist, whereas a pissed of rugby player thinks nothing of lurking for a while waiting to throw a sucker punch or more often to square up and enforce unwritten rules, unless it's a close game where penalties can't be conceded.
And for the insecure among us, who worry about bicycling's image among contact sports fans, FWIW, I find the level of suffering and the physical toughness of the players to be comparable across the two sports, with rugby suffering being a little more traumatic and short lived, suffering on the bike being more of a grinding and drawn out nature.
Finally (oh thank goodness, right?) the two questions Bill posited are linked. One attraction of racing is that it's bloody hard, with a little bit of danger, combining physical tests that max out the body with hard to manage risks. During a race or hard training ride, the body constantly whispers, "this hurts, go ahead, give up. It's scary, my instincts are to run from this. Quit." For me, overcoming the suffering of races and training, and the suffering of crashes and what my fellow riders inflict on me in races or hard training, is what it's about. If it was meant to be easy, the name of the sport would be "Easy." We'd ask, "Hey, want to go out and do the Poolesville Easy this weekend?" But it's not Easy, it's racing. If you would race, I think you have to accept all that racing can give you, good and bad, as part of the deal. If you can't do that, or if you stop being able to handle that bargain, you should do something else. There's no shame in it and I wouldn't question the decision.
Just don't question my decision to stick it out.
[Update: Scott at Racing Union has an interesting take on it that seems to involve economics or something. Typical marxist take on everything, I tell you. All about the Benjaminskis for them revolutionaries. Seriously though, it's an interesting discussion of racing and the odds of getting hurt. Check it out. ]