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Ironman Training: Crashes Happen & Lessons are Learned

I have been told by numerous people that if you bike enough, eventually you will have a crash….”happens to everyone!”  I have always been a very conservative rider and hoped it would not happen to me, but Saturday my number was up.  I had a three hour ride/ 30 minute run on my training schedule.  I had planned on doing it during the week on my trainer & treadmill on one of my days off work.  However, a few of my friends were doing a long ride early Saturday morning, so I decided to join them.  At this point in my Ironman training,  it’s “just 3 hours of riding & a short run”.  I knew I would be back right after the kids had breakfast so we would have the entire day to hang out and do fun things!

I met three other ladies at 6am to head out, it was a cool and crisp morning.  I had my arm warmers on and had contemplated wearing pants, but I knew I would warm up quickly.  Other than being chilly, it was a beautiful day here in Maine, blue skies, sunny, and very peaceful!  We took turns riding in front and chatting with each other along as we rode.  It was early and we rarely saw a car on the road.  After about 90 minutes of riding different back roads, that I was not entirely familiar with, we ended up in South Freeport.    I absolutely love riding the course we were on at this point, it is challenging, low traffic, beautiful and peaceful!  Our plan was to do a 25+ mile loop here that would land us back at the bottom of my street where we had met.

We came to one of the first climbs and I was in the back chatting with one of the ladies and the other 2 were a few bike lengths in front.  We hit the top and then went down the hill.  At this point on the route you can veer to the right or go straight.  It’s a lollipop loop so we would end up back at the hill we just climbed. My friends in front veered right, which is the way I typically do the course.  It’s harder, but I like getting the hills in this way, so this made me happy!  At this point we ended up going down another hill and I pulled ahead a bit as I was enjoying the descent, the beautiful day, and scenery.  I was in my aero bars, which I do not do frequently on downhills, but this is a course that I have biked no less than 100 times… I know the road very well, and felt very comfortable here.  I could see my 2 friends in front of me and assumed my other friend was behind me when I heard a car coming.  I started to veer over to the right when the car was coming and I heard a scream from behind!  Everything happened in a flash, yet slow motion in my mind…. I looked to the left and saw the car and to the right I could see the front of my friends bike.  I quickly reached for my breaks, but at this point, our bikes had hit…I think my back tire and her front tire hit, somehow we collided briefly.  Initially, I thought I could regain control of my bike, but quickly felt myself skidding and flying!   I held onto my bike and in that split second, my thought was “MY HEAD!!!”  “KEEP YOUR HEAD OFF THE GROUND!!!”   I’ve been a critical care nurse for 20+ years and have dealt with a significant amount of head trauma so this was engraved in my mind.  My head was the first thing that hit the ground, despite my extreme efforts,  then the rest of my body followed. I flew across the road and ended up in the break down lane on the other side. When, I stopped, I immediately stood up…”Oh my God, I’m ok”… I saw a car coming in the other lane and screamed for them to stop, as my friend was down on the other side of the road. The car stopped, my friend got up and there was another car that was coming on my side of the road that stopped.  I looked and saw our other 2 friends were ahead and climbing up the next hill. They never realized what happened.  The person in the car on my side had asked if he should call for help.  We were both in shock, but standing, so told him to go on, “we are ok!”  Both cars left, and we were there alone… debris all over the road…and “keeping it together”.

We started to collect our items off the road and get our bikes together.  My bike was a bit messed up, but I think that we were in a delusional state and tried to fix it!  We spent several minutes getting my chain back on, then I got on my bike (despite being covered in road rash and having a cracked helmet) to realize that my gears did not work.  Clearly, I was in shock and not thinking rationally…thank goodness my bike didn’t work or I may have tried to bike home!! I called my husband, but our connection was poor, so all he heard was crash… pick me up…I’m ok!” It was early and I knew he had to drag our half-asleep kids along and I never really got to tell him where we were before the connection cut out.

We waited by the side of the road for a bit, a few people passed us.  Interestingly enough, no one really stopped, despite us standing there. me with blood oozing down both legs.  One biker did ask us if we were ok as he passed by, and we just said we were waiting for a ride.  Our other friends were ahead and did not return (I learned later that they thought we had stopped to go the bathroom or take a break), so we were alone, broken down, injured and attempting to analyze what had happened.  I got a text from my husband asking specifics of location, but my texts back and calls were not going through as we were in the middle of nowhere.

We waited and waited, talked about the accident, how our weekend workouts were blown, etc.  We tried to make light of the situation, but both knew, without a question, we were lucky to be alive.  At this point, I see “the Mom mini van” coming down the road.  It was my husband & my son & daughter both in the back with their PJ’s on.  It was such a relief! The kids were upset to see me covered in road rash, disheveled and bleeding, but I was very low key about it, as I did not want them to be afraid of biking.  We took my friend home and then headed to our house.  When we got there, and I began to tend to my wounds, my husband said “I’m so glad your ok!  I’m going to take your bike to get checked out right now.”  In my head, I was like…who cares about my bike?? As far as I was concerned, I didn’t want to look at it.  I thought it was odd that he wanted to get it checked out so soon!  But, within a few hours, I realized that was the best support I could have been given.  Passively he said “Yes, you had an accident, but lets get you back up and running right now!”

(Glimpse of my Road Rash…)

I am “ok”.  I have “road rash” on my legs, arms, & hands.  I pulled some muscles in my right arm & neck, which I have limited range of motion in now. Miraculously,  I have no broken bones (or so I thought, I learned 3 weeks post accident that I had broken my arm).  My right knee is considerably swollen and my husband ( who is in the medical field) pointed out that “you probably have a unit of blood in your right thigh hematoma. I most likely have a mild concussion as my head is bruised on the left.  My friend is “ok” too and we have been communicating quite a bit over the past 24 hours about the event and how thankful we are alive and well enough to do so.

I want to share a few things I learned from this incident:

1. Make sure you have a good helmet, that fits well and is on tight enough to withstand a crash.  My head hit the ground at 25+ mph… I had tightened the back of my helmet that morning before going for the ride. Take a second to make sure your helmet is on properly…. IT SAVED MY LIFE!!!

( The first time I wore my Giro Air Attack Helmet a month ago & thankful it saved my brain yesterday!  I’ve already ordered a new one!!)

2. After a crash, buy a New Helmet!  I thought mine was “ok”, but upon further investigation it had a deep crack inside on the foam,  My head was also bruised a bit on both sides, but once again, the helmet saved me!!  Also, helmets are designed to only take one hard blow, so even if it does not crack, it should be replaced as the integrity could be compromised.

3. Bike gloves serve a purpose!  I have biking gloves, but rarely wear them.  I think it started with a “time saving” technique in triathlons.  I found out on Saturday why gloves are important!  The knuckles on my left hand and the right side of my right hand are raw from hitting the pavement.  This is a minor problem, but one that could have been prevented with gloves.

 (I will always wear gloves during training now!  As a nurse, I will have a hard time working this week as I have to wear tight fitting sterile gloves for my job….that I have to change 10-15 times per day!)

4. ROAD ID…I had mine on Saturday!  Fortunately things were not worse, but I had all the information on my ankle if I had been unconscious.

5. Communicate Clearly!  Do NOT ever ASSUME anything,  I should have yelled out “Car Back, I’ll go ahead” or I should have dropped back and not assumed that the other person would do so when the car came.

6. Check in with each other: Biking with friends is great for good conversation and Above All Safety! Every few minutes look around and make sure you are together.  If people are missing, check for them and consider the possibilities of an accident or flat tire that they may need help with, not that they have just fallen behind. It is simply the right thing to do.

7. If you witness an accident, help people…we said “we are ok!” but we were both in Shock!! As a nurse, if I would have witnessed this, I would have stayed with the people until help/family members arrived!  People do funny things when they are in shock, I could have been saying “I’m ok” in the minutes after the accident, but then collapsed if I had a traumatic brain injury that is not visible from the outside.

8. If you have a crash, get your bike checked out at your local bike shop.  They will do a “Crash Test” and check all the bolts, frame, etc  on your bike.  My aero bars were adjusted, My back derailer was fixed & I needed a new brake cable after the accident. However, the frame is ok and was given a “Clean Bill of health” to ride again after the inspection.

These are just a few items I took away from the day!

Have you ever had a bad crash on your bike?  What lessons did you learn?  How did you “get back out there” confidently?

Angela Campos

Tuesday 26th of January 2016

Thank you! It was quite an ordeal and I am still recovering from some of the injuries, but thankful to be alive!!

Courtney@The TriGirl Chronicles

Thursday 7th of January 2016

Oh wow! I'm so glad you were okay! What a scary experience. Great safety tips too.

Angela Campos

Friday 3rd of July 2015

Thank you Kristen! Each day is getting a little bit better, I'm hoping to be up & running by early next week!! :-)


Monday 29th of June 2015

Wow that is so scary! I'm so glad you're okay! That road rash looks pretty rough, but I think it's great that you're a nurse and were able to identify that overall you weren't injured too much. I hope you feel better soon!