Sunday, July 17, 2011

Racing - 2011 Naugatuck M35 - Life

The Naugatuck Crit. Last year it popped up on our schedule right after SOC and I had a training camp, a gazillion hours in a week. I had a lot of strength, could work hard for him, and it ended up a satisfying day for me. SOC did a solid race, hinting at his capabilities.

This year, with less training, more weight, and a somewhat aimless season (no solid goals and no real planning more than a race or two in advance), I expected a bit less from myself.

In fact, a few days before the race, I felt so tired I actually said that I would consider skipping the race.

The astonished response from the Missus put paid to that thought.

Sunday morning, probably with that fatigue statement in mind, the Missus didn't wake me up until almost 10 AM, and we got out of there a bit late at 10:40 AM. With my race at noon I'd be hard pressed with an hour drive to get to the venue.

Then my sleep cobwebs dissipated and I realized that we'd be there at 11:40 AM for a 1 PM race - the first race at noon, mine would be 25 miles later. The Missus knew we had to be on the road by 11 AM so a 10:40 AM start worked out well.

We got to the venue and the roads weren't even closed. In fact, when we saw SOC roll in, it was just after noon and cars still drove up and down by Turn One.

We checked BikeReg (thanks to the DroidX phone I have).

First race at ONE, not noon, and my race would be at 2:00 PM.


The Missus headed over to stake out a spot for our stuff (chair, cooler) and I headed down the street to buy us some stop-gap food at Dunkin Donuts. Then, properly fed (I had about 1/8th of a muffin), I rolled around briefly with SOC for a warm up. We met up with David H, our fearless leader, got a handle on who'd be in the M35+ race with us, and then promptly split up as we had to either get water, go to the bathroom, say hi to someone, or whatever.

My race stayed brief. It was hot. It started pretty fast. David H launched a bunch of attacks, and I tried to patrol the front.

Then, a few laps in, my legs just refused to turn. I struggled for a couple laps before ignomiously coming off the back.

The field eased a bit, giving me some hope that I could magically catch on, but after half a lap of work, I wasn't on and I knew I never would be.

I sat up and stopped.

SOC had countered off of one of David's moves, and his move drew out some big guns. The group stayed away, forming a solid group with a solid lead.

The group seemed a bit big for some, and eventually Ed A, Matt B, and Scott G pulled clear of the break, leaving about seven behind, including SOC.

Scott G mysteriously disappeared one lap - ends up he had to get treated for heat exhaustion.

Ed and Matt lapped the field and won the race.

SOC got 6th, doing a good final sprint to stay with and beat some of his breakmates.

Then the day took a decided downturn.

The 3-4 race had two significant occurances, at least to me, as a spectator and fellow racer (but not participant, at least not this year).

First, when the race started and everyone went into Turn One, we all heard the horrible sound of carbon on pavement. Everyone looked and saw one guy on the deck, racers avoiding him pretty well, leaving him alone on the road.

I looked at no one in particular, with a certainty in my mind.

"I bet he just rolled a tire."

Sure enough the racer slunk away, front tire flopping off his rim. I briefly thought about going over there with the helmet cam and recording the aftermath but I decided that it wouldn't help now. Rolling tires is stupid and preventable, and it's now FOUR races in the last few weeks where a rolled tire has taken someone out - Tuesday at the Rent, Attleboro, New Britain, and now Naugatuck.

Rolling tires has to stop.

Second, Jefferson had a really bad spill. He's one of the guys that races for Navone Studios, a huge sponsor and help at the Bethel Spring Series. He'd been asking me about finding more races as he couldn't find any locally after Naugatuck. He looked crushed when I told him that I didn't know of any either.

My point is that Jefferson is a good guy.

During the race I first realized something was wrong when a few guys from the race streamed out of a cut-through road (it short cuts the course by about half) and towards the start/finish and pit area.

"A crash," I said, almost to myself. "It has to be a crash."

People started noticing the weird procession of racers, and when more and more racers came out of the cut-through road.

In fact, if I wasn't mistaken, it looked like the whole field had gone through.

Then we all heard the sirens in the distance.


I hoped that whoever crashed was going to be okay.

Then someone rolled over towards us. He knew who'd crashed, and he knew that I knew him.

"Jefferson crashed. He crashed hard."

I looked at him, then, as I processed the words, it hit me. I turned to the Missus.

"Is Frank (of Navone Studios) still here? Have you seen him?"
"He just headed over there."

I saw him, grabbed my helmet, jumped on my bike, and sprinted over to Frank. Rudy, a Navone rider, was there too. I told both of them that Jefferson had hit the deck hard and that I was going over to see what we had to do. Frank grabbed his bike.

"Do I need a helmet," he yelled.
"Use mine! Use mine," replied Rudy.

I headed out, letting them figure out the helmet thing.

When I got there it looked pretty serious. Jefferson was whimpering in pain, and it seemed like he wasn't processing stuff quite right. The medics seemed a bit confused about what he understood and didn't understand. They had a neck collar thing on him, they had a backboard next to him, and a full size stretcher out from the back of the ambulance.

Frank arrived shortly afterward (sans helmet, I have to admit), as did Rudy (with helmet), Luciano (another teammate who had been warming up for the P123 race), and Luciano's significant other. I kept back to the let the pros do their thing. Frank went to Jefferson and talked with him, but I couldn't hear anything.

The medics were having a difficult time with the backboard. Jefferson is a muscular tall guy and his build meant his shoulders spilled over the side of the backboard, pulling on his broken collarbone.

"He's too big for the board," someone said.

Ultimately, with his hands and feet moving, he looked reasonably okay. He seemed really banged up though so I hung around 10 or 15 feet away, just in case.

At some point Frank left Jefferson's side to try and make a call. Luciano was there briefly but then stepped back too. I looked at Jefferson and realized he must have felt totally alone, with just medics looking down at him. I walked over so that he'd see a familiar face. I knew that seeing someone he knew would help.

He was whimpering a bit, his hands over his eyes, then stopped. He put his hand down, noticed me, his eyes focused on me.
"Where am I?" he asked.
"Back stretch of Naugatuck. You crashed."
"Is Frank here?"
"Yeah, he's right next to me."
"Ok. Can you call my wife?"
"Yeah, Frank's calling your wife."
"Is it broken," gesturing at his collarbone. (A medic yelled "Don't move your arm!" so he moved it back)
"Your collarbone looks broken." (Someone said it looked broken clean through, but I decided not to share that with him.)
"Oh, my work, my job..."

Jefferson broke down, covering his eyes and sobbing for about 15 seconds, his sobs slowing to a whimper.

He uncovered his eyes and saw me.

Focused on me.

"Where am I?"

Holy eff.

"Jefferson, you're on the back stretch at Naugatuck. You just crashed."

Eff, eff, eff.

"Is Frank here?"

Oh eff me.

"Frank's right next to me."

I had no idea where Frank was at that moment, but it didn't matter. For right now, Frank was right next to me.

"Can you call my wife?"

Only the whole shock thing kept me able to answer him. Calmly, enunciating fully. Trying to be just calm and steady.

This went on for the 15-20 minutes it took to get him going on the ambulance. I answered those same questions a few times myself, some folks answered them before me, and yet others answered them after me. It was me, Rudy (Navone teammate), Frank, Luciano (another Navone teammate), or Luciano's girlfriend taking turns talking with Jefferson, trying to keep him calm.

The only change to the routine above (and it was in the same order, his questions) was when I tried to get his wife's phone number, as Frank wasn't having luck with one number. Jefferson held up his RoadID band, imprinted with his wife's number (next to the word "wife") and his friend's number, with the name there. The medics needed that ID on him for the hospital so we all made sure that at least one of us had the numbers. One did so we let him drop his arm.

A medic looked at me.
"I think he had an LOC. Did he have an LOC?"
"What's an LOC?"
"Loss of consciousness. He seems to have lost his blank-blank memory" (I forgot the term).

I polled riders, even went to racers milling around to ask them. No one remembered if he seemed to have been knocked out.

I reported back that he didn't seem to have had an "LOC" but I wouldn't bet on the racers' recollections.

Just before they got Jefferson on the stretcher I had to get his car keys, as Luciano's significant other pointed out that Jefferson must have them. She'd drive Luciano's car, Luciano would have to drive Jefferson's, but he needed the keys.

Ends up Jefferson had them in a jersey pocket. I dug them out, heeding the medic's warning not to move his torso. Jefferson could move his torso to help me, and even tried to use his arm ("Don't move that arm please").

I finally got the keys and gave them Luciano.

Frank left to meet Jefferson at the hospital. Luciano and his other left to get Jefferson's stuff.

I went back to the spectator area and reported Jefferson's hurt to the crew there, the Missus, SOC and Mrs SOC, David H, some others. I was a bit shaken.

I pointed out that if I whine it's not a big deal, because I whine all the time. But to hear Jefferson whimper, that's a big deal.

The Missus came to my defense (from my own self deprecation) and pointed out that I whine when it's not serious. But when it's serious, I don't whine.

Still, though, I remembered breaking down on the bed after spending something like an hour getting to and from the bathroom, a mere 15 or 20 feet away. The pain just overwhelmed me. Although I held back in the blog post, I really, truly broke down, just totally lost it, absolutely and completely overwhelmed by the agony ripping through my (as I thought it) hamstring/glutes (although technically it was the fractured pelvic bones anchoring those muscles).

It's the first time that pain had broken me so completely in my life. And the poor Missus could only sit there and hold me and hope that I got better, all while uncontrollable sobs wracked my body.

Jefferson's confused state worried me. The recent spate of concussions in the pro peloton has made me more aware of head injuries. I remembered my terrible crash a couple years ago and how I knew exactly where I was, about what time it was (my complex answer - "It's 45 minutes plus about 5 laps after 6:50 PM so it's about... 7:50? 7:45?" - which led the medics to basically say "What?"), about where I was, the date, all that stuff.

As I felt lucky for myself, I felt terrible for Jefferson.

With somewhat heavy hearts, but with absolutely empty stomachs, the SDC/SOC crew left for some food. It was after 5 PM and we'd last eaten a real meal 7 or 8 hours prior.

We talked about stuff over the dinner table, a lot of it kind of lost now. Regular stuff, stuff to try and put things back to normal.

Heading back home, SOC and his missus went one way, we went the other. As I drove home I told the Missus that I felt really glad Jefferson crashed on the backstretch and not on the main stretch. That he'd crashed out of sight of the spectators. That, specifically, she didn't have to see him as he was.

His crash really shook me.

We reviewed my race briefly. It's easy to review a race briefly when it's brief, and my race was pretty brief.

She has implicit faith that I race in a sane way, that I'm about the most risk averse racer there is, that I only get into situations where I have confidence I can handle things properly. So for her, and for me, racing is an acceptable risk, just like it's an acceptable risk for me to go training on the road.

She's seen me on one of my best years in my racing life, last year. This year has been decidedly unspectacular. When finishing a race becomes a huge accomplishment, one needs to change things.

Dramatically, no less.

So on the way home, after a pause in the conversation, the Missus turned to me.

"I think you need a training schedule."
"Monday you should take off. Tuesday is the Rent. Wednesday you should do Ninigret or the group ride. Thursday off because Tues and Wed will kick your butt. Friday easy. Sunday 4 hours. Minimum 2 hours every time you ride."

I thought about all those tapers and peaks and builds and thresholds and 5x5s and whatever other training terms people throw around. Percent this of threshold, percent that.

It all doesn't matter, not at this point. For now I'm so bad that any riding will help. And the Missus's schedule seemed to make sense.

And, really, ultimately, it's not about the racing, right? Racing is fun and all, but it's just a part of life.

Life is what is fun. Racing's just a part of it.


SOC said...

Love the last sentence especially - very true and perfect perspective.

Thoughts and prayers going out for Jefferson. Please keep us posted on how he's doing.

Aki said...

Wanted to post an update - Jefferson has been released and is recovering at home.

Sometimes it's hard to see perspective when trying to figure out if a Stinger6 is better than a Stinger9, or a HED versus a Zipp. When you step back from the details the big picture becomes a bit more clear.

Joe P said...

I'm happy to hear that he is recovering at home. After seeing him go down and stay down, i personally wanted the officials to just cancelled the rest of the race.

I was behind when it happened and it looks like the big pothole on the back stretch was what caused it.

Please let him know that my family is thinking of him and all wish him a speedy recovery.

knitseashore said...

So glad to hear that Jefferson is at home now. Mr. SOC and I have been praying for him -- head injuries are in a class all by themselves, and they're scary.

I second Mrs. SDC's plan. You are an awesome racer and you need to give yourself a chance and train. I'll expect a good finish at Fall River for sure. :)

Aki said...

I've gotten a lot of help from a rider who's given me a lot of information. He's really surprised me actually, in a good way, very logical, thoughtful, and careful with his observations.

Based on video it appears that Jefferson's chain dropped, then probably jammed, and then apparently locked his rear wheel and his cranks. As he fell his wheel and cranks were totally stationary, and the swerving motion his bike took is indicative of a locked rear wheel. It would also explain the lack of reaction on Jefferson's part as he had virtually no time to react.

It also appears that he hit the ground hard with his head. He didn't move like a person that was conscious towards the end of the crash.

The video demonstrates just how critical it is to have at least a few cams going in every race. It captures an event factually and accurately and vividly illustrates what happened.

To be far the viewers need to do some interpretation since only the action is captured, not any thoughts or intent etc.

Jake Austin said...

Yikes! Sobering story. So how does one prevent rolling a tire?

Aki said...

Most important part of avoiding rolled tires is to check the tire/s before the race. If you have any doubt that the tire will roll - like say you attack into a turn, dive into it at 38 mph, then hit a huge pothole and blow out the sidewall... will the tire come off?

If you think it has a 1% chance of it rolling, take the tire off and glue it again.

The tire, with or without air in it, should hold the rim so firmly that it will be impossible to remove it with just hands/fingers. If it's possible to remove it with just hands/fingers, then do it. Reglue. Test again.

Because of liability concerns USAC cannot check tires before a race. They used to - and every year, in the spring, there'd be 7-8 guys pulled off the line, two poorly glued tires dangling from wheels. Then someone rolled a tire after a brief check and sued the then USCF. End of tire checking (and general equipment checking - USAC will not acknowledge your bike is in racing condition, only that you aren't breaking any rules on what can and can't be on the bike).

There used to be a huge stigma in rolling a tire - it was about the most shameful thing a racer could do because it was 100% preventable and usually caused others to crash. Now it's not a big deal, no one cares. If Lance can roll a tire in the Tour (his crash at 40 mph in his last Tour was totally him and his mechanic's fault because it was caused by a rolled tire), then I can. To be technically correct Lance rolled the base tape off of a tire, but a test would have found that.

As you might imagine I'll have a post coming up on shame and rolling a tubular. I want to rebuild that stigma about rolling tubulars that no longer exists.

Basically a racer should be able to go literally their whole racing career and never roll a tubular.

Now everyone who has a tubular tire on a wheel should go to that wheel and try and remove the tire. We should have no rolled tires for the rest of the season.