“The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”
This quote refers to something that ends poorly or differently than expected, despite preparations for success. And right now, I feel it’s a fairly apt description for my current situation.
Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga was my season opener for 2018 and an event I was eagerly anticipating. Last season was incredibly frustrating and unfulfilling, ending on a particularly low note that created a strong desire to wash that taste out of my mouth. Additionally, the race itself is fantastic, in a great city merely a couple of hours from my home. I haven’t had the best luck at the event, with only one decent finish (4th place in 2016) in three tries, but it’s still a race I look forward to on an annual basis.
My training leading into the race had been very consistent and quite solid. I have taken an entirely new approach to my overall program, and despite a few hiccups here and there, the body has adapted very well to the different stimulus. Chattanooga was to be the first race in a much larger grand scheme of three 70.3 races in four weeks, and my coach and I had structured my entire 2018 program to-date around this specific block of racing. Unfortunately for me, however, the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.
I didn’t have the best swim to start the day. The male pro field was much larger than usual, and I put myself in a risky starting position in the hopes of having some clean water in which to swim. While it worked to perfection and led to me being largely untouched in the opening minutes, it also meant that I had a very poor angle leading into the first turn buoy only 200 meters into the swim. As a result, once I arrived at that buoy, I got absolutely pummeled.
It took quite a bit of time to recover and regroup around that turn, and I knew I had lost some significant ground. So I simply focused on swimming a steady effort to minimize the damage and came out of the water 1:55 down on the lead pack — over a minute more than I anticipated being behind.
Luckily, the cycling legs felt good as soon as I mounted the bike, so I took a risk and rode hard from the beginning in the hopes of making up some unnecessarily lost ground. A couple of riders around me had similar ideas, and our pressure started to yield some results as we reeled in and overtook a number of riders.
By mile 28 or so, we had caught the large majority of those in front of us (save for Andrew Starykowicz, who was in his own world on the bike), and while it created a sizable pack of tightly grouped competitors, nearly all of the riders seemed focused on maintaining appropriate distance from one another and adhering to the drafting rules — which, I’ll admit, isn’t always easy to do on rolling terrain. As a result, I felt like I could finally settle in and relax a bit knowing that, with good run fitness, I was positioned right where I wanted to be.
Sadly, this is where the “astray” portion of the referenced quote comes into play…
Around the 30-mile mark, I was sitting in 3rd position in our group and humming along at a good rate of speed (32.4mph was the last reading on my power file) when, all of the sudden, I remember thinking to myself, “Why in the world am I crashing?” Honestly, there was absolutely no warning or hint of a problem prior, yet I was heading directly into the ground. I had a split second for the realization that this impact was really going to hurt. Then everything went black.
I awoke on the ground in tremendous pain. The people surrounding me looked simultaneously terrified and incredibly concerned, but I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. It was clear I was in some trouble; my helmet was gone, my head was bleeding, and my race uniform was torn to shreds with cuts and wounds stemming from my ankle all the way up to my face. To top things off, the searing pain originating from my left shoulder served as a clear indication that something was very, very wrong with that joint.
The next few minutes were a complete blur. In fact, I’m still not sure whether it was 5 minutes or 45 minutes. Even in my current state several days removed, the memories don’t seem to play out in chronological order. I see someone communicating with an ambulance. Someone else is trying to talk to me, but I can’t really comprehend anything. I overhear two people talking about a bird, of all things. But most of all, it just seems like chaos.
I am put in a cervical collar, placed on a backboard, and moved to an ambulance for transport to the hospital. Because the accident occurred at one of the furthest points on the course, the ambulance ride is considerably long. However, according to the EMT with me in the back of the vehicle, we are less than a mile from the hospital before I begin to even make the slightest bit of sense when I speak.
The next four hours in the emergency room are a barrage of x-rays, spinal exams, and CAT scans. Numerous doctors and nurses are hustling around me performing tests and barking orders, but it all simply seems like noise to me. I want someone to tend to all of my wounds which hurt considerably (when you’re dragging along the pavement while unconscious, many body parts suffer damage), but those injuries are so far down the priority list as to not even warrant attention.
As time passes, things begin to come into focus more clearly. My CAT scan checks out fine, which allows me to be removed from the cervical collar. I am informed that I have a significant clavicle fracture, but luckily it is not displaced. My wounds are treated, my wife has prophetically remembered to bring a change of clothes with her to the hospital (my uniform was cut off completely due to the concern of spinal injury), and I am released.
So what happened on the bike, you may ask? After all, clearly I have no memory of the accident, other than being very confused as to why I was crashing. But luckily, there were other riders around me, as well as a USAT official who was monitoring our bike group, and they saw what happened: a bird flew through my front wheel.
Yes, a bird. Through my front wheel.
What are the odds of that? One in a million? One in ten million? Personally, I’ve never encountered anything like that happening to anyone. In addition, the race director at 70.3 Chattanooga has been putting on events for 20 years and hasn’t heard anything like this occurring before. Truly, it was the very definition of a freak accident at its finest. A completely implausible event.
Regardless, however, it did happen. And just like that, all of my planning, all of my preparation, the changes to the program, the consistency, the attention to detail…all of it is rendered pointless thanks to a bird that chose an incorrect path to get from point A to point B. My best-laid plans have gone astray.
Truthfully, this outcome hurts. Physically, for sure; but perhaps even more significantly, it is crushing mentally. I have had an awful run of bad luck for several years, but to have it topped off by this freakishly rare occurrence is absolutely mind-blowing. Simply put, this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
I was chatting with my wife the morning after the race, and I posed the following question to myself: If I were guaranteed to win a 70.3 World Championship but, in order to do so, I had to take another fall like the one experienced at Chattanooga, would I do that? And quite frankly, my answer was no. I would not be willing to experience this outcome again even if it meant that I eventually would be a world champion. I think that answer reveals a lot. Getting beat down time and time again takes its toll, and perhaps I have simply run out of fight.
But luckily, that decision does not have to be made now. For better or worse, the extent of my injuries means that I am going to be on the sidelines for quite a while. This is my third documented concussion; I have my soccer career to thank for that. My countless wounds will take several weeks to heal, and my clavicle fracture is so large that it is at serious risk of displacement and, as such, must be completely immobilized for a minimum of 4 weeks — and, probably, more like 6 weeks. Only then will I even be able to consider my attempt to return to racing.
If I am honest with myself, it doesn’t look promising at this point. But I will give it time.