Look Ma – No skin! (Woodforest Bank TRI) – 5/7/22

(Photo courtesy of Nelson)

[Introductory Note: the [number] references are below the main post.]

Last year in Texas, the humidity won.  At Sylvan, I was able to run a little bit; at Cypress, between the back and humidity, it was a no go after .5mi.  So my focus going into The Woodlands was to have a solid run.  So even before I started packing for Texas, I started eating Endurolytes like they were candy.

Because of work, this race was going to be an extremely tight turnaround.  In that I would arrive in Houston at 10PM Friday at best and need to be back up by 4AM Saturday to go race.  However, having raced with Nelson before, that wasn’t a concern.  Also, being able to do race morning packet pickup helped ease the strain a little.  After Nelson picked me up at Hobby [1], we spent a couple of hours getting the bike ready and talking through things for the following day.  So it was much closer to 1AM before I got to sleep.

After arriving at the race site and doing one of the easiest packet pickups ever, we found friends and set up transition.  Megan (RD) had helped so much prior to the race and did so again on race day with where our rack was at.  It was a very AWD friendly setup.

We had been placed in the Open/Elite wave, which meant we were starting first.  What happened at the swim start was the exact opposite of what happened in Cypress [2].  But we got off smoothly, and the swim seemed OK.  I did end up hitting Nelson on the back of the head multiple times as I was cycling through strokes on that side.  I was focusing on what I had been working on with a swim coach, but Nelson said that I was windmilling a bit.

We made it out of the water and into T1 OK.  One of the minor drawbacks of getting in so late Friday was that we hadn’t had time to practice starts/stops again.  But with all the practice and racing in Indy the prior year, I wasn’t concerned. 

To say the bike start was graceful or smooth would be a lie; but we did not crash.  After the first couple of pedal strokes and the bike wobbling, I know that I heard Nelson say something like ‘Oh shit’, so I made sure to unclip because I thought we were going to stop and re-start.  Instead, he had kept pedaling.  So, I had to go from having both feet on the ground to trying to get them on the pedals to immediately pedal and try to clip in.  From what I’ve been told, it made an extremely interesting video…

After the interesting start, things went well for the first ~9mi.  The bike was wobbling a little bit at times, so I had to hold off on nutrition after not feeling stable during the first bottle pass.  Even still, almost every check that Nelson gave me was at 20+, with the range being 18 (once) through at least 22.  We were also able to deal with an idiot passing on the inside [3].  So I was feeling really good as we were starting to make the turn back to the park.  And then everything went to pieces… 

As we were towards the last 15-20 feet before the turn (far too close), I heard someone yelling ‘sharp turn’.  At that point, there wasn’t enough time to slow and Nelson did everything he could to control the bike.  I don’t know if the tire went flat before we went into the turn or because the bike went flat on the ground.  But the end result was that (a) the bike fishtailed going around the curve, (b) the bike ended up flat on the ground, and (c) both of us were somehow off it.  Nelson mentioned later that he had been ejected when the bike hit; I have no idea how I got out.

Early on in riding tandems, I either fortunately or unfortunately learned how to fall.  It wasn’t done on purpose, and came mostly as a result of learning how to do proper U-turns / play tandem games on grass.  That all came in handy on Saturday, as I was fairly certain that I’d be OK if I could brace myself with a hand so that my face didn’t smack the road.  Because of proper equipment (Rudy helmet), I believed that the helmet would take and withstand most of the brunt versus my head. 

After the crash, I laid on the ground for a couple of minutes just trying to recover.  When race staff and Nelson helped me up, my first question was ‘am I bleeding?’  I know that that sounds like a very silly question after hitting the road at 15+ mph.  But what I was really asking was ‘can I keep racing?’  While the right leg and arm were superficial (and  I can probably create a bike out of the arm scars with a little sharpie help), the left thumb was torn up and numb.  I couldn’t make a fist, and for a short period of time afterwards, I was mildly concerned that I had broken the top part of it when I braced myself.  It ended up being fine a couple hours later.

Medical eventually showed up and treated me.  Nelson decided to ride the tandem back solo (fulfilling a running joke [4]) while they took me back in the ambulance.  Between when we crashed and when I left, several other people crashed.  IMO, that just was a dangerous corner that people racing for the first time should have known about, but didn’t.

After making it back to transition, we found out that one of our friends (Linda) had won her age group.  Even though I was in pain, I still wanted to be there to cheer for her.  I knew how hard she had been working and was also very glad to later learn that she hadn’t stopped when she saw the crash [5].

Even though it definitely was not the race I had hoped for, it was still a fun race until the crash.  It’s definitely one that I will look at doing again in 2023.

I also want to share this in general regarding the crash.  All that I ever ask of my guides is that they do everything possible to keep us safe.  I completely understand and accept that things can and WILL happen.  It’s not about being perfect – it’s about perfectly reacting when something does go wrong.  And to that point, if either one of us had panicked when the fishtailing started (i.e. slamming on the brakes), things would have gone worse. 

[1]: In 2016 or early 2017, it seemed like airports changed to using the CF bulbs.  While my vision has been declining over time, there was a change that I noticed only at the airports.  After the first mishap of stumbling in the dimmer surroundings, I started to take advantage of the airport accessibility services.  For the majority of the time, they’ve worked out really well.  However, two of the more frustrating issues have occurred at Hobby (HOU) in less than a year.  Last year, one of the accessibility staff just left me in the dark outside without saying anything, and we had to play ‘Marco-Polo’ so that Linda could find me.  This time, even though it said wheelchair (more efficent) on my reservation, none was there.  I ended up having to wait 20-25 minutes before someone from the airlines’ Ops team walked me down to baggage claim.

[2] In Cypress last year, things were either so noisy or we were far enough out that we couldn’t hear a horn for the Para wave start.  So there was a delayed start (video is on IG from the person who shot it) with someone from the land yelling ‘GO’ at all of us several times before we realized that we should be going.  For The Woodlands, it was apparently implied that we were all starting once we hit the water.  Instead, after 2-3 strokes out, I heard the horn.

[3] Because of the length of a tandem, we will typically go wider on turns than someone on a single bike.  You should NEVER, EVER, EVER be passing someone on the right.  It’s an extremely dangerous thing to do, as you’re likely in both people’s blind spots, among other reasons.  This race was the 3rd time that someone has passed us on the right — without any crashes thankfully.  I also learned during the weekend that apparently sanity has come to USAT rules. 

At Pleasant Prairie in 2018, we were coming around one of the curves before you went into the neighborhood.  At that point, someone decided to pass us on the right (inside).  When I finished the race, I was told that I had been assessed a two minute blocking penalty.  This was complete BS, as the other person had broken the rules and dangerously passed us.  As it didn’t make a difference on the results, and it was so minor, I chose not to fight it.  But it’s always upset me to have been tagged with something that was clearly BS.

What I took away from the weekend is that at this point, that would NOT be a penalty against me – as it shouldn’t have been in 2018.

[4] There are many ‘don’t dos’ as a guide/pilot.  One of the cardinal ones is ‘don’t drop your stoker’.  As Nelson said he was OK to ride the bike back even though he was in some pain, he got the check that one off of the ‘don’t do’ bucket list…

[5] I did not know about this happening until after the race, but my feelings are still the same as they would be if I HAD known. 

Linda was in the very last swim wave.  For all intensive purposes, she has a tail when it comes to crushing the swim (roughly 7:30 swim for the race).  So even though we were about 25-30 minutes ahead of her, she still caught up to us after the crash.  From what I’ve been told, she asked Nelson if we were OK and about stopping, and he waved her on.  She did mention something to the next race crew she saw.

As I said, I am truly glad that she did NOT stop.  There were people at the corner, medical was on the way, and there wasn’t anything else that she could have done.  I would have felt really, really, really bad if she had stopped and messed up her race in that scenario.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *