23 August 2011

The Time I Almost Died

Okay, so the title may be a little melodramatic.

But recently I have been reminded of how risky triathlons and related pursuits can be, and in the last week, I have done two things that were, ultimately, pretty stupid...and potentially dangerous.

1. This month's Splash and Dash. It was a few degrees over 100 when we hit the water for the half-mile swim segment, and no cooler 15 minutes later when I started the 2-mile run. Why would I put myself through that?! Why would anyone? I've done that race in much more temperate weather and nearly lost my lunch at the finish line. This time, it was so hot that I couldn't push myself hard enough to toss my cookies, but that didn't mean it wasn't just as hard on my body. I couldn't help thinking that we were all idiots to put our bodies through that. (To answer the question of why I did it -- and I know that this makes no more sense than the rest of it -- I haven't missed a Splash and Dash yet. Since I'm not likely to win any other prizes, I feel compelled to maintain my perfect attendance record just in case the race organizers decide to recognize that someday.)

2. A sprint triathlon on Sunday. It was still hot, but starting at 7:30 a.m., the heat wasn't totally intolerable. Things got dicey on the bike, though, when I decided to glance down at my ankle to confirm that my timing chip (the electronic device used to record times in triathlons and other races) was still in place. Suddenly my bike veered off the asphalt and onto a narrow strip of gravel between the road and the sloping grassy expanse beyond. The asphalt was an inch or two above the level of the gravel, so turning left in an effort to ride back up onto the road would have surely taken my bike down. I didn't know what to do.

Apart from an extremely low-speed fall when I was getting used to clip-in pedals, I've never fallen on my bike. The thought terrifies me. Because my mom reads this, I won't get into all of the possible outcomes of a crash (not that she can't imagine...), but they're not pretty.

Fortunately, in the split second I had to make a decision, I made the right call. I just stayed the (undesirable) course and focused on keeping my bike upright in the uneven gravel. And after a few yards, the gravel path miraculously merged onto the asphalt and I found myself back up on the road. Whew.

Triathlons are a dangerous business. Two experienced triathletes died (presumably of cardiac arrest) on the swim in the New York City Triathlon a couple of weeks ago. One was a friend of a friend of a triathlete friend, who was spooked by the similarities between her own life and the victim's. But as I told my friend, the (still, ultimately, remote) risk of a freak heart attack on the swim -- or a bike crash, or heatstroke -- can't stop us from doing what we love. So we carry on, taking whatever precautions we can and learning lessons from our mistakes and those of others, and trust that this is what we were meant to do.

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