Down and Out
Heading down one of the last long descents at Ironman Jönköping 70.3 I was staying low on the aerobars, taking in the last sip of energy that I had in my frame bottle when I hit the pavement, shoulder first at 60km/hr. I have no idea what actually happened and what caused the accident but all of the sudden I was on the pavement in a lot of pain running the normal “crash diagnostics” to evaluate if I would be able to continue, it seemed possible until I got to the shoulder and felt the sharp piece of the clavicle bone, almost penetrating the skin. I realized that it was broken and that I wouldn’t be able to complete the race today. As I like to race fair and follow the rules I always keep 15-20meter to any other cyclist so no-one else was affected by my crash.
Leading up the race: After Ironman Lanzarote, my “A race” 2018, I have been taking it a bit easier. Ironman 70.3 Jönköping was going to be a training race to wake the body up and start the build to get in shape for Hawaii in October. I had promised to help Unitedcycling at the Öster Cykel stand and represent Argon18 on Saturday as Martin had to drive down to Germany that afternoon.
It was really a different and fun experience to help stressed out triathletes with last minute hydration systems, spare tires and valve extenders instead of resting and recovering the day before a race. As my bike was on display both Friday and Saturday, I had no chance to go through it other than stick a spare tire and CO cartridge in one of the bottle holders and put on the race number. I was over an hour late to check in and was really lucky that there still was someone in the transition area that could give me the race chip.
Race morning & swim: After putting my bike in order, I met up with an old friend that used to race in the 90ties and we had a really nice time until it was time to get in the water. I took it quite easy on the swim and stayed by myself as I like to. Finished the loop in around 28minutes (apparently 6thplace in AG).
Photo by Mario Dahlgren
Bike: Long run to the bikes and I felt a bit rusty to get going. Someone had told me that there was a long climb early on and I took it quite easy as I wanted to have a good steady training session above normal pace but not maxing it out today. It is really a beautiful bike course with rolling hills and fantastic crowds along the way. After 30km my whole bottle cage holder fell off from behind the seat post, I was able to turn around and pick it up. I placed it in my other cage holder between the aerobars and rode on. In a downhill at around 50km it fell out again in a bumpy section and flew into the woods. I decided to just leave it this time. Apparently, I gained positions on the bike even if I had some problems and was in the lead of AG 50-54 when I went down.
Emergency care: It took me approximately 20-30 seconds to realize how bad shape I was in and during this time a couple of spectators ran over the road to help. They took the bike of the street, made sure that I didn’t jump up to quick and called the ambulance. I lost a lot of skin to that road and were bleeding from the road rashes and my left side shoulder and ribs hurt like hell.
Ambulance came and took me to the emergency. They cut up my race suite to be able to brush the gravel out of the wounds and sent me of the x-ray. When the doctor came in after a few hours and said that “we will let you go back to Stockholm tonight” I was both relived and surprised – so many questions, are you not going to operate straight away so I can start the rehab as soon as possible? How will I be able to sit in a car for 4 hours hurting like hell? How will I find someone that can do the operation in Stockholm?
Fortunately, my family was with me on this race and my wife drove us safely back to Stockholm. Everyone was fine emotionally as they (unfortunately) are rather used to see me with the bruises you get in sports.
Not feeling my best – stopped at MAX around 20:00. 14 hours after last meal.
In the morning I started to call insurance companies, orthopedic surgeons trying to get a time for operation as soon as possible. It didn’t work at all as the private insurance care givers (the supposedly faster alternative) all are on vacation and closed for surgery during the summer. I had to go back to the emergency room, this time at St Görans hospital and sit in the waiting room for 5,5 hours just to get them to take a new ex-ray and conclude that the diagnosis that they had made in Jönköping was right and that I needed a time for surgery.
Ten days later I had the operation when most of the road rashes were healed, perhaps this is why they prefer to operate the clavicle later in Sweden than in other countries – to avoid open wounds that will increase the risk of infection.
In surfing we call those kind of skin deep injuries ”souvenirs”
And those kind of injuries are called ”trophies”….. 12,5 cm metal plate with 13 bolts.
Now it’s almost a week since the operation, the swelling is going down, I am not allowed to train so that I sweat as it increases the risk of infection and complications in the open wound. Exercise without sweating is difficult when it’s the warmest summer in decades with 28-30C°. I have been taking walks to stay in movement, but I am not feeling good and get extremely tired. The plate feels strange and creates some kind of cramp on the left side of the neck which I really hope is temporary. The Doctor said that 50% who has this operation take out the plate after the bone has healed and I am really hoping that I am one of the ones that can leave it in without and complications. I have phased out the painkillers 3 days post operation, as I want to feel what is going on in my body but occasionally have to take one when it feels like someone are hammering a 15cm nail into my shoulder.
Hawaii plan: The plan remains to go to Hawaii but to participate rather than to race for a new PB. I’m however really uncertain if I will be able to recover and get back in shape in the little time that is left. The different parts of the injury will heal in different time; skin in 2 weeks, tissue in 4-5 weeks, bone 6-8 weeks. I have large black and blue hematomas areas (blood from internal bleeding) that are affecting mobility in the knee and hip and I don’t know how fast they will dissolve and if they will affect my running.
Training outline (optimal recovery without complications):
30 – Current week, walks and easy strength training
31 – Allowed to train again (run & bike easy, getting body back in motion)
32 – Build up to 10-12hrs/week (endurance, some “one-arm” swimming)
33 – Build up to 15-20hrs/week (endurance, some “one-arm” swimming)
34 – Big Training Block
35 – Big Training Block
36 – Big Training Block
37 – Allowed to lift left arm over 90° – start swimming again, easy week.
38 – Big Training Block
39 – Big Training Block
40 – Big Training Block, taper later part of the week
41 – Kona race week
Reflections: I have received many well wishes and nice words from close and remote friends all over the world when I posted the information about my crash on social medias. For that I am truly thankful. The reason I write this long story about the crash and plan forward is not to get sympathy and encouragement – but to share my view on the situation. It has taken me a lifetime to learn how to deal with the fact that one second you are feeling great and the next you are down and out and don’t know if you ever will be able to do what you love again. If I can share some of my experience it might actually help someone else deal with a situation where everything seems hopeless and dark. It’s really easy to lose motivation, hope and energy. It’s easy to give up. Equally it’s easy to ignore the pain and jump straight back into training – to be “tough” but actually just delay the recovery.
Here are my top five recommendations how I deal with crashes (pretty obvious but always good to repeat).
- Perspective: For most of us Age Groupers it’s really not so important if you make the podium (at least not if you have some perspective on life and realize that being the fastest in your AG in any race is really not going to have any impact on anything or anyone else in the world than your ego). Accepting yourself for who you are not what you accomplish is much better and will also make sure that you are nice to others. If you need to prove yourself it’s perhaps better to see a shrink or get platform shoes or hair implants.
- No regret: It is very unusual (….) that you can change the past and un-do a crash that you have been in. Quickly conclude what went wrong and make a note to yourself how to avoid it in the future and move on. Dwelling over the past and what you should and should not have done is a waste of time and energy.
- Accept the statistics: If you ride a lot of bike you will sooner or later be involved in an accident, I used to have one every 1-2 years but since I ride more indoors this is the first crash from when I got back into serious training (3years). If you can’t accept the statistics – go and play golf or some other recreational activity in which you are sure to be protected from any accidents or adrenaline.
- Be happy that you are alive: One of the worst crashes I know in triathlon was when the Belgian super talent and pro triathlete Marc Herremans had an accident training in Lanzarote. He fell and hurt his back so bad that he has been in a wheelchair since the accident. But with his amazing attitude he continued to train and race and completed Ironman Hawaii again 3 times using hand-cycle and wheelchair http://marcherremans.com/about-marc-herremans/ If you are alive after a crash – be thankful and happy no matter in how much pain you are in.
- Get back on your bike: It’s going to be painful for a while and you will feel really weak and crappy. But this too will pass. Make sure to enjoy every little bit of progress and repeat 1-4 to yourself when it feels shit.
It’s as simple as that!
Now I will go and enjoy a 10min ridiculously easy sweat free ride on the trainer followed by a 20min sweat free strength exercises that will make a Kundalini Yoga class look like a Paratroopers boot camp.
Leave a comment if you found this blog useful and good luck with your training!
May the force be with you and keep you away from crashes!