By Cat Hine
Triathlon is an individual pursuit, but sometimes you need a team.
I have long been told that there are two types of cyclist: those who have crashed, and those that will. Some of us pride ourselves on being the former -- resilient to the dangers of the road, and so passionate about the discipline that we want to get back on the bike, even when it may not be sensible to do so.
Watching the Tour De France, this type of cyclist epitomises the race: Marc Soler, finishing Stage 1 with two broken arms, Geraint Thomas having a dislocated shoulder popped back into place, and Primoz Roglic, one of the favourites, having to retire early after sustaining injuries. In each case these individuals got back on their bikes and battled through to complete the stage.
However, sometimes we are not so lucky. Sometimes it’s not possible to get back on the bike. In some instances the injuries sustained are too severe. We end up whisked away in an ambulance, to seek treatment. In other instances it may be that our bike is broken or unsafe to ride. Thus, however much we may want to get back on, it’s not possible. We can’t all be followed around by a team car with ‘spares’ of everything in the eventuality of an accident.
Unlike cycling, triathlon isn’t a team sport. It’s a personal, individual pursuit. Triathlon training can be a lonely journey. When we can, we may attend the local club run, or meet fellow athletes for a session. However we often don’t have the luxury of a regular training partner who is aiming to peak at exactly the same time, or whose ability is similar to our own. Many of us also race ‘alone’. We pick races that inspire or push us towards our goals, even if it means nobody else we know is doing them.
As such, when accidents happen or we may need a bit of extra help, we need to be prepared.
It is always sensible to ride with ICE (in case of emergency) contact details. There is also now a deluge of technology which will help us notify others in the eventuality of an accident. Garmin or Strava can ping our location to selected friends. Some helmets have ANGi crash sensors in them which will, according to the manufacturer, protect you before, during and after a crash.
When the stakes are high, such as on race day, having a friendly face around to help calm the nerves and manage logistics is also sensible. Those are the days when we will also not be riding with a mobile phone in our back pocket and we may take extra risks with all of the race-day adrenaline.
So who do we use as our emergency contact?
For some of us, we are lucky enough to have a fellow athlete as a partner and ICE contact. They may or may not be a triathlete, but they will understand the drive to train and race. With shared passions, it may be inevitable that as a couple you argue over who consumed all of the gels, or used the last spare inner tube. But, it goes without saying that you will support each other on race day and throughout training. Through shared experience and a love for sport, you will be happy to Sherpa for one another, helping to carry bags, acquire post-race food, or drive home after a long day in the saddle. You will both understand that accidents happen, that sport can be dangerous, and sometimes things go wrong, especially when you’re pushing the limits on race day.
However, for those of us that are single or don’t have the benefit of a supportive partner, finding a willing Sherpa for race day or somebody to pick up the pieces when things go awry can be challenging. We don’t want to call on the same friends time and time again to come and support us. We also don’t want to limit our race or training choices based on who else is ‘around’. There often isn’t one single person that we may ask, when we need a bit of extra help.
Nine times out of ten everything is okay. But the extended support network is important. It is also important to not become complacent, as I recently discovered.
Within the past two weeks both myself and a very good friend have crashed.
My crash occurred while racing. I was only a couple of hours from home. I’d traveled by myself and didn’t really know anybody else at the race, which is not an unusual scenario. I had completed the pre-registration forms months ago, and the event organisers had ICE contact details.
I had provided my sister's number. She is my go-to. When I’ve landed up in hospital, she’s the person that will bail me out and won't have a full blown panic attack over the prospect that I’ve done something silly (again). There isn’t much that she wouldn’t do in an actual emergency. But on this occasion I knew she was going to be four hours away. And, this was not a full scale emergency. This was me, sat at the side of the road, bruised and battered, with a broken bike and a bit of concussion. And I didn’t have any other phone numbers.
There was literally nothing I could do until the sweeper van picked me up and took me back to transition. It was hammering it down with rain. I was cold, wet, tired, hungry and stranded for over two hours with a sore head.
On this occasion I was lucky enough to have a friend in close proximity. They were out riding their bike, and once I was returned to transition they were able to rescue me. They drove me home, made sure I was fed and that my road rash and trashed tri-suit was documented with photographic evidence, in order to post across social media platforms for future mocking when the cuts had healed. I knew they would be in the area, but it never crossed my mind to add them as my ICE contact, or take their mobile number with me on the race as a ‘Plan B’.
When my friend crashed a week or two later, he was escorted home by friends. He rode 7 miles with a broken collar bone. Once at home and unable to get his jersey off, it was as much as he could do to send a ‘help’ text message to a couple of close friends. But nobody knew he was going to be riding out, much less be in an accident; the sun was shining and phones had been put away for the afternoon. He was eventually taken to the local Accident and Emergency Department by a neighbour. But this isn’t the end of his story. He now has six weeks of trying to look after himself, while in pain, and without the use of his dominant arm. Friends can, and will, help. This is a different kind of ‘emergency’ now.
These things happen. When we take up cycling we know what we are getting ourselves into, and what the risks are. But we must not become complacent. We can’t take safety and security for granted.
Keeping ICE details up to date is important. One reason is to ensure that we have somebody who can come to our rescue when we are incapacitated and unable to call for help ourselves. Avoiding a scenario when our most hated ex is called may also be a good reason to double check who we have listed. We all also need to have a back up plan for when our closest friends and relatives are unable to come to the rescue.
As an epilogue; this is a shout-out to all of the willing, and less than willing, emergency contacts and Sherpas who support athletes. We wouldn’t be able to train and race without you. Sometimes it may not seem that we are appreciative, but knowing that you’re on speed dial, knowing that we have friends and family that will drop everything and come and help, is important. Thank you.
Cat Hine is an MX Endurance Race Team ambassador.