It's rare that you find yourself sitting around hoping you've fractured a bone. Yet that's the position I found myself in awhile back, sitting in my local ER after parting ways with my bike while traversing a patch of ice. The fall itself was nothing spectacular, nothing noteworthy even. Just a simple sitting down in the middle of the street, accompanied by the sound of some velcro straps tearing open. The problem, though, was that I didn't have much velcro on me and the noise was coming from inside my shoulder.
This took place, of course, a matter of some few days before I was scheduled to head south for the 24-hour race Penn wrote so cheerfully about in his post. The inability to get my hand above my head that shortly followed my crash didn't bode well for that endeavor, and so I trucked myself off to the ER. It is a funny thing in such a situation to hope for the more serious injury, but a broken collar bone would make my inability to compete definitive. An invisible soft-tissue injury is another thing entirely. Then it becomes a question of severity, of gutting it out, of faking it. The doctor was thrilled when the x-rays showed no fractures; I was less so.
It's worth noting that there's no difference in treatment for a simple shoulder separation like I had and a bone broken clean in two--neither outcome would really have changed the course of the next month in my life. It's worth noting, too, that I recognize the madness in hoping for the more severe of two injuries. But I wasn't rooting for damage or suffering. What I wanted was a ticket out of two weeks of self-doubt.
The thing about endurance events, especially if you're not in the mix for a win, is that they're not particularly about speed. They are, as the name implies, about endurance. Your training consists of hardening your body so that you might withstand the hours and miles and hours and miles of effort. But that's just the price of entry. The true challenge of endurance cycling falls to the mind. The decisive moments don't come in breakaways or wild sprints, but in the decision to buckle cold, damp shoes on in the middle of the night and ride off into the middle of nowhere one more time. In the choice to grind out another lap before the sun goes down when friends and food are waving you towards a chair. The choice, really, not to quit as long as your legs can turn over a crank even when you're hours past the point where they, and you, no longer have any interest in doing so.
So in this context, a soft tissue injury is a real bitch. There's nothing stopping you from riding, nothing consolingly objective, anyway. Nobody knows how severe or how mild your injury is other than you--and your pain cannot be demonstrated, even to yourself. Are you being too sensitive? Too cautious? Are you really just looking for a way out of the test? A broken bone makes you ineligible to compete. A soft tissue injury makes you quit.
I flew down to Tucson with hope in my heart that ibuprofen and sleep and guts would carry the day. Hauled all my riding gear across the continent, rented a fine BMC from a swank new shop, and trucked it all out into the middle of the desert. Before the crash, I had a fairly good training program up and going. My compatriot Tando and I had a long history with the race and firm goals for this incarnation. The weather was the best it's ever been in the five years we've been going out to Willow Springs Ranch. The camaraderie in the truck was good and spirits were high. I jumped on the rental bike and took a little spin down the dirt road that runs through camp, pulled up on the bars to clear a small rock, and felt my arm rattle around loose in my socket before snapping back into place with a sickening, nausea-raising thunk.
And so, before the race even began, I quit.