Off the back doesn’t mean out of the race. Photo courtesy of Josh Schwiesow

Off the back doesn’t mean out of the race. Photo courtesy of Josh Schwiesow

by Josh Schwiesow

Crashing in cyclocross is a piece of cake, comparatively speaking. I’ve said as much before in this noob column, to some debate. I still maintain the same, after some opportunity to reflect.

Last weekend, I had a crash that was not the pleasant toppling-over-onto-soft-grass-or-sand that I am so familiar with courtesy of cyclocross. I’ll spare the details other than to say I shredded my clothes and cracked my helmet in about six places. Whoops!

So although the misadventure was expensive, I’m quite all right despite going down very quickly. No serious injuries to speak of, and I consider myself very lucky. A friend who saw the photos was amazed I didn’t break a collarbone, which is such a common injury in cycling. Much like Joey, I’m OK.

I had some opportunity to reflect upon the crash this week, and I write this entry on the eve of my second anniversary of being in remission. I’ve mentioned previously that I am a cancer survivor and that part of the reason I took up cyclocross was a result of wanting to try new things upon getting well. Therein lies the lesson.

When I was diagnosed, I knew I was in for a world of hurt. In fact, the cure was often worse than the disease (other than that whole “untreated = uniformly fatal” bit, obviously). Every other week for six months, I’d spend a day getting chemotherapy that was basically like a knockout punch. I’d get home and, well, crash.

You pick yourself up. A dozen knockouts meant that a dozen times I’d scrape myself up off the bed, the floor, the couch, or whatever, and keep on moving.

I’m not equating cyclocross with sickness at all – that isn’t the takeaway. There is an applicable life lesson here. For the noob thinking about racing cyclocross this upcoming year, I can assure you that if you race, you will fall. If you don’t, you are either a tremendous bike handler, not pushing yourself enough, or simply strong enough to ride off the front and never race near others, which is unlikely. You’ll hit the ground, and you’ll get up, hopefully without pain or injury, and you’ll keep on racing.  That’s the way it should be.

I couldn’t even begin to estimate how many times I fell last season. Actually, I couldn’t even begin to estimate how many times I crashed in my very first cyclocross race, with my over-inflated tires in the mud and rain. I know the first crash was approximately an eighth of a mile from the start, and the last was probably the same distance from the finish. It happens. You pick yourself up and hop back on. Much like with chemotherapy, the key is to answer every fall by getting up after and continuing on.

A crash doesn’t preclude you from winning the race. However, not getting up not only ensures you won’t win, it ensures that the race isn’t your real loss of the day, metaphorically speaking. A DNF isn’t the end of the world; they happen, and that’s what happened to me this past weekend. I didn’t lie there and wallow, I cleaned myself up and came back for more the next day. One of the lessons from cancer is that giving up on what you have worked so hard for is a much larger tragedy than not winning a race. Winning can be a broader concept than simply finishing first.

Here’s the Noob Hand-Up:

  • You’re going to crash.  That’s OK.
  • The crash, in all likelihood, won’t be the end of the world.  It won’t be the end of your world, and probably won’t even be the end of your race.
  • How you handle a crash is what matters.  Pick yourself up.