by Oliver Evans
When deciding whether or not to start a race you need to take a few factors into mind. Primarily, your physical health (injuries or illness), and mental health.
Cycling culture glamorizes pushing through injuries sustained in a crash. Real athletes are hard women and men who will push through anything, right? Well, I beg to differ.
Suffering is a part of the sport. I won’t take that away. If you want to get anywhere in cycling, you’ll have to push through discomfort and pain at times. However, certain pains are not worth pushing through.
People idolize cyclists who ride with broken knees and broken collarbones. I would never ride with a freshly broken collarbone, as crashing on top of it again could result in a shattered clavicle. Of course, I’ve also never been in a position in a race that, for argument’s sake, might warrant riding through certain injuries, but unless I’m about to finish the Tour or place well in the biggest race of my life, I really can’t see any sensibility in choosing to ride despite having that sort of injury.
If you’re racing a crit series, chances are that you will crash. Often times, you can hop up with little more than some bruising and road rash. If that’s the case, then by all means race again. In fact, I’ve found that one of the most helpful strategies in getting over a crash is to get back on the bike immediately. That way you start riding again before any sort of fear or apprehension towards fast cornering or risk taking can set in; you skip the post crash adjustment (thanks adrenaline!). However, you do have to gauge the effects of the crash, and often times it’s best to get a second opinion from a medical professional before taking any sort of risks.
If you’re questioning whether or not you should race after a crash, that’s indicative of a potential reason not to race. Explore what you are questioning. Do you need an X-ray? Do you have a concussion? Are you simply in too much pain? Have you crashed a few times and the last thing you want to do is race for a little while, even though your body is more or less okay? Sometimes, the simple fact that you don’t want to race is enough to suggest that you need to sit one out.
Personally, I’ve found myself in some dark places after having done too many races. I’ll be dreading the next race, wishing for a way out. I’ve been in situations where I might be a little roughed up from crashes, but without any serious injuries. I’ve wished the crash I was in had done more serious damage to knock me off the bike, or that I was too sick to ride. The fact that I was tired of crashing, exhausted and perhaps finding absolutely no enjoyment while on the bike is not something to ignore. If I’m wishing for a reason not to ride, then I already have my reason.
This is where I tell you to consider the mental effect racing is having. If you simply do not want to race, there’s no harm in sitting on the sidelines for a bit. Watching a race might even be enough to stoke the fire again. Crashing mentally can be even more dangerous than a physical crash.
When it comes to illness, this one is a little tricky. If you wake up on race day and you’re feeling a little rough with some slight symptoms, you can probably ride and might surprise yourself with a great day on the bike. I think almost every cyclist has a story like this. But if you already know you have some sort of illness, you can prolong the recovery by participating in a race.
Basically, in my opinion, racing should never come before your health. What I suggest may sound like a ‘soft’ approach to some, but I used to be very ‘hard’ on myself, and it really did nothing positive in the long run. I try to look at cycling careers through a sustainable lens, and consider factors and approaches that didn’t work for me. A lot of the time decisions need to be made in the grey area, where the answer is not an obvious ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Listen to yourself. Listen to your gut. There will always be another race.
Oliver Evans is a 20-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg, who is currently based in Victoria. He races on the road with H&R Block Pro Cycling.