Athlete Journal: Andrew Read, Entry 27 – The Accident

After a week of travel and some calf trouble, I had another obstacle this week: a bike accident. I escaped with a few bruises – and a lot of gratitude for breakfalls.

Click here to read other journal entries and articles by Andrew Read, and look for his new journal every Monday as he trains for Ironman Melbourne.

Journal Entry 27 – The Accident

I would rather bungee jump into a pool with sharks in it while holding a big hairy spider in my hand than be hit by a car riding a bike.

At the moment of impact there’s a thought running through your head that goes like this, “I wonder how much this will hurt?” Then there’s what seems like a little black out as the car tires screech, the bike gets taken out from underneath you and you feel yourself thrown to the ground. None of this is very clear when you look back later and it’s as if time froze with you upright but panic-stricken. The next frame of consciousness, you’re on the ground hoping someone literally got the number of the car that hit you.

And that was yesterday.

With two weeks of interrupted training and an injury last week I hadn’t really done much this week. Last weekend I was in Korea teaching Primal Move and flew home Monday night, arriving Tuesday morning. I was a bit knocked out by the flight and having stayed up to watch five movies on an eleven-hour flight and so didn’t do much Tuesday other than answer emails. Wednesday I went for a walk and then swam. The swim was particularly good – it always is the session after doing an all-day Primal Move workshop, I find. But a swim and a walk hardly qualify as a tough day of training. Thursday I did some kettlebells early and got ready for a ride in the afternoon.

I hadn’t even gone ten minutes down the road when I got nailed by a lady who may not have grown up with the internal combustion engine, so it’s no surprise she was not so clear on its safe use.

I was riding along a main road in the bike lane approaching a crossroad. There were multiple cars stopped on my side waiting for me to go past. For some reason the woman driving a car on the opposite side of the road, who should have been stopped too, just decided now would be a good time to try to rush through the intersection.

Next thing I know I’m rolling over the hood of her car and hoping there’s nothing coming the other way. Once I hit the deck, I did a quick self-assessment (more on this in a second) to check if I was injured. Somehow, miraculously, I was unscathed. I mean one hundred percent, not even a scratch on me, unscathed. Unusually, for someone falling onto the cheese grater like asphalt wearing only a Lycra T-shirt and shorts, I hadn’t even torn a hole in my clothing. This stuff gets holes in it if it catches a twig so I’m not sure how it survived an actual crash.

After realizing I wasn’t suffering any real damage or about to bleed to death I was up very quickly. I have to be honest and say that my usual response to adrenaline is to want to fight. To my own detriment the flight response is not well ingrained in me. The poor lady driving the car was probably more scared about the six-foot tall angry, screaming man outside her window than she had been about actually hitting me in the first place. And when I’m in fight mode, well, let’s just say that my language has all the color of every Australian person you’ve ever seen or met. But probably more sarcastic. My sarcasm mode was deployed in full angry mode when she managed to stammer out that she was all right. Of course she was all right! She was in her one ton metal cage while I had the full protection of a micron of Lycra and an ice cream container (with air vents) on my head.

The third thought in my head – the first one was, “I hope I’m not going to die” and the second was, “You idiot old woman” – was about my bike. Anyone who has ever ridden anything on two wheels will tell you of how treasured their bike is to them. The bike, for me, has always represented the freedom to escape, explore and do my own thing, even from a young age. As I’ve grown my toys have become more expensive, and there have been equally-loved motorbikes in there too, but that love has always remained. I just love riding.

This bike, my treasured possession, was lying on the ground. Carbon is amazingly strong in a single direction. They make carbon bikes by overlaying carbon fiber in various directions to give it strength but an 8kg bike is no match for a one ton car. Initial examination revealed nothing massively wrong with it – a bent front wheel and maybe some issues with the gearing. That’s no cheap matter as the wheel retails for about $1800 and the gearing adds $3000 to the cost of the frame. It’s at the bike shop now and I’ll have a full report Monday. But it could have been much, much worse.

All this will be covered by the driver’s insurance so that’s some relief. Of equal relief is that I haven’t actually suffered any massive damage other than injuring my left wrist as I put my hand out for the fall.

And that is the lesson in all this. I have a great belief that in life it is the things we do early that have the greatest use. For instance, addition and basic language are used every day. Reciting Shakespeare and calculus? Not so much in my line. In martial arts a good jab cross will go a long way to winning most fights and in BJJ the stuff you do in the first few months is what you will likely need in a street fight. In training the warm up is often the most critical aspect of training. I like to use Primal Move and Get Ups as warm-ups for our clients. In my mind even if they get pulled out of training for an emergency I know that they’ve done the most important part of their training. Maybe not for aesthetics but for whole body function certainly.

While I no longer do any martial arts I spent almost thirty years training in various styles and in the vast majority of warm ups I did breakfalls. Look, the truth about training is this – most of it is just for vanity. You can make all the claims you want about how it’s going to make you run faster or fight better or whatever, but unless you’re a professional athlete the number one reason people train is vanity. There’s nothing wrong with that but it won’t potentially save your life.

Breakfalls will. From riding to running to falls in the home this simple skill can literally save your skin and the bag of meat contained within it. Not only that but rolling challenges the vestibular system and helps develop proprioception and balance so along with a protective element there’s developmental and performance reasons to include them too. I used to race motorbikes quite slowly and had the same lesson reinforced to me there with the highlight of that time a 200km/h highside that I walked away from that destroyed my bike. When you crash big you learn to lie still for a little bit after you stop moving (and you do this by looking up at the sky and making sure the clouds are still) and just see if anything hurts and you can wiggle all your fingers and toes (because if you can’t it indicates possible spine injury and it’s best you stay there until real help arrives).

In the meantime my body is stiff – that’s the usual response to the shock to the system of going from 30km/h to zero instantly and being thrown forcefully to a hard surface. My back is tight. My neck, too. My legs are a bit sore and I think it’s just a matter of time until deep bruising comes out. Hopefully the bike will have the parts necessary added to it and they’ll be sorted out early next week and I can just get on with the job again.

Without having to do any breakfalls.

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