On June 29, 2014 I flipped my bike over a guard rail at Challenge Atlantic City, which resulted in a deep horizontal laceration above my right knee.  My first thought once I landed twenty feet down an embankment on the other side of the guard rail was “can I finish the race?”  After looking down and seeing yellow fat and white bone peeking out from the massive gash above my my knee, I decided that answer was “no.”  My next thought was “what happens next?”

What happened immediately after the crash was an ambulance trip to the hospital and a face lift for my knee in which the doctors pulled up the skin below my knee to close up the gash I created.  I spent almost three weeks completely immobilized before I was allowed to start bending the knee and walking without crutches.  At the end of July I was able to slowly start swimming and biking.  By late August I was running very small distances.  15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, no more.  I did my first hour long run on September 21st and by that time had worked my swim and bike up to “normal” volume.  All the while a November 1, 2014 deadline loomed in the distance — would I be ready to start, let alone finish, Florida?  To make matters worse, I spent much of September and October traveling for work.  I had three weeks in Louisville and another week split between Orlando and Houston.  Plane rides and my knee are not friends and every time I get off of a plane my knee is swollen and unstable for a few days afterward.  I am also a creature of habit and traveling destroyed my routine, although I did get good at finding new and sometimes exciting pools to swim.

I went through (and am still going through) long periods of doubt about my ability to train and race.  Days when my knee would start burning after an hour or two on the bike.  Days when I couldn’t get the swelling under control.  Days when I felt that I would never have “my” knee back.  I spent much of the summer and fall filled with self doubt and even now my knee is not yet “normal.” For quite a while I was confident that I would not be able to finish the race without hurting myself and I came to dread the question “can I track you online?” The experience of training and racing is a subjective one — each individual has a different fundamental understanding of both success and failure.  For some finishing is a giant achievement, for others overall or age group placing is the measure of success.  The problem I grapple with is that time on the clock, like weight, is objective.  A number is a number and those numbers have value no matter how I feel about my performance or the obstacles I may have overcome to reach the finish line.  In 2011 I finished Florida in 11:26.  I am not going to be anywhere close to that time this year.  So in some ways, no matter how I feel about my race performance, by the measure of the clock I will have failed.  Even if I succeed by my own subjective measures, my time will be there and will be subject to judgment.  While a 12:30 would subjectively be a huge achievement, objectively its a fairly mediocre time and would be my slowest finish at Florida.  I wish I could say that time doesn’t matter or that I was above caring about what the clock says, but it does and I do.  In some ways I wish I had the power to treat racing as the meaningless thing it is.

So where does this leave me 5 days before Florida?  It leaves me both scared and excited.  I excited to see what I’m capable of doing, even if its on less than ideal training; I’m scared that my head (not my body) will let me down on race day and that my fears on the bike and of crashing may get the better of me.  I’m also trying to think of this race in a new perspective.  There’s no way I’m going to PR, but I am going to set a post-crash personal best.  I would like to be able to stop comparing myself to the person I was three years ago and start working with the person I am now.

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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / witsup.com writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05

4 Comments

Monika Hill · October 27, 2014 at 10:35 am

If anyone can do this, I know you can. You are a fighter and can’t wait to read the race report. Relax, leave the watch at home and maybe you might surprise yourself. 😉

bdad...jon's dad · October 27, 2014 at 10:51 am

“Focus on your (finish)…listen to all the instincts you have…be prepared for feelings that may overcome you…be prepared to as Marines do (adapt, improvise and overcome)…remember all the voices that are within you…”race with strength, honor and commitment”, and remember to “follow your bliss”…will be with you…your friend the -blazeman…(alswarriorpoet-spirit).”

Em · October 27, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Whatever your result is, you will be great. You are amazingly strong and you’ve come so far since that crash — try to just enjoy the race experience as much as you can. You deserve to have a blast with this race.

Lani R · October 28, 2014 at 5:47 am

Enjoy your comeback!

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