Tag Archives: triathlons

Why a Helmet is Worth a Bad Hair Day


Last week we camped with some good friends in the Empire area. One day we decided to take a group ride along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. The ten miles between Empire and Glen Arbor are pretty and not terribly difficult. But for one friend, it was a milestone. For the last couple of years he’s struggled with knee issues. Thanks to PT and regular workouts he’s much improved, but this was his first ride of any real distance in a long time.

Seven miles in, we stopped for a water break. As my friend dismounted, his foot caught on the bike frame and he went down.

His head smacked the pavement.



The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute reports that of all cycling-related deaths, 74 percent involved a head injury. And 97 percent of the riders who died were not wearing helmets. You might think, therefore, that if a First Rule of Cycling existed, it would be this:


Hitting the trail! (Yes, I know, but he put the helmet on before we started.)

Hitting the trail! (Yes, I know, but he put the helmet on before we started.)

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. He was wearing a helmet, and it absorbed the impact instead of his skull. He was dizzy for a few minutes, but after some rest he was able to continue, and we completed the ride. He suffered a bruise to his ego, but his body is intact to ride another day.

Our group wears helmets on every ride, and when our kids were growing up, we insisted they wear them too. To me, it’s a no-brainer, so to speak. And yet there are those out there who argue against their use. Among the claims this article makes are:

  • the accident rate goes up when people wear helmets
  • when cars pass cyclists, they give helmeted riders less room than non-helmeted ones
  • requiring helmets discourages more people from riding bikes at all.

And CNET reports here that a brain surgeon says if you’re hit hard enough by a car to kill you, a helmet won’t do you much good. Perhaps so – but last week’s situation didn’t involve a speeding car, or any speed at all. He fell from a standing position. Without a helmet, we have no doubt he’d have been in the emergency room, with potential long-term consequences.

Every year I see many helmetless riders on the Heritage Trail, or the Betsie Valley Trailway, including entire families with small children. I can guess at their mindset. They’re on vacation, released from stress, riding slowly on a smooth, flat trail with no motor vehicles allowed. What could happen? Well, one young guy panicked and slid right off the trail when I announced my presence behind him. He was okay, fortunately, but elsewhere on the trail he could have struck a fallen log and taken a nasty spill.

And people fall off bikes for less reason than that. I’ve fallen many times, usually when I can’t get my foot out of the clips during a stop. I’ve managed to avoid banging my head (thanks, Aikido) but I have that foam and plastic insurance policy up there just in case.

And if you want to participate in one of our local triathlons? Experienced riders and no drafting allowed. What could be safer? Yet you’re not leaving the transition area to start the bike portion without a fastened helmet.

Yep, we check!

Yep, we check!

Yes, one reason is liability, but if a helmet is so useless, what’s the point? Other than all the evidence (like here) that wearing a helmet reduces the severity of injuries. Guess I forgot.

Yes, I know I shouldn’t tell you what to do. And I can’t make you wear the f***ing helmet. Why should I even care what you do?

Because if you’re reading this post, you’re one of my readers, which makes you special to me. And I want you to stay alive and healthy so you can keep reading my posts.

So go out for that ride, and wear the f***ing helmet, okay?

Limits vs. Limitations

“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”
Richard Bach

This week I achieved a milestone (technically speaking, a “half-milestone”) in the pool. For the first time ever I swam 800 meters, or about a half mile, which is the distance to swim on June 18 when I plunge into Kent Lake to begin my first triathlon.

I'm not sure which seems longer - 800 meters, or 32 times back and forth across the pool.

I’m not sure which seems longer – 800 meters, or 32 crossings of the pool.

For a veteran swimmer, 800 meters is pretty routine, and Ironman participants do five times that (2.4 miles), but just last month I couldn’t swim more than 50 meters at a time. So I headed to my favorite ice cream place to celebrate, flushed with success – or maybe it was the chlorine in my nose.

Jamie, a fellow runner, was behind the counter. She told me that her uncle is going to run the Athens Marathon (the original route that Pheidippides ran after the battle), something he’s wanted to do since he was seven years old. What’s particularly memorable about this is that he’s diabetic. In addition to the usual training and fueling needs for a marathon, he will have additional challenges balancing his blood sugar and care of his body while training. His disease is a limitation, to be sure – but he’s not going to let it limit him.

It occurred to me that we often use the terms “limit” and “limitation” as though they are identical. They aren’t. As applied to our abilities, a limit is where we happen to be at the moment, and is subject to change. A limitation is something that defines and bounds us forever – if we let it.

Here is what Dr. Denis Waitley has to say about this:
You cannot surpass certain limits because you simply are not physically or mentally equipped to do so, but that doesn’t mean you have to squander and stifle your real potential by living according to certain limitations inspired by yourself and others. You can learn to live without limitations.

I agree; perhaps “certain limits” are unsurpassable. But do we really know what those limits are – or are we just making assumptions? If Jamie’s uncle had decided that Type I diabetes made it impossible for him to run a marathon, he’d be right. But his limit would be self-imposed rather than truly “unsurpassable”. Later this year he’s going to challenge that limit, and my money’s on him completing that marathon.

Can I run a four-minute mile right now? No. Will I ever run one? Probably not, but I’m a much faster and stronger runner than when I began this blog three years ago, and I continue to improve. Sure, my age and body type establish limits to how fast and how far I can run, or bike, or swim. But I haven’t found them yet. And even when (or if) I do, there will be room for improvement somewhere else.

Three years ago, six miles was a long run and I’d run one half marathon. The Dexter-Ann Arbor race on June 1 will be my third half marathon this year, in addition to three completed 50K trail ultras and a 5K in showshoes. Still to come are three sprint triathlons and my first 100K run in the fall. Will I complete them all? I hope so – but I won’t know if I can or can’t do them until I try.

Frankly, I'd rather snowshoe a half mile than swim it. Anyone for a winter tri?

Frankly, I’d rather snowshoe a half mile than swim it. Anyone for a winter tri?

What’s holding you back from something you’d like to do, – or become? An actual hard, unsurpassable limit? Or is self-imposed uncertainty, or fear, telling you it is? As Richard Bach and Denis Waitley point out, there’s no difference – unless you decide to find out. Why not find out?