Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Like I Said

World War III is underway right.over.there...

Photo credit to someone else, not me

Today the air in Austin smelled of burning tires and the buildings just across the lake from me were hazy at best.  I'm off very early tomorrow for lake-side, not smoky or tire-burny, Sandusky, Ohio.  Please, Austin, be here when I get back.  I was just starting to like you - oh, ok, and your taco stands.

Ring Of Fire

Over the weekend, with Hurricane Katia pushing in from the Caribbean and front pushing down from Oklahoma, temperatures around Austin cooled somewhat, or at least to less than triple digits.  But the lack of rain since April and incoming rush of wind, the brush and forest fires that have been chewing up central Texas since last December finally made a dedicated appearance in Austin. 

Happy Labor Day.

Now Austin is literally surrounded by fire.  Steiner Ranch to the west, Bastrop to the east, Pflugerville to the north-east, Leander to the north-west, Spicewood to the north, and newly sighted blazes on and on...

Governor Perry swung by our neck of the woods to view the already and soon to be charred remains.  Back in April, the Governor requested all Texans to pray for rain.  Well it hasn't rained since April, and now the Governor is complaining about the small and slow federal response. 

For all the pictures on the news and rumors of friends' homes being under threat, it's completely different when you're rolling down the road on your bike and the horizon looks similar to the mushroom cloud from an nuclear weapon.  I went to spend some quality time on a stretch of interval-friendly country highway, which is near the town of Bastrop on fire, and the landscape is basically flat and tree-less, providing excellent views of the town of Bastrop on fire. The stiff wind was smearing the smoke down the east side of the city as far as the eye could see.   It's a somewhat different take on an interval workout when it looks like World War III is underway right.over.there. 

The drive home heads straight west, toward the Steiner Ranch fire, and then turns south, so that from a highway over-pass, I could easily see a streak of smoke on my right and streak of smoke on my left, each reaching to the southern horizon.

For the number people among us, since last December, drought-related fires in Texas have burned 3.5 million acres.  That's an area the size of Connecticut.  I guess everything is bigger in Texas.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hell's Kitchen

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

The little fella outside my apartment found out the hard way.

This is approximately how I feel after a long ride down here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

IM Canada: Yeah, No

Spoiler Alert


IM Canada is one of last remaining classic IM courses - one-loop each of swim, bike, run - and Penticton is one of the classic IM host communities.  This race is literally as old as I am; the first iteration had 25 participants.  In retrospect I would expect a better oiled machine after holding 29 of these things, but the IMs where the host town is small enough to be all.about.the.race on race day never cease to draw me.  It reminds me of Green Bay when the Packers play, or pretty much any big college football town on any given Saturday.

Act 1: Wherein Nothing Cute or Funny Happened

After staying in a loose group through the first half of the first leg, I soon found myself alone and swam the rest disgustingly slow.  And trust me, I knew I was going slow, but my effort level was already a bit above ideal so it was what it was.  It didn't help that I slowly roasted alive in my wetsuit.  Looking at swim splits, it does seem that people who would normally be a few minutes in front of me, were those same few minutes in front of me; we all just swam a bit slower at the same rate. 

Act 2: The Dance of Ineffectuals and Inefficiencies

Out of the water and onto my bike I was more than ready for something cute or funny to happen.  Or at the very least, PACE COMMENSURATE WITH EFFORT and NOT FREAKING BOILING ALIVE.  I got my way for roughly 100 minutes.

I steamed along, riding race effort effortlessly in that tapered way, at what basic math determines was roughly 24 mph average, until the infamous Husky station in Osoyoos.  Rounding the corner out of the parking lot to start the 11km climb up to Richter Pass, my rear tire flatted.  I was just short of an aid station so I crept along to reach it.

Ask the aid station volunteers to call for a tech vehicle and I change the flat, during the course of which I realize a horrible swim does not really leave enough upper body strength to wrestle an old tubular off its glue and a new tubular onto the rim.

Try the aid station's pump, during the course of which I realize the pump's rod (which operates the piston) is bent.

Try my CO2 cartridge, during the course of which I realize Chrissie and I have the same luck using CO2 to fix flats.

Try the aid station's pump again after attempting to straighten the rod, during the course of which I realize that I am no good at straightening metal and that for every stroke more air is escaping than going into the tire.

Wait for a tech vehicle, during the course of which I realize that I am not good at waiting as hundreds, but felt like thousands, of people are going by me as I stand by the side of the road.

Get tired of waiting and climb to the top of Richter Pass on probably 30 psi of air, during the course of which I realize that Richter Pass is actually a pretty awesome climb.

Wait at the top of Richter Pass for a tech vehicle, during the course of which I find out there is a rumor of tacks being thrown on McLean Creek Road (in the first 20k of the bike; I'm at 75km-ish) and all the tech vehicles are occupied with flats in that section.

Get 120 psi and set off to descend off Richter Pass, during the course of which I am sliding, shaking, and shimmying all over the road as I scream down the side of a mountain at 50mph.  During the course of which I remember that while mine was properly prepped (kudos and thanks to CHR!), spare tubulars have about a third of the glue on them as normally glued and seated tubulars.  During the course of which I realize I am in serious danger of rolling a tubular (meaning the tire comes off the carbon rim, and you very suddenly and very violently are riding carbon-on-cement).  During the course of which the results of rolling a tubular play through my brain...

During the course of which I think This is where I am going to die.  During the course of which I grab a handful of brake and continue to descend at a less death-defying speed and get passed by tens more people.  During the course of which I realize, well and truly, that my day of racing is over.  My day of riding back to town has just begun.

Data puts the whole experience in stark terms.  My SRM PowerControl, which collects data only when my bike is moving, lists a time of 5:13:52.  My race-timed bike split, which starts when I leave T1 and stops when I enter T2, is 6:21.

As I suspected I would, I had a great time riding the rest of the course back to town.  It's beautiful, and the crowd support is impressive, especially on the climbs, for an out-of-town course.  I rode race effort where I safely could and rode conservatively where I got the go-slow-or-meet-Death vibe.  For example, descending off Yellow Lake, which is like Richter Pass only with switch-backs and wind, is one of the scariest things I have ever done a bike.  And I've endo-ed into trees. 

Act 3: The Great Self-Debate

Upon return to town, I was faced with the actual act - not just the thought or intention - of DNF-ing.  It took me two miles of running, thinking what the hell am I doing?, to finally pull the plug.  I was out of the mix, would not achieve any of my goals for racing that weekend, and had long ago emotionally disengaged from the day, if only to protect myself from spending four hours riding through Canada feeling nothing but negative emotions.  None of those are really good reasons for not continuing when I was physically capable of doing so, and I still get a pit of sadness/shame/anger/frustration/what ifs/ripping the heads off chickens in my stomach as I write this and sense myself equivocating.  I do not want to diminish "simply finishing" when "simply finishing" is 100% success for 95% of IM participants.  But the reality is that not running a marathon on Sunday has left me with far more options to make a bad situation better in the short term, than running a marathon on Sunday would have. 

If nothing else, IM Canada taught me that not finishing hurts on Sunday, and in a much different way, than finishing hurts on Monday.

Curtain Call: Turn On A Dime (And Spending More Dimes)

Ma Support Staff and I made the most of being in Canada with a rental car and the ability to walk post-race.  Now I'm back in Texas after the necessary two days of travel.  Plans are in quick development to race - and hypothetically, finish - on September 11.  In this case, the emotional, rather than physical, turn-around will be the test. 
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