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.