On November 21st in Tempe, Arizona, there will be another full Ironman triathlon. All 140.6 miles of struggle will be there waiting for me. All 8,000+ calories of expended energy and all 8-10 pounds of sweat loss are available to me if I so choose. This journey will continue, and a finish will be in my future. I’m excited. I’m anxious. I’m ready.
Well, I didn’t finish an Ironman 😞
I didn’t even get to the starting line. Not for a lack of preparation or trying. That morning, the Ironman California was canceled due to severe weather conditions.
On Sunday October 24th, the day of the race, Sacramento saw some of the most rain and wind it’s seen in over 100 years! Almost 5” of rain and gusts of wind over 40 mph. The day before was temperate and dry; the day after, also cool and dry; the day of the event we had a bomb cyclone.
The night before, we athletes received word that they would cut 56 miles off the bike course for amateurs (I assume to avoid too many athletes being out during the height of the storm). That change alone was disappointing. 140 miles traveled in a single day is a large part of what “finishing” an Ironman is all about. But, that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve trained for 140+ miles and I felt ready for it.
The morning of the event I got up and ready as planned. On the way to the event, it was clear the weather predictions were entirely accurate. Just getting into the car was a water-drenched event. When we arrived at the stadium I could see thousands of people fighting the rain and wind. With the best of friends and family wishing me well, I left the comfort of a heated and dry car to head into the stadium and get this party started. But alas, that excitement was short-lived.
At about 6:45 AM they announced, to the disappointment of 3000+ athletes, hundreds of volunteers and an uncountable amount of friends and family ready to follow along, that debris and predicted rainfall would make the river, bike route and run route too unsafe to hold the event.
Disappointing? Of course. Understandable? Entirely.
Now, there are two ways to look at this:
If you’re thinking “Nice hyperbole, Adam. ‘Death’ right.” Check out this photo of a full size tree which fell across the bike path the day of the event. Assuming there was an athlete every 20-30 feet, there’s a good chance it would have killed someone. Also, the swim ramp was completely flooded. So, many athletes would have struggled to get out of ever increasing flood waters.
When does cost exceed safety? Never, probably. However, if we reduce the risk down to reputational injury (or death) does that change anything?
I started my career as a professional stage actor.
One thing we all knew was that opening night was an immovable(ish) event. Almost anything else could change to make it possible to open: we could reduce the size and scope of the set; we could recast sick actors; we could cut scenes or modify the script to make the show more doable (with permission, of course); or just about anything else that would make it possible to raise the curtain on opening night.
More than anything, reputational injury from a canceled opening night was far more than a poorly presented opening night.
But, there are rare occurrences where moving opening night is simply unavoidable. When opening night’s performance would be so bad that the reputational injury would be greater than that of postponing or fully canceling the show.
Life is a guessing game. We gather information and make decisions, and that information may guide us down the wrong path from time to time. Other times, it will make us feel informed, empowered, and safe; regardless, it’s a guess.
Then what happens? We pivot. We reflect on the outcome, accept our losses and adjust.
In my situation, my outcome was to finish a full Ironman event - all 140.6 miles in under 17 hours. This journey is about the finish. I want to know I can do it. I want to know if this one lung amateur triathlete can learn and train his way to the Ironman finish. If that journey takes another year or more, I’m committed to it.
Do I have the physical endurance to show for all this training? Definitely.
Could I call myself a finisher for having put in the effort, sans the finish line? Certainly.
Do I want to walk across the Ironman finish line? Yep.
On November 21st in Tempe, Arizona, there will be another full Ironman triathlon. All 140.6 miles of struggle will be there waiting for me. All 8,000+ calories of expended energy and all 8-10 pounds of sweat loss are available to me if I so choose. This journey will continue, and a finish will be in my future.
| Photo by Andrew Ruiz