When The Tough Decision is Made for You

Today was supposed to be my A-race, the one I have dreamed about doing for years, the one that made me gulp when I registered for it last August and spent all fall, winter and spring training for.  But Mother Nature had her own ideas and, last night, an ominous statement about air quality was released: “The health of all participants and volunteers is paramount.  We will keep you informed as soon as possible.”

When Dave, the boys and I arrived at Mont Tremblant, poor air quality was the last thing we expected.  In early June, when we had some smokey days in Oakville, smoke that came in from Northern Ontario and Quebec, I wondered if we might face similar conditions on this half Ironman weekend but a few weeks of good weather buried that thought in the back of my mind.  We arrived on Thursday night to sunny skies and we had very hot and humid weather on Friday and Saturday.  I stalked The Weather Network for the past two weeks and there was never any hint of smog or smokey conditions.  So when both arrived overnight, one of the most common questions asked this morning was “Where did this come from?”

Last night, after double and triple checking my gear bags and tucking myself into bed, my oldest warned me about the possibility of poor air quality.  “Well, we’ll see what happens in the morning,” I replied.  I was up and down all night with the usual pre-race jitters; at 4:30, I went towards the window and could smell smoke drifting into the room.  When I opened the window, I couldn’t believe how bad it was.  An hour later, I checked again and could taste the smoke.  “Don’t do it,” Dave said.  “With your asthma, you have to be careful.  It isn’t worth it.”

“Should I or shouldn’t I?   I don’t know what to do.”  Ten months of training, juggling family responsibilities around this, retiring in December so that I could work part-time and be ready for this race….my mind started to spin.  I was ready.  I wanted to do it, but I also recognized that I have trouble breathing near an open campfire.  I decided to go to the start, set up my gear for the bike and run, and do the swim.  Then, I would take it from there.  If my chest felt tight, I would stop.  I was prepared to make that decision.

At the transition area, the air seemed better than at the hotel, possibly because its elevation was slightly lower, and I could see a red sun trying to push through the smog.  Then I noticed the ash covering my bike seat.  “Maybe we’ll be okay,” I thought.  “Start with the swim.”

At 6:15, I just finIshed setting up and Dave arrived.  “Can you hold my swim bag while I use the porta-potty?” I turned towards the “plug your nose zone” and heard the announcer from the stage.  “Ladies and gentleman, we have an announcement….Um….can you stop the music?” I knew what was next.  In English and then in French, 45 minutes before the start, the Half Ironman was cancelled.  I looked at Dave and could only say, “Well, at least he said that before I went to the porta-potties.”  Then I added, “Sometimes, you just need someone to make the tough decision for you.”

As I packed up my gear, I couldn’t help but notice the respect and acceptance that the triathletes had for this decision.  There was a lot of sighing and cussing, but people got it.   Even though there was a bit of chatter between athletes about whether refunds or some kind of credit will be issued, everyone packed up and left without making a big deal about it.  We all knew that it was a tough decision but the right one to make.

At this point, I don’t know what I am going to do next.   By noon, the July races in Muskoka and Lake Placid had sold out.  I’m ready to race now and I don’t want to wait until fall for the Barrelman Half in Niagara, but there simply aren’t many options close to home.  I need a few days to think, not react, and plan with my family.

I do know, though, that I am going to put on my Ironman 70.3 t-shirt and wear it with pride.  I did my work and I got to the start line.  Mother Nature just got in the way.

more to come….

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