Up in Smoke


A pretty good hint at what was to come

Here’s the race report for the race that wasn’t. Being me, I hadn’t even heard of fires burning around Lake Tahoe before we started driving up for the Ironman 70.3 (Half distance) race on Thursday. Of course, the fire hadn’t been burning that long.. only a couple of days before it exploded into a hellhole of 70,000+ (eventually 80,000+) acres of flames and ash and smoke. It was smoky all the way from somewhere in Nevada (it all looks the same) to Tahoe. In the back of my mind, I started negotiating. If it’s smoky like this, I am not going to ride; I’ll just swim. If all the smoke goes or blows away, I may add the run.

In our house, we had 3 peopleĀ racing the half-ironman, and one racing Ironman, plus our stellar Sherpa staff, which outnumbered our racing crew (just the way we like it). The next few days, in between little rides, runs, and swims (and lots of eating), we (I) spent a lot of time on computers, tracking the King Fire. Weirdly, there wasn’t a peep from Ironman. The fire looked threatening. It looked like it was burning straight toward us. Buildings were burning, 2,000 people were evacuated, firefighters were getting injured, the suspected arsonist was caught and held on $10 million bond. But the smoke had cleared around us, staying near the swim start of the races. We hold out hope.

The morning of the race dawned beautifully. The lake was calm, the skies were clear. We walked over to the start to get body marked. The full Iron distance racers were already at the beach, ready to jump in and go. Then some crazy-looking guy in red, white, and blue tights, wearing an 8×10 photo of his friend around his neck told us the race had been cancelled. Would you believe him? We kept walking. Then, another guy told us the race was off. And another. And a volunteer. We turned around to go back to the start, which was in emotional chaos. Some people were walking around aimlessly, suddenly having nothing to do for 12 hours. I sort of joke about this, but many athletes were just stunned at losing the opportunity to race. We saw my friend, Michael, who was fit and ready for the full Iron. He said, “Now what do I do with 10 months of training?” There were a lot of tears, too. There was definitely a feeling of loss for a lot of people.

Here is the reason Ironman called the race:


Just standing in this made your eyes and throat burn. I can’t imagine pushing intensity in it


This is along the bike section, a small bit of flatland and prairie. It was beautiful the day before.


Horrible. All these photos were taken by Ironman

Ironman has gotten a lot of heat for waiting til literally the last minute to call the race, but they were for sure in a no-win situation. If they’d called it a couple of days before and race day was clear, they’re the bad guys. Waiting til the gun was about to go off made them the bad guys, too. But I will say this: They made the right call. They had tons of data about how dangerous the air quality was from the state and the county and went with the health of the athletes, volunteers, and spectators. Within a couple of hours, the smoke had rolled into the swim start, too, and it was thick and gross. I would have been pretty upset to have launched on the bike course and run into that smoke 20 miles in, with nowhere to go to get out of it quickly. I don’t think I would have been the only one.

Clearing transition out and getting our gear back was surprisingly easy and orderly. The volunteers were great, as they always are.


It can’t be easy moving 2000+ bikes out at one time


Sad faces (but not really)

Instead of collecting their stuff, some athletes actually put on surgical masks and raced the course. If you have to wear a surgical mask, do you really think you should be on your bike? We saw cyclists on the road at 3 in the afternoon, which means they were probably riding the whole 112. I’d love to see how they feel about now, after totally polluting their lungs. (If they did it for the medal, they did it for naught… because Ironman gave us all medals AND race shirts.) We jumped in the lake (literally, not figuratively) and swam our half-ironman course because the buoys were still up. It was a beautiful, clear, cold swim that I loved.



Great swim, but you can see the smoke starting to roll across the water

Then we went to party the day away, which led into night, which led to a giant hangover for me and a heinous ride home to Park City.

Despite the pout in the picture with Sarah, I’m only slightly disappointed the race was canceled. I am actually more glad that Ironman took a stand and did what I think was the right thing, make a decision that bummed people out. Sometimes, we need to be protected from ourselves. My disappointment isn’t near the level of what I’m sure the full Ironman athletes are feeling, but the take-away is the same. You can tell yourself your season was wasted, Ironman sucks, you invested time and energy and money that, well, went up in smoke. But at the end of the day, you kind of have to look ahead, don’t you? That negative energy is a waste and honestly, only makes you (and your friends, but they won’t tell you probably) more miserable. To make up for the cancellation, Ironman offered athletes a bunch of different options for racing, one of which is a $50 entry to Lake Tahoe next year. That sounds pretty good to me. My fall will (hopefully) be completely booked with a clinical trial anyway. More on that Wednesday, latest.

Live to race another day.