Saturday, August 29, 2009

#2363 - Part II

A worn bike rack sticker marks the location of a previous racer in an Ironman past. I wonder how Tod did?

Fifteen hours before race start, athletes begin to disappear from the streets. No longer are they jetting about on their bikes or running the last few miles. Training is over, it's time to rest, to prepare for the mental and physical challenge that is most rapidly approaching. Most are shrinking within themselves, looking for moments of peace and tranquility.

The Ironman roadies are working to transform Louisville's Fourth Street into the the race's finishing line. Streets are closed off, tents, flags, lights, carpets, music, all worthy of a Hollywood movie production. I looked at the worn carpet that marks the finishing line and couldn't help but wonder how many people have struggled to cross over it. How many people have spent months and months of their lives working and training; countless solo miles, following the endless black line in the pool, all to just arrive at this very same place?

A quiet night tonight. 0430 will come early enough.


I'm bib number 2363, out of some 2,500 triathletes that have arrived at the shores of the Ohio river here in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to the racers there are almost 3,000 people volunteering to help out with the race, and an untold number of family members, well-wishers, merchants, and the just plan curious. In total Ironman is a huge spectacle that begins days before the starting gun goes off.

An athlete gives his bike a nervous final check-out.

24-hours before the race begins the city streets and hotels are filled with lycra-clad athletes doing their final tune-ups. Some of the best aero-dynamic carbon fiber that money can buy is zipping up and down the roads, propelled by lean, tan athletes that have poured their heart, soul and wallet into the last several months of training. I joked with one of the locals that, "Yup, Ironman has come to town, and you won't find a single hairy leg for five miles around".

I'm nervous, but then again I've always been that way before any athletic event. I used to be just as anxious before I took my "every six month" Army physical fitness test back when I was serving. I know that once I get into the water and find my stroke that it will become just another long training day for me, albeit with 2,500 of my closest friends.

More to follow.

Practice swim in the Ohio river. I opted not to do this as the conditions of the river are "questionable". It's not complicated... just follow the big orange buoys.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Not An Auspicious Start

The ancient redwoods of Muir Woods outside of San Francisco

First call of the morning. It's early, about 0600. I'm working on a large cup of Dunkin Doughnuts coffee, and my partner for the day is driving the ambulance. We respond to a low-rent "hotel" to a woman with pregnancy complications.

Upon arrival we're met by the fire department who have been on-scene for a few minutes. The patient is in bed on the second floor the hotel, and clearly displeased with more than a few things. She's "insisting" on going to the hospital RIGHT NOW and is demanding an ambulance and a paramedic to take her there. When I tell her that I'm the paramedic she tells me that there's no need for an assessment, exam, or conversation. She wants to go now!

In the ambulance she balks at an IV, but I hold my ground and tell her its required. I decide to let my EMT partner "tech" the call while I drive to the hospital 20+ miles away. During the trip her boyfriend sits next to me in the front seat and insists that we drive faster. "What, no lights and sirens?" In the back I hear the patient criticizing everything that my partner is doing. I know that my partner has a short fuse for rudeness and I'm waiting to hear her go off. She keeps her cool.

In the hospital there's no need for registration or nurses, the patient wants a physician...NOW. She refuses to move off my stretcher onto a bed, which ties me up in the hospital longer than I wanted to be there. The nurses are frustrated because they can't do their job. I reclaim my stretcher and beat feet with my partner.

In the end, the patient will not pay a dime for the care that she received, regardless how substandard she thought it was. No insurance, no job; she will never even see a bill. A half a dozen firemen, a fire engine, an EMT, a paramedic, an ambulance in the early morning; nurses, hospital administration, lab technicians, and a physician... all for free. I'm saddened that there wasn't an ounce of gratitude for anyone's efforts. I failed to hear a "thank you" or a word of appreciation the entire time. Not an auspicious start to the day.

Monday, August 17, 2009

First of Countless

First day of school today for our wee one. He was a champ getting out of the car all by himself and walking in. His mother, on the other hand, was another story.

At times I forget how lucky we are to be able to send our children to school, taking it for granted almost. I know that in many places around the globe the opportunity to sit in a classroom is a luxury; children walking for miles through all sorts of conditions, families burdened by the absence of the child from the daily work. I somehow need to impart this fact on my own little student, but I fear that it's a lesson beyond him right now.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Anger Into Wattage

Street performer in San Francisco

I had an interesting situation today, wrought with all sorts of "teachable moments". Let me preface by saying that triathlon is a lonely sport, it's participants spend endless hours training and competing alone. Sure you can run or ride with other people, but chances are they're not doing the exact workout that you need to do, so you inevitably head out on you're own. Swimming just speaks for itself. Having said that, when triathletes get an opportunity to socialize, they normally jump at it. Contact with other endurance geeks fosters conversation about upcoming races, the latest in lightweight aerodynamic gadgets, and comparing training plans.

Today I was out on a solo bike ride and nearing my turn around point on the out-and-back course. Just then, three triathletes came ripping the other way in a tight, fast-moving pace-line. Why triathletes are in a paceline is another issue, as it's illegal in races. My initial thought was to try to catch them and maybe have a chat that would make the remaining miles fly by. As they disappeared up the road I heard a male voice make some snide comment about a piece of gear that I was wearing. I was testing out a new aerodynamic helmet in preparation for a coming race. I felt the pangs of resentment start to rise, but pushed on to see if I could catch up.

Let me say, a solo rider trying to catch a well-organized paceline is no easy feat. The three riders can ride at a high speed using 30% less energy than it would take a soloist ride at the same speed. Nonetheless, after a mile or so I finally grabbed the rear wheel of the trail rider. I noticed that the rider was a female, and so was the lead rider. The middle guy was fit looking, and I identified him as Mr. Snide Comment.

I decided to play nice and introduced myself; I asked if I could join the effort. The guy, to my utter amazement, shook his head, "No". I have never in twenty years of cycling been told that I couldn't join a ride. It's sacrilegious not to allow a lone rider to join a group. The protocol is that if the group is faster, than the rider will eventually fall off the back. If the rider is faster, he/she will eventually push ahead of the group. To be told "no" is unheard of.

One of the girls spoke up and pleaded to Mr. Comment to let me join. He replied that I could if I went to the front and pulled the three of them. On that, I went to the front... and just kept on going. The group fell off my wheel and I contently left them in the hills. I watched my anger seethe and my ego swell as the three of them just couldn't keep up. For the first time I rode with anger, turning it into useful wattage and speed. I struggled with my anger, recognized it, letting it force my pedals around faster and faster. I'm not sure if I did the right thing or not, but it felt good nonetheless.