Uninhabitable Chapter 2

Previous post is chapter 1. Start there. I’ll post chapter 3 next week.

Chapter 2

Usually a popular place to congregate for coffee breaks, the skybridge was now deserted. It was no place to linger. The air was so hot it almost hurt Samira’s throat to breathe. Sweat poured down her face as she and Naseem strode over the roof of Dubai. She unbuttoned her blouse another notch, revealing the edge of her lacy black bra. From her peripheral, she felt Naseem’s eyes on her. Let the pig look. It’s do or die now.

The private investigator she’d hired in the spring had finally checked back in with her, and the news was bad. Your father is less than skin and bones, the investigator had written. Your mother is as frail as they come, too, but there’s at least life in her eyes. And her feet are in much better condition than your father’s. My guess is she’ll last another three or four months if she doesn’t get seriously injured. Your father’s got a month. Probably less. And of course, neither will survive another Siberian winter, even if their wounds are properly attended to and their rations are doubled. Which they won’t be. Your sister’s health is much better. She’s one of the strongest in their group of 50, though she has an injury to her leg. Chainsaw slipped and got her. As you know, the Russians don’t provide medical care, and gangrene is a common killer up there. Another client is asking me to visit the Putorana region again in November. My fee will be the same as the first if you’d like another report at that time.

Samira had been annoyed that the investigator failed to provide more details, or made it clear to her parents and her sister, Rayaan, that Samira was working on paying for their freedom. The investigator was clearly just trying to profit off Samira’s desperation, mentioning Rayaan’s injury but not telling her how serious it was. Samira wasn’t going to bite. Another report in the fall would be pointless. She had to get them out of Russia now. But seducing Naseem, if she could call her timid attempts seductive, was taking too long. She smiled innocently at him. Naseem was breathing hard in the heat but smiled back at her and glanced, just for a split second, at her breasts before looking away.

There’s got to be a faster way to squeeze that money out of him. A more sinister thought than seduction had been brewing in her mind for the last 20 minutes.

The email. You have to use it against him.

No, that’s too risky, her better judgment argued. 

It’s an option at least. 

Not only would I lose my job in a heartbeat if I even told him I knew about the bribe, but he’d find a way to take away my citizenship, too.

Maybe, maybe not. He’s not the boldest boss you’ve ever had. Or the brightest.

I’d end up in jail. Or maybe in the same work camp alongside the rest of my family.

Possibly. But what other quick options are there?

Samira couldn’t think of any. She thought of her father, battling dementia and now being worked to the bone because of it. The email. She had to use it. A steady stream of sweat dripped from her nose and chin to the glass floor as she walked. Between her feet, 80 stories down, lay the street and an ocean of cars, muffled by four-inch-thick glass and 1,200 feet of air. A traffic jam extended as far as she could see in every direction, which was unusual. Scanning for the cause, she spotted a sedan with a steaming, possibly smoking, engine idling in the middle of an intersection. The passenger side of another car was smashed inward. 

“What the hell happened down there?” Naseem asked, transfixed on the same abnormality. 

“Human driver obviously,” said Samira.

“That’s weird. There’s a second crash over there.” Naseem pointed.

“Look.” Samira squinted against the glare of the cars. “The traffic lights are all out.”

“You’re right. The grid really is struggling today.”

“I don’t remember the lights ever going out like this, at least downtown,” Samira said. “Out east by the State Towers is another story, of course.”

“It used to happen a long time ago before the grid was fortified. Probably not since you’ve been in the country.”

The faint whine of an ambulance droned somewhere far below, reminding Samira of the city’s heat sirens. A thumping beat, deep enough that she could feel it in her chest, made her look up. A helicopter emerged from behind a tall building. Another hovered far below, just a few hundred feet off the ground. The sky seemed to be full of them. Samira wondered if they were coming to film the crashes. But that didn’t make sense. Collisions weren’t newsworthy, and even if it was being covered, the local news would just send a drone or two, not a dozen helicopters. Especially in this heat. The air wasn’t dense enough to fly safely when it was over 120 degrees.

She looked back down at the mess on the street, forgetting the choppers. “Idiot manual drivers,” she huffed. Her legs were beginning to feel like quick-drying cement in the heat of the skybridge.

“They’re good at two things,” Naseem said. “Causing congestion and killing themselves.”

“And pedestrians,” Samira added. 

“God only knows why the UAE doesn’t ban manual vehicles.”

As Samira studied the crash scene, which was now almost directly underneath her, she thought she saw splattered blood coating the inside of the windshield, or maybe it was just her imagination. Could you even see blood from 80 stories up? There would have to be a lot of it. She squinted and imagined a limp body hanging out the window. It was impossible to tell what it was from up here but she looked away quickly. While the demise of a single driver within a city of 45 million was statistically inconsequential, Samira had already seen enough death in her short life.

They wound their way around a massive silver and bronze-tinted building that was best known for its large indoor theme park in the upper levels. A green roller coaster track, suspended half a mile above the ground from supports attached at the top of the building, made wild loops before disappearing into a tunnel beneath the skyscraper’s prominent needle. Below the roller coaster, and despite the power outage, an enormous video billboard the size of a soccer field—presumably powered by the building’s backup battery system—strobed Drink Coke, Drink Coke, Drink Coke in red lettering as the bubbling amber liquid poured into a glass filled with crystal clear ice cubes. The billboard was a sore reminder of losing out on the ad campaign earlier that year to another firm. It was a billboard she and Naseem had been forced to walk by many times for the past month. But damn if it wasn’t working on her. An ice-cold Coke would do her good right about now. 

“It’s a sauna in here,” Naseem complained. His breathing had become ragged, and his dress shirt was fully soaked through. “I know that’s an overused expression,” he said, glancing at the temperature on his skin flex. “But in this case it’s actually true.”

Samira didn’t respond. Below them, on the rooftop of a small 50-story skyscraper, a helicopter lifted slowly—almost heavily Samira thought—from a helipad. “What is up with the air traffic today?” she whispered to herself. 

Finally, they burst through the doors into the relative cool of the building that housed Vandensko’s offices. “That was torture,” Naseem gasped. He buckled forward, hands on knees in the bright, windowed elevator room. Samira gasped for air beside him.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Brutal. We could head down to the street and take a cab for the return trip if the traffic wasn’t fucked. Pardon my language.”

“No pardon necessary. Don’t not swear on my Goddamn account,” Naseem said breathlessly.

Samira looked away from him and rolled her eyes. His jokes were always so obvious. And dumb. Just like him. 

They recovered and made their way through a long hallway, Naseem debating with himself whether they should stop at a restroom so he could make himself presentable for the meeting. “It’s hotter than a fucking State Tower slum in here,” he muttered. He cleared his throat, probably to cover up his embarrassment for forgetting his company. Again. Like he always did.

“What do you think, Samira? Bathroom or no bathroom?”

“I don’t know what we’re even doing here, Naseem. But I think you might look less desperate if you cleaned up a bit.”

“Ah, screw it,” he said. “There are bigger problems to worry about than showing up to a meeting with pit stains.” 

You have no idea, you clueless idiot. That last slur about the State Towers had been the decider for Samira, who had known all along how unrealistic her original plan had been. Naseem would spit in my mother’s face before offering a hand out, even if I became Tier II and married the bastard. To save her family, using that email against Naseem was her only option.

Uninhabitable Chapter 1

As some of you know, I started writing a sci-fi / horror novel back in 2020. The first five chapters are now published here on Wattpad. If you can, please read it on that platform (and comment and rate it if you like it). It’s free, and easier to read long-form content via your phone than on this blog. I will continue to post five chapters at a time on Wattpad each week or so until the halfway point. I will also post one chapter at a time here on my blog. The rest of the novel will be for sale on Amazon by the end of the year.

Quick blurb about Uninhabitable:

Like all low-latitude regions, by 2085 air conditioning is life in Dubai. When the United Arab Emirate’s power grid fails during a heat wave, mass death from heat stroke and dehydration ensue. Refugee Samira and upper class executive Naseem make an unlikely pair as they flee to the mountains in the north. Sleeping in enormous underground heat shelters by day and traveling on foot at night, they fight for their lives against the climate, and those driven mad by thirst. Blackmail ties them together. Samira intends on freeing her indentured parents with Naseem’s money, while Naseem is counting on Samira to delete her scheduled email to the Associated Press-an email that would incriminate him in the very catastrophe that is unfolding around them.

Chapter 1

The haunting wail of an air raid siren jolted Naseem from a mid-morning nap. Goosebumps involuntarily rose on his flesh despite the sticky heat within his office. Naseem’s heart thudded loudly until he was fully awake and remembered where he was. He slumped back in his chair and let out a shaky breath. Even though he’d grown up under the overbearing presence of the air raid sirens, they always seemed to catch him off guard. He yawned, rubbed his eyes, and looked down, across the street, onto the glass-plated rooftop of the newly constructed, 90 story mirrored skyscraper, cast orange from the smog-shrouded sun. The structure, which seemed to have risen from the ground in a matter of weeks, had replaced an outdated, mid-century building that had always struck Naseem as dull. Too basic. Not in line with Dubai’s world-renown aura of futuristic splendor. This new skyscraper improved the view.

Naseem turned his gaze down to the street, 1,300 feet below his office. The sidewalks were already empty as the air raid siren continued blaring its top-of-the hour warning, as if anyone needed to be reminded to stay inside when the heat index (how hot it felt) surpassed 165 degrees—the threshold at which the combined air temperature and humidity made it impossible for even the most physically fit human to survive outside for more than an hour or two, even in the shade. A bus slowed to a stop and a dozen ant-sized passengers scurried from the bus into the nearest building. Naseem’s throat went dry just watching them. He rose stiffly from behind his mahogany desk and walked across his office to the fridge in the corner. On days like today, it was impossible to drink enough. He gulped half a bottle of cold sparkling water, the fiery carbonation burning his throat, before returning to the half-written email at his desk.

He undid the top button of his shirt before sitting down. The air conditioning was already being rationed, he noted, rolling his eyes at the vent on the wall. His skin flex, a flexible transparent screen that was meshed flat against his inner left forearm, popped out as he thought of it, and morphed into a large opaque rectangle. It could be controlled cortically with electro-plasmonic nanoparticles that had been injected into his brain, but old habits died hard, and he usually chose manual scrolling with his opposite hand. He navigated to a weather app, which said it was 126 degrees Fahrenheit. The high air temperature wasn’t a problem by itself. A dry 126 degrees would have been tolerable. But when combined with 30 percent relative humidity, it created a heat index of 166 degrees. And it’s only 10:28 a.m, Naseem thought. The forecast predicted a heat index of almost 190 by the afternoon. Second day of this shit in a row. Unfucking believable. 

He leaned back in his chair, deciding he’d better get to work. Words appeared on Naseem’s larger desktop flex as he thought of them. He deleted a sentence and a new one took its place a moment later. He paused, wondering why the damn sirens were still going, and remembered that the warning cycle had recently been increased from 60 seconds to five minutes. Naseem refocused on the email and deleted what he’d written. He wrote a new sentence. Deleted it, then unleashed a paragraph of incoherent gibberish in frustration. This shouldn’t be hard. Come on, just focus. He looked out the window angrily, as if he could see the distracting sirens. He tapped an icon on his skin flex and he was submerged in blissful deafness—a feature of the skin flex Naseem often used for sleeping. But even with complete silence, no words took the place of those he’d deleted.

He grumbled in frustration and twisted in his chair, cracking his spine once to the left, then once to the right. The only thing he actually needed to accomplish today was inform the office managers that the next round of layoffs was being expedited. Last week, Naseem’s advertising firm, ‘Liqnae, purchased another high-end algorithm, making more than 20 percent of their employees obsolete. He should have been able to pump out the email in a minute or two, but today was just one of those days when it would be impossible to get any work done. Like yesterday. And possibly the day before, though now he was having a hard time remembering what day it was.

Naseem yawned again as he stared into the desktop flex. His eyes were growing heavier with each passing second, the muggy office lulling him to sleep for the second time that morning. He rested his arms and head on his desk but jerked himself back up when his ear touched a small puddle of drool from his earlier nap. He cursed and wiped the saliva from his ear before moving to the left and setting his head down again. No, don’t do it. Don’t you dare do it. Just get another cup of coffee and start the damn day already!

But there was a better way to wake up than with caffeine. In fact, Naseem realized that breaking the vow he’d made to himself in the shower that morning—that he could go a full 24 hours without a simulation—was the only way he’d succeed in ending this mid-morning slump. Besides, there were certain privileges that came with being an executive vice president. Why should he be shy about taking them?

Automatic window shades descended, blocking the view out into the bullpen where 33 obedient employees—soon to be a “lean” 24—stared at their screens. Naseem tapped his skin flex, and in a flash his desk, his office, and the skyline of Dubai in his peripheral vision vanished. Jagged Dolomite peaks replaced dreary reality. Naseem, awestruck as usual, gaped at the endless rows of white mountains in every direction. He looked down at his feet, which were attached to skis that hung off the edge of a 20-foot overhanging cornice. Further down the slope lay a short and terrifyingly steep, narrow, cliff-walled couloir.

He took a breath of frigid air and exhaled a thick cloud of steam. The silence, except for the wind, somehow seemed more absolute than muting his hearing had been back in his office—a memory that was quickly fading. He wore a heavily insulated white one-piece snow suit, helmet, gloves, and goggles, but the cold cut through all of it. He shivered as he contemplated the menacing drop that lay before. It’s not real. I can’t die, he reminded himself, though even as he said this he began to forget. Real Life 50 was dangerously convincing, and Naseem was using a consciousness blocker that almost instantly tricked the brain into forgetting reality. He took one more deep breath and pushed off the cornice with his poles, dropping 20 feet and landing heavily on the nearly vertical ramp. He held a straight line, unable to turn because of the rock walls an arm length away on either side. The opening at the bottom of the couloir approached rapidly as he gained speed. It felt as if he were almost free falling. His skis shook violently beneath him over the ice-encrusted snow. The cliff walls went by in a blur. He shot out of the narrow opening and carved left to scrub speed as soon as he could, a rooster tail rising behind him as he made the turn. While Naseem had never been skiing in actual real life, save for an indoor slope in a mall as a teenager, here in Real Life he possessed the skill of a world-class big mountain skier, not that any existed these days.

He cut right to avoid a familiar 200-foot cliff, which he’d plummeted off of in past attempts of Real Life 20—the old, less real version—and immediately cut again to his left, catching air and landing in thigh-high powder. Gaining confidence, he cut again and again, spending one of every ten seconds airborne as he launched off head-high drops on the 60-degree slope. He avoided a patch of ice, then a scattering of hidden rocks that would have been impossible to know about had he not practiced this very run dozens of times before. A few seconds later he felt elation; he’d never made it this far down the mountain without eating it. He cut left through smooth, fresh powder and new territory. The gradient eased slightly and he relaxed, making slow, wide turns as he came upon a short plateau. From here, he could make out individual pines in the treeline, which he’d never had time to notice before. The easy terrain didn’t last. He picked up speed as the slope steepened, and the burn in his quads became a deeper ache. Shit! There was a large drop—he couldn’t tell how high—and he cut hard to the left to avoid it. 

“Sir?” a female voice called faintly, coming from within his own head. Distracted by the voice, Naseem caught an edge and slammed face-first into the mountain, avoiding the drop off but now cartwheeling down the lower slope, his skis and poles ejecting in different directions. As his body rag-dolled uncontrollably, there was a loud pop and intense pain spread throughout his right shoulder. Even as he tumbled, he knew it was dislocated. He grunted in pain, simulated at just 50 percent, and continued somersaulting down the slope. He felt his knee crunch into a rock and hot agony radiated down his foot. The ground beneath him dropped away and he realized he was falling through air. He opened his eyes and saw only white as the world spun. His back broke through a thick layer of snow and ice and he free-fell another unknown distance into a dark blue glacial crevasse, landing in a crumpled heap, every bone in his body seeming to shatter on impact.

When Naseem was finally able to draw in breath, he let out a scream as pain pulsed from his head to his feet. After a few moments it faded enough for him to register his surroundings. He was perched on a slanted ledge of ice, barely wider than his shoulders. Below was a black void, which his body was slowly sliding toward. Panicking, he tried to grab the wall of ice next to him, but found he couldn’t move his left arm. He looked down and saw a jagged bone sticking through the sleeve of his jacket, which was already sopping wet with bright red blood. He moaned and tried to move his legs but there was no feeling in them. I’m paralyzed. I’m fucking paralyzed! His vision narrowed to a pinpoint and he felt himself drift away, feeling more nauseous than the morning after an all-night bender. He fought to stay awake, knowing that if he blacked out he’d slide off the edge.

A vague notion that he could somehow end this, escape the crevasse and stop the pain, came to him, but it slipped from his mind before it had time to materialize. He was inching over the drop-off. Focus, damn it! He positioned his right arm underneath himself. White pain shot through his lower back. Gritting his teeth, he dug his gloved fingers into the ice in an attempt to bring himself to a halt. “Sir?” He heard the vaguely familiar voice of a woman again, calling for him. I’m losing it. He hadn’t known that hallucinations were part of shock, but there was no other explanation.

The fingers on his one functioning limb lost their purchase on the bump of ice they’d been pinching, and his right foot slipped over the edge, dangling over the bottomless pit. He knew he wouldn’t survive another fall. Shouldn’t have survived the first one. I’m actually going to die. In movies, in the final seconds before death, didn’t people’s lives flash before their eyes? Nothing came to Naseem. There was only dark blankness, as black as the hole he was sliding toward. Had his life really been that empty?

“Naseem!” the voice called again. “Sir, wake up!” His mind finally began to clear. This isn’t real. I can make it stop. He closed his eyes in the darkness of the crevasse and a phrase flashed before his eyes like a billboard—the exit phrase that would end the simulation.

“There are no more Zebras in Zambia,” he said. The crevasse disappeared and he was suddenly back in his office, sitting behind his desk, overlooking downtown Dubai in the middle of the workday. He tried to yell, but only a muffled gasp escaped his lips. He grasped his forearm where a compound fracture had been poking through his jacket a moment ago, but the pain and blood had vaporized once the simulation ended. He wiggled his toes and let out a shaky breath, then ran a hand through his sweaty hair. Finally, he noticed his assistant standing in the open doorway.

“Sorry,” Samira said. “Did I cause another wipe out?”

“No,” Naseem croaked. “I mean, yes you made me fall. But I was skiing, not surfing. So it wasn’t a wipeout.”

“Oh, right,” she said. “I apologize, but I have something you need to see.” Samira closed the door behind her and walked to Naseem’s desk. She wore a white blouse and a black pencil skirt that hugged her subtle curves. Naseem pulled his eyes from her legs back to her face, a bit shocked at how quickly his mind could transition from fear to sex, given how much adrenaline was still pumping through his body—adrenaline that had nowhere to go now that he was uninjured and safely plopped down in a chair trimmed with crocodile leather.

“Are you ready,” Samira asked, “or do you need another minute?” She understood that it took him a moment to emerge from a simulation, and Naseem was grateful for her patience. He felt slightly sick to his stomach, but his frantically beating heart was the real problem. It was pounding so hard it felt like it might crack a rib or two.

He attempted a smile. “It’s taking a little longer than normal to come out of that one.” The trouble with Real Life 50 and the consciousness blocker was how quickly you forgot that it was virtual reality, and how long it took to recover from a simulation, especially if you got hurt. If Naesem had died in the simulation, he knew he might as well just forget about the rest of his day.

He chuckled and slapped both cheeks lightly. “Okay, I think I’m good to go.” 

“Good. Because we’ve got a problem, Sir.”

Naseem forced himself to stand. “What have I told you about calling me Sir?”

“It’s a hard habit to break,” Samira said impatiently.

“Oh come on, you’ve been with me for what, three months now? Anyway, what’ve you got there?” He reached for her lower Tier handheld flex, which Samira kept wrapped around her wrist as a wide, clear forearm bracelet when not in use.

“It’s Bjarke over at Vandensko. He sent a pretty demanding email. He doesn’t sound pleased.”

“Damn it.” Vandensko was Naseem’s biggest client, though he and Bjarke rarely saw eye to eye. “What does he have a problem with this time?”

“Something about a recall.” Samira said. “I skimmed but wasn’t sure what he was referring to. You have any idea?”

Naseem stopped reading and looked up at her. The sick panicky feeling, which had just left, came back. “Recall?” Naseem repeated stupidly. “He emailed you about a recall?”

“Yes. I mean, I was one of a dozen assistants CC’d. What’s he referring to?”

“I don’t know,” Naseem snapped. “Give me a minute to read this.”

Five years ago, Vandensko, the Danish oil giant-turned-industrial-battery-maker, opened offices in Dubai to stake out territory in the Persian Gulf, which was one of the fastest growing markets for industrial-scale battery systems. The population of the United Arab Emirates had quadrupled in the last decade alone, while nearly every other country in the Middle East, northern Africa, and southeast Asia depopulated from rising heat, drought, poverty, disease, violence, military coups, and other inconveniences caused by extreme weather. To get up and running in the Persian Gulf, Vandensko hired ‘Liqnae, Dubai’s largest marketing and advertising firm. Vandensko’s sales had immediately been great. A little too great to be realistic, Naseem had later come to realize. Ibrahim, president of ‘Liqnae and grandfather to Naseem, had been the man to make the introductions between Vandensko’s executives and the right people in the Emirati government’s Supreme Council. Vandensko scored a nine-billion-dollar contract with the Emirate of Dubai to install battery systems, which replaced the old diesel generators, that powered the backup air conditioning and lighting systems in all government-operated buildings. Unsurprisingly, Vandensko’s stock shot through the roof when the other six Emirates hired the company for the same purpose. Everything had been running smoothly for years. Vandensko, now a monopoly on large battery systems in the UAE, was enjoying the type of profits it had been accustomed to back in the good old days when it was an oil company; the handful of lawmakers in on the deal got even richer; and ‘Liqnae was along for the profitable ride. Naseem and his ad team created high-dollar commercial after commercial while Ibrahim and his cronies kept the gears of greed greased. Then, four months ago, shit hit the fan. 

Mandatory recalls of our largest systems seem unavoidable unless we distribute higher ‘incentives for our mutual Council friends. . . Naseem read on Samira’s flex. . . the cost to replace even 10 percent of the systems would cause bankruptcy. . . would be very bad, of course, for ‘Liqnae and everyone involved if our prior arrangement becomes public knowledge. . . Naseem felt a dull ache in his jaw. He’d been grinding his teeth without noticing. He unclinched and continued reading, but the words lost their meaning as his mind took a wrong turn down a dark alley. The simple fact that Samira simply received this email from Bjarke meant he, Naseem, would now be exposed if any of the illegal deal-making became public. But why had Vandensko sent it to her and all of the other exec’s assistants in the first place? This was not supposed to be part of Naseem’s job. He was strictly in charge of ‘Liqnae’s legitimate side of business: the creative, fun part that involved commercials with scantily clad, voluptuous women in slow-mo, repping Grey Goose vodka, erectile dysfunction medication, and Mcdonald’s. In the last half century, capitalism had managed to loosen the conservative stranglehold that had plagued the region for centuries, and Naseem and his ad team were free to create whatever their perverse minds thought up. Tits and ass. That’s why I got into this business.

Naseem snapped out of it and glanced up from the flex. “I need to talk to Ibrahim,” he said, shakily. “Right away.”

“Is there something with our latest ad campaign they don’t like?” Samira asked, innocently.

“No, it’s. . .” Naseem paused. How much had she actually read? She could not find out about any of this. Naseem’s skin flex buzzed. “Just a second Samira, I’m getting a call.” Think of the devil. It was Ibrahim.

Naseem, I need you to fix this. His grandfather’s voice was loud in Naseem’s head. Leadership at Vandensko is about to blow this fucking thing up.

What? Why me? Naseem answered silently (by thought) as Samira watched, not hearing a word that passed between him and his grandfather.

They’re threatening to expose us if they don’t get this shit-eating recall pushed under the rug, Ibrahim said. That’s why Bjarke sent that email out to half of our damn staff. 

But exposing us would require them to rat out Supreme Council members. Of bribery! Vandensko’s got to be nuts to do that!

Bjarke isn’t crazy. He just doesn’t understand the ramifications of exposing government officials.

Ramifications to his personal health.

And to his family. And to the family members of every other executive at Vandensko. Heads would roll. Literally.

Why doesn’t Bjarke just cough up the extra money the Council is asking for?

It’s too much, Naseem.

How much?

Our five friends on Council are asking for one-hundred billion for this to go away. Each.

Vandensko can’t pay that!

Of course they can’t. But people are going to start talking if Council doesn’t receive this payoff. They have a lot of pockets to pad. Building inspectors and quality oversight officials won’t stay quiet forever. 

I don’t get it. How is a recall on a few batteries this big of a problem?

Ibrahim’s voice lowered to a vitriolic whisper. It’s not just a few, Naseem!

I mean, the backup battery system we have in our building does its job every time. It was working fine yesterday.

The eight-hour systems aren’t the problem. The long-life batteries are. The ones in the malls, the Sublevels, that are supposed to last weeks. We always knew Vandensko’s large-scale products were cheap, but apparently the three-year failure rate is one hundred per—

I don’t want to know, Ibrahim! I can’t know if I’m supposed to go on doing my job after this is sorted out.

You won’t have a fucking job if this doesn’t get sorted out! Ibrahim shouted.

Ibrahim. . . Grandfather. I just don’t see why you’re telling me any of this, or why you want me to handle it. Wouldn’t Ahamed or Omar be better, considering their normal involvement in this type of—

Their plates are full right now. As is mine. This is an all-hands-on-ship type of moment, you fucking get it?

Sorry. Yes, I get it. Naseem’s grandfather never swore at him. At other people, sure. All the time. But if Ibrahim was this upset, this situation was, indeed, bad.

Handle it. Just get over there and calm Bjarke down for the moment. His grandfather’s voice was loud and grating again and Naseem winced, even though his eardrums had no part in the conversation. Get him to be quiet, Naseem. Before some motherfucking journalist gets wind of it. Understand?

Yes. Should I let you know what—

But Ibrahim had already hung up. Naseem’s knees were weak. He dropped back in his chair unexpectedly. 

“Naseem, you there? Samira asked. “Or are you still on the phone?”

“No. Call’s over. I’m back.” Naseem was nauseous and shaky, and not from the heat in the office or the death-like skiing simulation.

“What’s going on?” Samira asked worriedly. “I didn’t have time to make it very far in that email so if you want me to help, I need more info.”

“It’s. . . uhh.” Naseem trailed off. “It’s. . . not necessarily ad-related, so it doesn’t concern you.”

“Okay,” Samira said, her brow furled. “But considering they’re a client, and we’re an advertising agency, how is it not ad-related?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Hmm.”

“I have to see Bjarke. Now,” Naseem demanded.

“Okay, okay. I’ll call and set up a meeting. Shall I come?”

“No. No, don’t call. And no, I’ll do it alone.” He considered this for a moment. He might need her. Naseem and Bjarke didn’t get along, but the old man had a soft spot for Samira. More like a hard spot for her, the creepy old bastard. Bringing Samira was worth a shot, and considering Naseem might lose his job—and worse if Ibrahim forced him and the other VPs to take the fall— it wouldn’t really matter if she found out about ‘Liqnae’s dirty deeds. 

“On second thought, yes. I need you with me.” He stood.

“Are you going to tell me what this is about?”

“You’ll find out when we get there.” If he told her now, she might just walk out of the building and never return, if she was smart. And she was. But if she was in the room with Bjarke when he and Naseem discussed the payoffs that Council members had taken, Samira would be complicit in the illegal scheme and stuck with ‘Liqnae to the bitter end. And Naseem didn’t feel like losing Samira in the midst of this mounting fiasco.

As they walked out of his office into the expansive bullpen, Samira trailing a step behind, the overhead lights abruptly went out. A startled gasp swept through the office, followed by cursing as the 30-odd employees grumbled about the disruption.

“Come on, nothing new here. Back to work everyone,” Naseem said as he and Samira made their way through the room. The 12-foot-high wall of windows provided plenty of light to navigate by, and everyone was accustomed to rolling blackouts in the summer when the grid struggled to meet the energy demands of the quarter billion people who lived in the UAE. A moment later, the lights came back on, though dimmer, and the AC vents began rattling weakly again as the building’s backup batteries—supplied by none other than Vandensko—kicked into gear.

“This Goddamn never-ending heat wave,” Naseem grunted. “Second outage this week and it’s only Wednesday. I think.”

“Correct. It’s Wednesday,” Samira said.

“Decrepit city can’t even manage to keep the lights on,” Naseem grumbled. “What the hell is happening to this infested country?” He winced in the silence that followed, and was about to mumble an apology to Samira but kept his mouth shut. Tier I’s weren’t expected to apologize.

As they made their way down a dimly lit hallway, Naseem wiping sweat from his brow with a handkerchief, he continued his griping. “It’s going to be a  miserable, miserable day, Samira. Clients going berserk, a million degrees outside, and it’s already a Greek bathhouse in here.”

He opened the emergency stairwell door and held it open for Samira before unbuttoning the collar of his shirt another notch. The air conditioning, which would alternate between pulling power from the grid and the backup batteries, was regulated to 88 degrees until the rolling blackout ceased, which likely wouldn’t happen until sunset.

“This will work to our advantage,” Samira said as they began descending. “With the lights dimmed, we have a chance of slipping past Rachna, Bjarke’s cranky, half-blind receptionist.”

“Now there’s a real bitch.”

“First time she and I were alone, just the two of us,” Samira said, “she eyed me up and down and whispered, ‘If one dresses like a whore, one can expect to be treated as such.”

Naseem burst out laughing, temporarily forgetting the situation he was in. “She actually said that to you?” he asked. 

“Her exact words. I didn’t know if I should laugh or slap her across the face.”

Naseem sighed. “Sometimes I forget how many fanatics there still are in this country.”

“I thank Allah daily that I’m not religious,” said Samira.

“You know, if we do lose Vandensko as a client because of this. . . uh, problem, never having to deal with Bjarke again, or that old bag Rachna, there’s our silver lining.” 

They reached the 80th story and Samira held the door open for Naseem.

“No, after you,” he said, ushering her through, trying and failing to keep his eyes off her body as she went through ahead of him. Samira was thin, dark skinned, almost as tall as Naseem, and had the type of breathtaking beauty that made it hard not to stare. Naseem, for the thousandth time, commended himself on hiring her, though she was more than just easy on the eyes. With her sharp mind in addition to her striking looks, she had helped seal the deal on a new client last month. She’d be a long-term asset to the company, and the best part was that she didn’t even know her value. Naseem could underpay her, not that had any impact on him, for years to come without her batting an eye. Someone with her background would be thankful for just having any paying job, period. 

After one final hallway, Samira opened the door to the elevator room. Normally, the skyscraper’s vertical and horizontal elevator system made it possible, from ‘Liqnae’s offices, to reach this part of the building in about 30 seconds. Just past the long row of elevators, brilliant sunlight blazed through a 20-foot-high ceiling-to-wall window. A closed glass doorway, cut into the window, led to one of Dubai’s pride and joys. Every building with 40 stories or more in the downtown financial sector had a glass skybridge jutting out from each side, connecting it to adjacent buildings. The tallest skyscrapers, which included ‘Liqnae’s building, had a second skybridge at 80 stories. A few of these massive bridges, equipped with progressive-velocity moving sidewalks, stretched half a mile long, cutting diagonally across the roof of the city, hanging by suspension cables as thick as Naseem’s torso.

Naseem pushed through the heavy, triple-paned glass door that led to the skybridge and stopped in his tracks when a blast of sweltering air hit his face like a punch. “Shit!” he stammered, holding his hand up to block the heat. “It’s a furnace.” He closed the door without stepping through. “The AC must have been off for hours in there. But the power only went out, what, five minutes ago?”

“Can a building switch off the AC in the bridges?” Samira asked.

“I guess so. Never happened before.”

“Maybe it’s some type of bug in the system.”

“Who knows. You think we can make it across?”

Samira shrugged. “Vandensko is like five blocks away. I’d say yes, but only if it’s absolutely necessary.”

Naseem’s career lay through that glass tunnel. More than that. His entire life lay through there. Ibrahim was his closest living relative, but that wouldn’t stop the beefy, gray-bearded bastard from pinning this entire fuck-up on everyone below him. Bribes were part of doing business in the UAE, and a major part of getting business in the case of ‘Liqnae. But when they went sour and you got caught, there were consequences. Especially when dealing with sums in the twelve digits. 

“Fucking hell,” Naseem said. “Let’s make this fast. I don’t do well in the heat.”

“Odd choice of a place to live,” Samira muttered.

Naseem didn’t laugh.

Augusta 70.3

Disaster struck at 10 p.m. The night before my flight to Atlanta, our (myself and Colin Laughery’s) Airbnb host canceled. I spent a half an hour arguing with the host—who only said she was going to cancel on us (because of an alleged broken hot water heater) but didn’t actually follow through with it. This is apparently a tactic unscrupulous hosts use to get their would-be guests to cancel so they don’t have to give a refund. The next hour was spent haggling with a half dozen Airbnb employees based in India to give me a discount for a new place, since all the cheap options were long gone. The new house ended up being twice the size and five times nicer than our original house, so the late night stress was worth it in the end. 

But as usual, the stress didn’t end there. After a full day of travel to Augusta on Thursday, the next two days were somehow jam packed with rides, swims, grocery runs, the stupid waste of time pro meeting, bike drop off, driving all over town, etc. As I finished my third bowl of ice cream on Saturday night, feet finally up on the couch, it felt like I’d barely sat down since we got there. 

The race started in near pitch-black, because that’s the best time to swim in cold, fast-moving water, and my day was off to a good start. Thanks to the current, I exited the swim just a minute and a half behind the lead group. I fumbled with the visor as I got my helmet on and decided, last-second, to ditch it in case it decided to fog up. That was my first mistake, as everyone knows that a visor shaves off 40 watts, about three minutes per 40 kilometers, I believe. 

📷 @thenordicaphotography

Next, my legs made sure to waste the down river swim bonus by feeling like absolute garbage for the first 15 miles of the bike. At first, my quads seized up and I had to essentially soft pedal off and on for five minutes. Then my glutes cramped up. When the cramping/seizing was over with, I gloomily  realized I also just didn’t seem to have it today. The power wasn’t there, and even if it did come later, the hilliest section of the course was upon us. I had to take advantage now. As part of a large chase group, I was at least getting a benefit of being in the draft. Someone on the side of the road—this is always a super trustworthy source of information—hollered that we were two minutes back on the leaders. But how many leaders? And did that guy say two minutes, or three? I began hoping the large group I was in might just catch whoever was up the road without me having to do anything.

As we approached what I felt like might be the first longish hill, the itch to leave them behind grew. I said the hell with it and put in a long surge, getting away by myself, briefly, before I was joined by Trevor Foley, who apparently just learned how to ride a bike last year. This should make all of us feel pretty shitty about ourselves since he had the fastest bike split of the day (beat me by a second) and had enough left in the tank to run a 1:08.

I forced my legs to do some work, still not feeling good, cresting and descending small risers for 20 or 30 minutes. We passed a few guys but the gap to the leaders wasn’t coming down very quickly. Eventually Foley came around and got us the rest of the way across to the group of five in front: eventual winner Jason West, Martin Ulloa, Filipe Azevedo, Justin Metzler, and Dylan Gillespie.  

It was late in the bike leg (mile 40 or so) and the road was essentially dead flat but Foley and I put in some digs in the next 15 miles to get away from those guys. Nothing worked. I just got more tired. With a few miles to go, I decided to just sit up and take it easy. And by Jove it was easy! I know there’s a huge benefit, but it’s always shocking how big of a draft you get four or five people back in a line like that. 

The seven of us came off the bike together, but within a mile of the run I was by myself. I’d dreamed of coming out of T2 with a big gap and running a 1:14, but I was missing 20 watts (I only averaged 311) and now it seemed that my legs weren’t going to run as fast as I’d planned either. The streets were too quiet. Too wide and monotonous. At least there weren’t any hills.

📷 @thenordicaphotography

I had a burst of hope when I passed Gillespie and began making up ground on Ulloa, who was in 5th, but that’s as far as things went before my momentum was zapped by a momentary urge to vomit. I choked nausea back and slowed down for a minute or two. Content with 5:50 pace, my legs weren’t able to get back up to speed, then Ulloa was out of sight.

I spent a good couple miles wondering why I do these miserable races before I refocused on maintaining 6th place, which would at least pay for the trip and a couple new house plants. My thoughts and emotions (fear of getting caught, contentment with 6th, self-doubt and disdain for being content with 6th, anger and confusion about my poor bike performance, and then finally elation for the pain being over) were a rollercoaster until I crossed the line. In the end I ran a 1:16, which wasn’t great, but more importantly it wasn’t a catastrophe like the first half of my run at Boulder 70.3.

📷 @thenordicaphotography

I’d say I’ve recovered fairly well since Embrunman. After a long-ish rest period, I managed to get a solid week and a half of dedicated training in leading up to Augusta. In fact, I had my best training performance about 10 days ago (it’s too bad the race wasn’t that day) during a five hour ride and a short, fast run off the bike.

Things are looking fine for Ironman Arizona. But I definitely need to focus on the run though. And the bike. And the swim. Fuck. 

Boulder 70.3

I’m making a pretty huge snafu (I think that’s a word) by posting this race report out of chronological order—a first for this blog—but I wrote this a few weeks ago so I might as well share it. Because it doesn’t count if you don’t tell someone about it, publicly. 

There’s not always a home course advantage when it comes to triathlon. Knowledge isn’t always power. For example, knowing what lies ahead might be a disadvantage in some scenarios; if you’re suffering and you know exactly how long a climb is, there isn’t any room for hope that the top might be right around the corner. Another detractor of racing at home is the lack of preparation that getting to the race takes. There isn’t as much weight behind finishing, or at least finishing strong, when you live three miles from the middle of the run course. That’s what happened last year—I was on an extremely off day and I just pulled the plug five miles into the bike leg. I probably extended my life by five years since the air quality index was 190 that day, so I’m not complaining. 

Anyways, I vowed to at least finish the damn race today. If nothing else, it would be a good training day for Embrunman in nine days time.

After a very average swim, during which I almost had to stop and breaststroke at 200 meters because I was so out of breath (thought: it should be called breathstroke), I entered T1 a few seconds behind Tripp Hipple. He darted away into the distance as I staggered up the dock like a dumbfound walrus realizing I could somehow, despite physics, stand and balance on two feet. If I hadn’t been so slow through transition, Tripp and I would have made a good fighting force on the bike. But I found myself alone by the time I was on my bike, in 19th place or so.

At the first turnaround, maybe three miles into the bike, it appeared that I was four minutes behind the leaders. Not a great start to the day. I’d lost almost a full minute catching my breath. (Still haven’t found it). But four minutes wasn’t un-closeable. I was somewhat confident I could still catch everyone up the road. It took a while for my legs to recover from dragging lifelessly two feet below the surface of the water for the past half hour (shouldn’t they have been fully rested?), but I eventually began passing people. At the top of Neva Road I heard I was 2:45 down. Or maybe 3:45. I wasn’t sure. But it was less than four minutes. 

There was no pacing to be done. I just went pretty much as hard as I could, incapable of putting in a sharp effort to catch the lead group, but diesel enough to keep plugging along. 

By the top of Hygiene—roughly two-thirds of the way through the bike—I’d inched my way through the field and the gap to the leaders was down to 1:15. The group of five included Hoffman, Metzler, Hipple, and two ITU guys I didn’t know: Andrie and Sharpe. The catch was imminent, but it didn’t appear that I’d be coming off the bike with any sort of sizable gap—a bit of a problem because I only started running four weeks ago due to a knee injury from earlier this summer (the reason I didn’t attempt to finish Oregon 70.3).

I ended up with about a 50 second lead off the bike (Tripp was right there with me but he had to serve a five minute penalty) and I set out on the run with the rest of those guys breathing down my neck. As usual, the first few miles of the run were dominated by chest cramps and near-hyperventilation from asthma. I looked at my watch with dread at the near-walking pace I was setting. It wasn’t much faster than my goal marathon pace for Embrun coming up next week. Andrie passed me. Then Sharpe. Then Metzler. I tried to use each of them, but my legs and my head weren’t the problem. My lungs just wouldn’t cooperate. 

My breathing issues didn’t fade until mile seven, at which point I was already down to 6th place. Then, all of a sudden, I found that I could draw in and expel air again. I picked up the pace and held onto 6th, unintentionally negative-splitting the hell out of the half marathon (first 7 miles were 6:30 per minute and the last 6 miles were 6:05 per minute).

While I was hoping for a podium (and secretly a win), I’m pretty content with how the race went. My bike fitness is pretty good right now, especially for longer stuff, and I think my legs will be able to handle a slow marathon next week in France. Looking at past results, a strong ride backed up by a three-hour marathon would put me on the podium.

More importantly than what this race means for Embrunman, it felt good to just be in the mix again, and have some type of impact on the race. It’s been a while.

Embrunman

My dad and I flew to France on a Monday. The race was the following Monday. From Monday to Monday, I had one single night of good sleep. During that jet-lagged, sleep-deprived week, I ran a total of five, leg-aching miles. Six would have snapped a tibia or two. And the day before the race, I was still in the dark about how we were required to handle the bike feed zones. Stop and unscrew our bottles to be filled by volunteers, or were we able to ride through like normal and grab a new bottle? Confusion, fatigue, and less-than-confidence-inspiring-runs were mounting. Things were not looking good, except for our cheese selection in the fridge. The cheese selection (my dad is an amatuer cheese maker who happens to focus on French alpine cheeses) was fucking spot-on. But everything else was sliding off a cliff, like a plate of Tomme cheese…sliding off…a cliff I guess.

Yet, somehow, I managed to finish what would end up being the hardest race of my life. Just 41 seconds behind the winner.

Embrunman did not begin like other races. The men’s field started all at once—pros and amateurs together—ten minutes behind the women, in a line 30-meters across on the beach. There was pushing, elbows, more pushing, more elbows. We crept forward as the seconds ticked by. The first buoy flashed from a red blinky light. The others were lost in the predawn darkness. Or maybe there were no other turn buoys. It was impossible to tell.

I counted down in my head, guessing when the gun would go off, wondering if my reaction time would be better than 0.1 seconds. It was not. The gun boomed, we sprinted, I reached the water and dolphin-dove into third or fourth position, my right google filling instantly with water. I didn’t veer to the right quickly enough, and a dozen more guys were suddenly in front of me. From there, chaos ensued as incredibly slow (relatively slow) swimmers were now dog paddling in my way, cutting me off from a fast, easy swim on the feet of the three or four leaders, who already had a gap. I made my way around the slower guys and eventually fell into a decent rhythm a few hundred meters into the race, only to be intentionally pushed under water by someone behind me. I came to the surface, beyond just mad, and doubled down on revenge. From there, things finally settled. 

Things settled too much. The pace became pedestrian, or whatever that translates to for swimming since a pedestrian pace of three or four miles an hour would have been pretty damn good. What we were doing felt half-assed. I moved up, realized the pace was okay, and sat in, telling myself it was fine to have a slow swim because it was going to be a long, solo slog for the next nine or ten hours. There would be no big bike pack to bridge up to today. The bike course was 116 miles with 12,500 feet of elevation gain over rough, technical roads, summiting a 7,700 foot peak, and more turning than every single triathlon I’ve done, combined. And the run was longer than five miles.

I got out of the water at some point and found myself pedaling up a steep climb out of town between a thick throng of spectators. Spectators? At a triathlon? It was weird. And welcomed. In fact, spectators were out in force at every little town we passed through. 

The first climb had pitches of up to 22%, but was mostly undulating and peaceful. The air and my worries were still chilled. I looked down and saw an average power of 350 for the first 20 minutes. Totally unsustainable. Totally dumb. I’ll regret this later, I informed myself. But it doesn’t even hurt yet! My dumber self replied. And I probably swam like an hour! I felt like I had to make up serious time. (Later I saw that I swam 51 minutes and was 5th out of the water).

The first descent ensued and I began botching corners left and right, unable to commit to the outside line, which may or may not have contained an oncoming vehicle since the road wasn’t closed. One guy, who had been sticking with me for the past few miles, passed me and was instantly 10 seconds up the road, screaming down the descent. I lost more confidence in my descending when he vanished out of sight. The road became increasingly technical, and turned directly into the rising sun for what must have been four or five miles. I shielded my eyes with one hand off the bars to scan the upcoming turns. By the bottom, the guy who’d passed me was almost a minute up the road, and had connected with another rider for the flat section of the course that followed the lake. In hindsight, I realized that this race attracts good cyclists (obviously), and that my performance on the bike wasn’t quite as bad as I felt like in the moment. However, if I were to do this race again, I’d practice these damn descents. 

@ActivImages-Embrunman

I continued riding too hard, angry with myself for not descending faster. If I can just get up to those two guys ahead, I’ll have someone to work with as we make our way up to the ten other guys that must be five minutes ahead by now. Eventually I did catch them, right as the original guy (Kevin Rundstadler?) was forced to stop when his chain fell off. I rode around the other guy (former winner William Meneson) and put in a pretty good surge to gap him. No reason to tow a better runner than myself along up the road.

But then I found myself alone again. Damn. Not ideal since the next 20 miles were relatively flat, though still hilly compared to most races. And by this point in the race I was getting feedback from the side of the road that the leaders were three minutes ahead, down from four when I was in pursuit of William and Victor a few miles prior. It was progress, albeit slow. 

The highlight of Embrunman is the col d’Izoard, an above-category climb that tops out at 7,743 feet. I’d climbed it a few days earlier and met my dad at the top. I think I told him that it “wasn’t particularly hard,” considering we have plenty of steep, high-elevation climbs in Boulder. But mid way up (the categorized section of Izoard is something like 13 miles) I began feeling it. I was approaching threshold and a cyclist out on a training ride was keeping pace with me, uncachable just a few bike lengths ahead, for well over two miles. In my defense, she looked pretty damn strong. 

I choked down a power bar from a feed zone (I’d finished all my other food by then) and finally passed her. Earlier, it was confirmed that there was only one guy ahead of me (not the five or ten I assumed), and I’d narrowed the gap to two minutes. I pushed on as I approached the switchbacks. Just 8K of climbing to go. My power meter had gone haywire less than two hours into the race, so I went by feel. Which wasn’t ideal, since I felt like catching whoever it was up the road. At all costs.

I summited about 90 seconds behind him (eventual winner Niek Heldoorn), stopped to refill on food and water, and began the agonizingly technical, switchback descent. I tried staying focused as I approached each corner, but no matter what I did, I braked too much, or took a shitty line, or both. I simply wasn’t used to this kind of descending, which requires a ton of braking at relatively slow speeds. It didn’t help that I was riding a disc wheel with rim brakes. But that’s no excuse. I lost over a minute to Niek on the descent, and there was plenty more descending to do even after I rode through Briancon and got back, briefly, onto the highway.

This next phase of the bike leg was all doom and gloom. I needed water, but none was to be found. One of my bottles got ejected from my rear cage on the Izoard descent, and the other one had only been filled half way. I had now come to terms with the fact that I’d pushed way too hard the first few hours, and I hadn’t gained any energy from coasting down the Izoard. I was still losing power with every pedal stroke, and even though I had plenty of food to eat, my legs were growing weaker and weaker. But what made me really get down on myself was the realization that there were still 50 miles to ride and at least 4,000 feet of elevation to climb. And a marathon. It was all beginning to feel a bit impossible. 

@ActivImages-Embrunman

The remaining climbs were long and steep. The roundabouts were incessant. The traffic in the roundabouts was also incessant and I was damned if I was going to slow down for anyone. I made up for the risks I hadn’t taken on the Izoard descent, passing cars on the inside of the roundabouts at times. My stomach was queasy from the high quantity of sugar I’d already consumed. But I had to keep eating. I forced down gummy candies and caffeinated Cliff Bloks. I felt worse and worse, yet the gap somehow remained stagnant at four minutes. While I didn’t think I’d be able to finish the marathon (in fact I knew that I wouldn’t be able to finish it) I vowed to give the remaining bike leg a solid effort, and pray that I wouldn’t get caught by too many guys. Being re-passed on the bike would be pretty damn embarrassing. There must have been a mounting hoard just behind me at that point, I assumed. 

Cruelly, the bike course ends with one last 15 minute climb. Right as you get back into town, you’re diverted up, up, and away. Then, when the climb finally tops out, you’re awarded with the worst pavement of the entire ride for the technical descent that follows. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Because this was the type of racing I’d been seeking ever since I started the sport.

@ActivImages-Embrunman

I came off the bike with just a three minute deficit to Niek. I wasn’t sure what the gap was back to third (Andrej Vistica, another former winner), but let myself believe (falsely) that the gap was 15 or 20 minutes. Right away I could feel  that I was going to be able to run fairly well. My chest and lung cramping were minimal. My legs felt wobbly and weak, but not achey or dead. The main issue those first few miles was getting enough water on myself to cool down. Unlike Ironman, the aid stations weren’t every mile, and the early afternoon heat was baking in.

The first lap went by without too much agony, and at the turnaround to lap two, the gap to Niek was still exactly three minutes. I noted the average pace on my watch (6:30 per mile) and knew that it was unlikely that I’d be able to go any faster this next lap. In fact, 6:30 pace was way faster than I thought was possible. But I was only going to get slower, so my one chance at catching him was if he slowed more than me.

The details of the second lap are already growing hazy. The moment I remember most clearly was when two spectators yelled, “Go Kennett! We met your dad and he’s very proud of you!” This brought a smile to my face, and I briefly sped up. I continued looking for any chance to smile—and refocus my brain away from the pain it was dwelling on—whether it was through feed zones or giving high fives to little kids. It seemed to work for a while.

The gurgling in my stomach grew throughout that lap, and I eventually decided it needed to be dealt with. Now. Not later. With no porta potties in sight, I peeled off the top of my tri suit and stepped off the dirt path into a field. Out came liquid furry. It was over and done with in mere seconds, though my gap to Niek increased from 2:30 back up to three minutes.

The third and final lap was the hardest, obviously. My legs had absolutely nothing in them as I climbed the switchback hill that headed up into town. I didn’t dare look at my pace for that entire mile, knowing it would only be depressing. I was pretty sure I was going to be caught by Andrej at this stage of the race. He’d narrowed the gap to three minutes at the start of the lap, and I was frequently informed that he was coming. “Third is coming! Third is coming!” As if he were winter.

I kept drinking, kept forcing disgusting caffeinated gels down my throat, kept dumping liter-and-a-half bottles of water over my head whenever I had the chance. Kept telling myself that I could hold him off. And you can still catch 1st! I tried to convince myself with around five miles to go. I didn’t believe it, but a few miles later, when Andrej had cut the gap to less than two minutes, my body finally cooperated. I’ve never caught a second wind that late into a run before. With four kilometers to go, I dropped the pace by 30 seconds per mile. Then by nearly a minute per mile. I was no longer worried about being caught. I was running so fast, at least compared to before, that I actually thought there might be a chance to win. It felt as if all the sugar and caffeine had finally made it out of my stomach and into my bloodstream. The pain disappeared. I let rage take over, sporadically yelling and grunting like a wild boar. I’m sure I was not a pretty sight. 

@ActivImages-Embrunman

As I approached the transition area, I could hear the crowd cheering Niek down the finish chute. There was no chance at catching him, though I pushed all the way to the end anyways, filled equally with relief and regret. Relief that I hadn’t been caught, regret that my body hadn’t cooperated until it was too late. I crossed the line in nine and a half hours, less than a minute behind Niek, which must be the closest this race has ever been. 

By far the most important aspect of the trip was having my dad there. It was the first big trip he and I have done together since I was in middle school, and capping the adventure off with such a huge result made the experience unforgettable.

Until next time, Embrunman! 

Oregon 70.3…and the Past 12 months of Silence

I completed part of a race this past weekend, which unfortunately falls in line with the last race I wrote a blog post for: Lake Placid, which was about a year ago (it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, and I’ll get to why in a minute). Like Lake Placid, I didn’t finish Oregon 70.3. Finishing was never the goal. That should be the title of someone’s memoir. 

The swim was over as soon as it started thanks to a ripping current on the Willamette River, likely caused by the entire population of Eugene flushing their toilets at the same time. And unlike most triathlon swims, this one was actually pretty darn fun. At certain shallow sections you could see the rocky riverbed rushing by at nearly running pace. If only swimming was more like running. And running was more like riding a bike. And riding a bike was more like eating really, really good Mexican food with a self-serve salsa bar.

I exited the water in 16:30, just a handful of seconds down on first. About half the field was only a handful of seconds down. They must have taken a short cut. I must have too.

I hadn’t run in a month, but I managed to reach the bikes first in transition. Typically—particularly in the last few injury- and illness-plagued years—almost all the bikes are gone by the time I get to mine.

Within a few miles, I was on my own and off the front (after somehow accruing a mysterious penalty, probably for being too good-looking—though I’ll never know what it was actually for). Kyle Buckingham and Justin Metzler led the chase with a group of a dozen forming a minute or so behind them. The first 12-odd miles of the bike course were slightly rolling, shaded, and even somewhat technical in a few sections. The good times were not to last. The main chunk of the bike course was on flat farmlands—still picturesque, but not my favorite terrain. 

By the turnaround I had about 2.5 minutes on Kyle and Justin, and an additional minute or two on the main group. My power was still high at that point—346—and my legs were feeling okay; a sub two hour bike split seemed likely (though it didn’t happen). 

As I rode back in towards transition, still with 25 miles to go, innocent, unjaded age groupers—who were doing the sport for at least some of the right reasons—began cheering and yelling for me. Their enthusiasm was wasted. I didn’t deserve it, because I hadn’t even put running shoes or my race bib in transition.

Two months ago, my right patellar tendon flared up, and despite taking it somewhat easy it refused to heal and I was diagnosed with some minor tendinopathy (degradation of the tendon). Because I suffered through three years of painful running with a torn left patellar tendon, initially caused by tendinopathy on that left side in 2018, I felt that it would be wise to do everything possible to let this more recent knee injury heal. And that meant getting a PRP injection (platelet rich plasma) a week before the race, and opting out of the run to let that PRP do its job. Normally I would have dropped out of the race entirely, but my parents live in Oregon, and the trip was more about visiting my dad and making excellent homemade chili rellenos than racing anyways. 

Now in the last 15 miles of the bike leg, my power was dropping significantly. I’d hoped to set a huge power record for myself, yet despite the knowledge of not having to run off the bike, I wasn’t able to dip into threshold and average something crazy like 340 or 350. I guess I just don’t have that type of power anymore, which makes sense since I haven’t trained it in the past seven years. 

I was able to reach T2 with a five-and-a-half-minute lead, being cheered on by spectators and volunteers, unsuspecting of my lazy and sly intentions of dropping out. It was undoubtedly an odd sight as I took my time getting off the bike, then slowly walked away to talk to my dad.

Uh, does this chump know he’s supposed to run? 

In hindsight, I sort of wish I had put my run gear in transition. Of course, I would have ridden a bit easier in the last 10 miles so the gap wouldn’t have been quite so large. And I still would have had that penalty for briefly being within 100 meters of another athlete. So in double hindsight, it was probably the right call to not fuck my knee up and attempt an all-out half marathon with zero run fitness. 

I had a great weekend with my dad (the chili rellenos turned out fantastic) and hopefully saved my knee for some run training that will allow me to finish my main race goal of the summer—Embrunman. My bike fitness seems to be coming along, and if I can trust the result of a downcurrent swim in which everyone swam 9 miles an hour, my swim is right there too. 

Now, for those wondering why I essentially let this blog die, I apologize. But as I’ve stated in past race reports, I’ve been using my good words to complete my novel, and one only has so many good words. Best not to waste too many more on blog posts. The Good Lord knoweth I’ve squandered millions of them over the years, ranting about pet peeves, races not won, and funny racoon jokes. In all seriousness though, I think we really do have a limited capacity for writing, and 

Ironman Lake Placid

A breathed a sigh of relief. The Wilmington convenience store had knock-off Imodium, saving Adelaide and I a 45 minute round trip drive into Lake Placid for diarrhea medicine. I snagged a couple candy bars for the special needs bag. Then went back and grabbed a second pack of Imodium. On race day, you can’t have too solid a poop.

I woke up the next morning, the day before the race, with a fairly loose bowel movement, but no diarrhea. Everything seemed to be coming up Milhouse. 

Race Day

Heavy drizzle turned to heavy rain as I organized my gear in the darkness of transition. I didn’t get much sleep the night before, which was normal, but I felt rested and ready for the race. There were only two or three competitors I felt like I had to really worry about, and a win felt within grasp if I was on a good day. A podium seemed like a sure thing, though a DNF was on tap.

I found myself somewhat near the front of the swim in the first few hundred meters, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. And by near the front, I mean I was close enough to spot the lead paddleboard at one point. I bridged a small gap after the first turn buoy and forced myself to scrape the guy’s feet in front as much as possible to keep focused and on pace, as I was on the limit for the first 20-odd minutes. 

The four of us in our group finished the first lap and ran up onto land before diving back in, while a steady stream of age groupers began pouring into the lake just to the side of us. I thought I was set up for a great swim time, and I knew it would be difficult staying with the two faster swimmers in front of me as we cut our way through the chaotic age group mass. I had to keep in contact, especially since I didn’t know where the swim exit was. 

Within a half minute of reentering the water, an age grouper swam into me from the side and pushed down on my left shoulder, sinking me. I kicked frantically and swung my arm out wide to hit him off me. A few minutes later a different age grouper began backstroking into the pro in front of me. Eventually, we finished the loop section of the swim course and found ourselves in clean water, four or five hundred meters from the swim exit.

Back on land, my lungs and sides cramped and I lost contact with my swim-mates as we ran up a long, steep hill into transition. As I approached our bike rack, panting heavily in a daze, I noticed that Matt Russell and Joe Skipper’s bikes were still racked. A head start! I knew that those two guys, plus Rasmuss Sveningson, would probably be my main competition. There were a few French pros in the race as well, but I didn’t know much about them other than the fact that they stuffed their bento boxes with delicious mounds of Munster, Tomme, Gruyere, Camembert, and Roquefort. That’s a French cheese joke. 

Onto the bike, I was confident I’d be able to get up to the front in 30 or 45 minutes of hard riding. The roads were wet, our visors were fogged, and there was a short technical descent through town, perfect for shaving off half a minute without any effort at all. After town, we hit the hills. 

A few miles into the bike and my legs were still recovering from the swim, and I hadn’t managed to pull back much time on the guys who I exited the water with. It’s a long day, I reminded myself. Still though, I began worrying that I might not have it today.

Over the first series of climbs, I began passing my former swim-teammates one by one. I’d exited the water in 15th, and by the first short out and back section I counted that I was in 11th or 12th and about three minutes down. I still had serious work to do. 

I continued chipping away as the road descended, then flattened out, then began climbing again. The course was as hilly as any North American Ironman gets, which was part of the allure, though I realized that being in a group would still be a huge benefit for most of it. There were plenty of fast, flat sections of road. And wind. 

I chugged more calories, intent on not making the same fueling error as I did in Tulsa, and kept my head down, still picking off the odd guy now and then. My power wasn’t great (295 at mile 30 or so), but I was confident that I’d at least make contact. At this point, I changed my strategy from blowing by the front group to just sitting in and saving it for the later part of the second lap. My legs just weren’t coming around for some reason. Even though I’d trained harder and more consistently than I had back in the spring, I was riding 20 watts lower than I did for the first 2.5+ hours at Tulsa.

At the next turn around, at mile 35, I counted a group of seven as they blew by downhill going the opposite direction. All I had to make up was 90 seconds and I could sit in and recover for a bit. Over the next 10 miles, I continued losing steam, though I was able to hold the same power. At every long straightaway, I willed the group to appear up the road. I passed one guy that had fallen out of the group, but somehow the five or six up the road had put massive time into me.

I finished the first lap, descended through town again, and began dragging my tiring body up the next set of hills at mile 60. I turned right off the main road onto the two-mile out and back section, and saw that I was a few minutes behind two guys, but three more had completely disappeared, making it through the entire out and back before I even arrived. Meanwhile, a group of five or six containing Matt and Joe was quickly approaching from behind. Fuck. I was in no-man’s land. I weighed my options and decided to sit up and rest until Matt, Joe, and the three or four others in that group caught me. I could sit in and rest, then help pull back whoever was drilling it up front.

What I didn’t know was that I had lost over three and a half minutes from mile 35 to 56, despite holding the exact same power average of 295. It turned out that the lead moto likely played a huge role in this. Earlier, I noticed that the lead vehicle was close to the leaders at the 35 mile marker turn around, though I hadn’t given it much thought at the time.

Matt, Joe, Kevin Portman, and three other guys caught me at the 70-ish mile marker and I began sitting in on a long flat section, wondering what was going on with my legs. I downed more calories and caffeine but felt weaker as we went. Kevin took a couple big pulls while the rest of us sat in. We took a left turn up a rolling climb with a strong headwind and I noticed that one of the guys in the group was consistently riding three bike lengths back from the guy in front of him. After five minutes of this, I asked the official that was riding next to us if he was going to do anything about it. I watched as the official rode up to him, slowed, then passed without doing anything. I’d never seen more intentionally illegal drafting than that, and if the reff wasn’t going to card him, no one was getting carded today. *(See footnote for legal drafting description).

At mile 90, Matt put in an attack and opened some distance to the rest of us. I waited, still feeling weaker than I thought I should. Joe surged to close it. I kept waiting, hoping that one of the three other guys would close the gap to Joe now. By the time he was 25 meters up the road, I knew it was now or never, and I powered around Kevin and the two other guys. Joe and I linked up with Matt and from there on it was Matt doing most of the work. Joe contributed a few pulls, while I held on by a thread, nearly getting dropped a half dozen times as the undulating road followed the Ausable river into town.

Matt dropped off for an emergency bathroom break in the forest with two miles to go and I followed Joe the rest of the way into T2, feeling utterly spent. I’d been suffering enough to not really have any clue what was going on in the race up ahead, but as we ran our bikes through transition, I learned from Joe that we were 12 minutes behind the leader, which was almost unbelievable given the fact that Joe averaged 296, and he’d been riding in various groups virtually all day long (and getting the legal benefit of doing so). He and I were in 4th and 5th place, but the podium seemed an impossible feat given the huge gaps to 1st through 3rd. 

I told Joe good luck and he took off. I jogged the first few miles of the run, crippled with chest and side cramps until mile two. The cramps thankfully subsided, very gradually, but my legs weren’t in any better shape. My quads were wrecked. I looked at my watch and saw that I was running close to 8:30 pace. Matt passed me. Kevin blew by. Igor Amorelli passed, and I began thinking of dropping out. It was mile four, and if my legs were going to come around, it would have happened by now. I looked down at my pace and saw 9:00 on a flat section of road. I began calculating how long it would take to reach the finish at 9:00 pace. Probably more like 11:00 per mile when you add in walking at the end, I thought. After Tulsa, I knew that I didn’t have it in me to run/walk 20 miles. 

At mile five I pulled out.

Post Race Analysis

Unfortunately, the leaders on the bike took a huge advantage of being unfairly close behind the lead vehicle, despite this very issue being brought up and discussed at length during the pro briefing. However, any advantage that they took didn’t really have much of an effect on my race. I simply didn’t have it on the day. I screwed up at Tulsa by racing too aggressively. Lake Placid was a different story. Aside from the swim, I just felt like garbage, and only got by on the bike due to sheer stubbornness.

I have some thinking to do about how to approach training and racing for the rest of the summer. First step is to start working with a coach. Actually, the first step was getting my thyroid bloodwork done, which I did yesterday. I was hypothyroid, by a fair degree, which helps explain the lack of power on the bike and my inability to run off the bike. I suspected this might be a problem heading into the race simply because I’d been getting super cold during almost every swim this past month. 

I was good about getting tested throughout the winter, but stopped when I got to Boulder, thinking I had my medication dialed in and my Hashimoto’s was under control. It’s never under control. It has to be monitored monthly, especially when I’m putting in big hours of training. I guess this race was the reminder I needed.

The depression of having such a horrible race is nearing its end, and Boulder 70.3 is in a week and a half. I have almost no expectations, other than to simply come in top eight and post up a half decent race this year once and for all. After that (assuming I don’t get picked for the Collins Cup, which would require at least a podium at Boulder 70.3), I’ll take a short break before ramping back up for Ironman California at the end of October. 

*Ironman allows a 12 meter (six bike length) draft zone, which provides about 10 watts if you’re behind one rider, and around 40 watts if you’re last in a line of 10 riders. In terms of lead vehicles and media motos, I don’t think Ironman has any sort of gap standard between the vehicle and the rider, which is a problem because if it’s a car, you can still get a decent draft at 40 meters or more. The same is true of a motorcycle at 25 meters.

 

Ironman Tulsa

It was a warm, gray, drizzly morning. I slipped into the cold water of Keystone Lake and swam easily for a few minutes before bobbing in the water, taking in the smell and taste of a dead skunk floating somewhere near the shore. My alarm had gone off at 4am, but only now was I fully awake.

15 minutes later, the start gun went off and the normal chaos ensued. I fought off someone on my left, unintentionally knocking him on the head fairly hard with my hand. Lost the feet we were both fighting for in the brown murk, saw that the majority of the field was veering left, away from me, and redirected my course back in that direction until I eventually fell in behind someone for a few minutes.

Despite the 56 or so starters—possibly the largest ever pro Ironman field ever assembled—I didn’t get in any major fights during those first 300 meters, which probably meant I wasn’t being agro enough. By the first turn buoy, maybe 500 meters into the swim, I found myself near the front of a medium sized group, and saw that we’d been gapped off from the next large group. Fuck. Definitely didn’t sprint hard enough in the first few minutes. I knew that the gap, which was 10 or 15 meters, wasn’t possible to close at that point. I was already at 90% effort drafting on someone’s feet. Closing five body lengths would have been doable, but not 20 or 30.

After a few hundred meters swimming in second (within my group), I went to the front and pushed hard for what felt like 10 minutes, but was probably just five, and ‘sat up’ (I can only think in bike racing terms even in swimming races) and waited for the next guy to come around. Maybe we could organize somewhat and keep our losses to a minimum.

Basically just one guy did the remainder of the pulling after that if I remember correctly, and we did hemorrhage time. That’s what happens when you only swim 10K a week. I need to rejoin masters.

The rest of the swim was agonizingly long. I kept telling myself not to estimate the distance, or time left, but couldn’t stop. We must have been swimming for at least 40 minutes by now, I caught myself guessing. Just 10 or 12 minutes to go! This was probably at the halfway mark. Maybe.


Eventually we reached land and ran to our bikes. Dizzy, disoriented, not having any idea what the gap to the leaders or the next group was, I pulled my helmet on and set out for four-odd hours of uncomfortable bike riding.

I exited T1 a few seconds behind Sam Long and a few seconds ahead of Joe Skipper, and within a mile we found ourselves working together, riding hard into a thin, misting sheet of rain that made seeing through our fogged visors nearly impossible. I felt good, and pushed well into the mid 300s and low 400s when I was on the front. The hilliest section of the race was in the beginning, and we used that to our advantage to claw back time on whomever was up the road. I, personally, didn’t really have any clue where we were in the race, position- or time-wise. I knew that a group was maybe five minutes up the road, and that we weren’t gaining on them, but that we were gaining on, and passing, others as we worked, each taking five minute pulls at the front of our little trio.

The road surface was good at times, and complete shit at others with half of the largest potholes haphazardly marked with orange spray paint, and others submerged in three inches of rainwater. Before major descents or corners, I used my index finger to wipe away the fog inside my visor for a pinhole view of the world. I enjoyed the rough conditions. A smooth, flat, straight road is the absolute worst.

Eventually we caught sight of an enormous group up the road on a straight section of the course as they climbed a gradual hill off in the distance. I hoped that they were the leaders, but deep down knew that they weren’t (a few miles earlier I heard that the leaders were still somehow five minutes or so ahead of us).

Joe was in the lead, with myself in second, when we caught that huge chase group of 20 riders. We bombed past them on a straight, fast descent, light rain still coming down from low-hanging gray clouds. Joe slid out in the corner and crashed, either taking it a bit too fast or braking too late. As I exited the corner, I surged the rest of the way to the front of the group and attacked, hoping to get away with Sam, Chris Leiferman, and a few of the other strong cyclists that I’d noticed were in the group.

Sam and I got away eventually, with him countering my original attack with a massive pull of his own. Unfortunately, the course flattened out here (and remained pretty flat for the rest of the race) and we were reigned back in by Bart Arnout and, among others, surprisingly, Joe—who’d made a superhuman effort to get back on his bike and work his way through the field of strung out riders.

For a number of miles, I continued pushing the pace, hoping to cause some sort of split, before I finally conceded and fell back to fourth or fifth wheel. I hadn’t brought enough food with me, and with no special needs service at this race, I had been rationing calories for the last hour. I could feel my energy fading, even though we’d only been riding for around two hours and 40 minutes. But with an average power of 315 at that point in the race, I’d been burning through glycogen at a rapid rate. I sat in and tried to conserve energy, hoping that I’d be able to make it on the 400 calories I had left, and Gatorade from feed zones.

By hour three, as I sat in the pack of 13 or 14 that were left after our attacking, I realized how futile it would be to go back to the front and pull (especially since I was just about out of food). Nearly everyone in the group was a faster runner than myself (on paper anyways) and seemingly only four guys were doing any work (Chris, Bart, Sam, and Joe). Everyone else was just sitting in, getting 20 or 40 watts for free. With such a huge field, having these types of flat courses makes no sense if Ironman wants a ‘non draft’ race. It is truly incredible how little work you have to do when you’re eight or 10 guys back from the front when everyone is 5-10 bike lengths separated from each other. Every Ironman event either needs 8,000 feet of climbing or more to break things up, or the draft zone needs to be doubled to 12 bike lengths.


At last, I managed to grab all three gels a hero of a volunteer held in his hand as I went by in one of the final feed zones—this was the first volunteer I saw all day who was handing out gels. I knew in that moment that my race was temporarily saved. Note to any future volunteers out there: be like this guy! A fist full of Maurten gels at mile 90 is much prefered than a fucking quarter of an unpeeled banana. I downed two of the gels (each with 100mg of caffeine), finished the last of my Clif blocks, and continued to be as lazy as possible. I needed the sugar to hit soon, otherwise I’d be screwed when we came off the bike. 15 minutes later I took the final gel and continued forcing down the last of my Gatorade as we came into the final half hour of the bike leg.

I came out of T2 in third (within our group) and immediately felt the race slipping away from me as a chest cramp burrowed itself deep into my rib cage. I’d forgotten to turn my watch on to find satellites before we got off the bike, so I couldn’t see my pace, which was a good thing because it would have only disheartened me even more. Sam passed me as Joe, Bart, and Jan Van Berkel began disappearing up the road. Miraculously, as we made our way beneath the skyscrapers of downtown, the chest cramp began to fade. I surged back up onto Sam’s heels, passed him, and continued the surge past Jan, Bart, and Joe. I began feeling stronger and stronger, and threw out any previous race plan I had of “just” a top 10. The new plan was to win, or get on the podium, as crazy as that was.

By mile three or so I heard that I was gaining on everyone except Patrick Lange in first place (in hindsight I’m not sure if that was true), and that the gap to him was around four minutes. Excited, I carried on, somehow unfearful of blowing up. The first few miles of virtually every race I’ve done have been the worst miles due to chest cramps, and I guess I had it in my mind that because those miles were behind me, I was somehow capable of running a 2:37 marathon (or thereabouts), which was the pace I was currently on. In retrospect, this was idiotic.

A mile later, Joe, Bart, Sam, Jan, and Kristian Hogenhaug caught me. Joe quickly organized everyone into a reverse Indian run (I’m not sure if there’s a more appropriate name for this now in 2021), with the leader taking a one minute pull before falling to the back of the line. We fought a very slight headwind as we ran along the mostly empty bike path that paralleled the Arkansas River, the few spectators that made it out there that early yelling splits and encouragement that we were gaining on 2nd through fourth place.

My sunglasses had fogged over immediately out of T2 but I kept them on. Like blinders of a racehorse. Focus. Breathe. Relax. Fight the new chest cramp that’s forming and growing rapidly like a tumor near your heart. Breathe. Stare directly at the feet of the person in front of you. Stop clipping Bart Arnout’s heels. With rain still drizzling down and my mind tuning out everything but the sounds of our panting breaths and wet shoes slapping the pavement, I finally found the feeling that I’ve been seeking for nearly two years.

By mile seven-ish, shortly before the turn around, Van Berkel broke up our group and I found myself still on his feet. We got a glimpse of Lange, now five minutes ahead, as well as positions two through four (Florian Angert, Antony Costes, and Daniel Baekkegard) all of whom were looking somewhat ragged. We’ll catch them, I realized. At least, if I could sustain this pace. But obviously, I could not.

By the turn around at mile 8.5, I’d fallen back 10 seconds and latched onto Joe as he passed me, desperation setting in as my legs started to weaken. Less than a mile later he dropped me and I was on my own. I’d been fueling just fine on the run so far, but I felt my quads losing strength at an amazing rate. Not cramping, but just seizing up, the muscles no longer working properly. I stubbornly continued running somewhat hard. Maybe if I’d slowed to 7:00 pace for the next five miles, I could have recovered and salvaged my race for 9th or 10th. But I doubt even that would have saved me. Running those first 9 miles at 6:00 pace was a huge mistake.

I didn’t truly fall apart until mile 15, at which point I began jogging. Not too long after that, I began walking. My legs were brittle bricks, so weak and fatigued that even walking was difficult. I shuffled and walked my way to the finish line for 10 more miles, getting passed by age groupers, on their first lap, both young and old, wondering how things could have gone so wrong so fast. Wasn’t I just up there battling for 5th place or better? Proper fueling on the bike was a bit of an issue. Not having enough run volume in my legs the two months before the race was a bigger issue. But it took until yesterday, as Adelaide and I drove home to Boulder, for me to fully realize that the major blunder was simply trying to run a sub 2:40 marathon when I’ve only done one other marathon (as a race) in my life, and that was two years ago, and it was 2:50 something (albeit at altitude).

So let that be a lesson to all. Be realistic. Be cautious. Never believe in yourself that you’re capable of greatness, because you will almost certainly fail! What you’re currently doing in life is probably the highlight—your peak—so just appreciate this next decade before climate disaster collapses civilization as we know it.

While agonizing and utterly demoralizing, walk-jogging the final two hours of the marathon was a good lesson. Maybe not a good lesson, per say, as I did make a conscious decision to risk it all for a chance at the podium, but certainly a good fitness marker of where I’m at. You never truly know until you race.

I plan on doing Lake Placid, which has some actual decisive-looking hills, at the end of July, which will give me enough time to recover and do a full buildup—this time with more than just two 50 mile run weeks. By then I’ll have forgotten any pacing lessons I learned last weekend, so look for another summary just like this one in eight weeks time.

Thank you volunteers, Ironman staff, photographers, spectators, the competition, and everyone else that helped make this event so memorable. And to Adelaide and Maybellene of course.

The Shitshow in Galveston

“It doesn’t seem to be broken,” the doctor said while pressing on my wrist. “Otherwise you’d definitely feel it somewhere here.” He squeezed my wrist again.

“I have a pretty strong pain tolerance,” I replied, thinking to the last time I was examined in an urgent care as a doctor twisted my broken neck from side to side and up and down. I wouldn’t be able to do this if your neck was broken, that doctor had said, quite confidently.

“With a fracture you can sometimes move it without it hurting, but to the touch it’s generally very tender. With a strain or sprain, it doesn’t hurt so much to the touch, but as you described—”

“Yeah, I can barely rotate it like this,” I interjected, twisting my wrist as if I were the Queen, waving at a crowd from a Bentley.

“Exactly. I think you’re fine. We can do an X-ray if you want though.”

“Nah, I believe you,” I said, relieved that I’d be able to race. “And you don’t think I’ll do any serious damage if it gets banged around during the swim?”

“No. You should be fine.”

“I mean, it’s pretty rough. Sometimes you end up accidentally hitting people in the head and stuff. And sometimes not accidentally.”

The doctor laughed, though I wasn’t fully joking of course. “It might hurt, but you won’t do any real damage even if it gets whacked,” he said.

He was young and fit looking, so I figured I could trust that he had some sense of how physical the race might be. Plus, he’d complimented me earlier on how I’d punched the wall, which was the reason I was in the urgent care. “Lots of people end up making contact with the outer part of their hand,” he said a few minutes earlier, pointing to the knuckle of his pinky finger. “That’s how you get hurt. You did it right.” He eyed the large, openly seeping scabs on my index and middle fingers.

I said thanks, paid the 95 bucks, and hopped back in my rental car to build my bike. Maybe I’d have more luck with it than I did the day before.


Rewind to the day before:

I clenched my teeth in rage as blood dripped from two jagged flaps of skin on my knuckles, staining the cement floor of my garage a bright crimson. A fresh imprint of my fist lay in the drywall, a few feet below a half dozen exploratory drill holes where, years before, I’d attempted to find the stud to hang a bike from the wall. Found it again, I thought.

As I opened and closed my fist, I sighed in relief that my hand moved okay. My wrist, on the other hand—pun intended—was quickly seizing up. You fucking idiot, I scolded myself. My hand, which moments before was black from bike grease, was quickly turning red as blood continued leaking from my knuckles. I’d like to say that this sort of thing was a one-off, but when it comes to wrenching on my bike, my temper has about a one-hour fuse, and I was closing in on two hours now. Worse, my flight to Houston was rapidly approaching. And not only had I failed to figure out how to change the brake pads and pack my new bike, but I hadn’t even begun to pack race gear, clothes, or anything else I needed for the weekend. Only a fucking TT bike requires that you take the crankset off to get to the fucking brake pads, I grumbled to myself before getting back to work.


Adelaide ended up packing for me while I finished adjusting the brake pads, re-installing the crankset four times (it took me a while to diagnose a clicking sound caused by a brake bolt rubbing on the inner chainring), and then break the bike down into my bike bag by completely disassembling the front end.

Because of the packing and bike work fiasco, I missed my bus to the airport, so Adelaide dropped me off.  All the effort to pack my bike into a small (stealthy) bike bag was for naught, as I ended up getting charged $75 for a bike by Southwest anyways. “But it’s a massage table, expo equipment, therapy pigeon, wheelchair bag damn it!” I lied, unsuccessfully.

My wrist continued stiffening up as I maneuvered around unmasked travelers sipping Cokes and cramming overpriced burgers down their gullets in the crowded terminal walkways. The plane I was on ended up being full, which only ratcheted up my anxiety about flying— unvaccinated at that point—during the pandemic. “I thought all the center seats were being left open!” I said, somewhat unpleasantly, to the travel agent before reluctantly getting on—in fact, I almost turned around and took the bus home when I found that the center seats weren’t left open. Going from nearly complete social distancing, aside from the odd group ride, to being packed into a sardine can full of Texans, many of whom wore their old, stained masks like sagging underwear at their chins, almost made me forget about my wrist. Just don’t get in a fist fight with anyone for not wearing their mask, I told myself. You’ll be fighting one-handed

I begrudgingly gave my back-of-the-plane seat (which I took intentionally to limit the number of people I was next to) to two women with a small child. The child spent half the flight kicking the back of my seat while one of the flight attendants spent the other half of the flight asking the three of them to put their masks on. Not that it mattered, because most of the passengers were also maskless as they sipped Cokes and stuffed down their leftover burgers. God fucking forbid an American go without a meal for 95 minutes. 


We’re just going to abruptly skip to the race now.

A sliver of sun began peeking out from the horizon a few minutes before the start gun blasted, then we were off. With a field of 41 male pros, it was a chaotic start. I ended up finding a pair of feet after a few minutes of fighting in the choss, then decided to make a push to get around that guy and bridge up to the next group, which was just a few body lengths of separation at that point. 

Shortly before the first turn buoy, I chanced a peak over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t in the last group, and was relieved to see what appeared to be a dozen or more others behind me. While run and bike training had gone pretty well over the winter, I’d only averaged around 10K of swimming per week over the last few months, and wasn’t super confident leading into this race.

I came out 20th, three minutes down on the leaders, but with three strong cyclists—Long, Weiss, and Arnaute—as well as a few other guys I knew were solid on the bike. Turned out they were all quite a bit more solid than me; I fumbled getting my feet into my shoes in the first mile, took a wrong turn and had to squeeze through a barricade a second later, then my quads completely seized up. The quad cramping is something I’ve experienced many times in races—they seize up after a few minutes of hard riding out of T1, during which I’m forced to ride easier for a few minutes until they release. Only this time, when they finally did release, I still couldn’t put out any power. I’d been riding with Tripp Hipple and one other guy at this point, and watched as they drifted away from me down the road.

20 minutes in, after I’d been passed by what felt like everyone who’d come out of the water behind me, I was only averaging 272 watts—a number that I’d been able to hold for over four hours during training earlier in the winter. My glutes were on fire and my knees seemed to be buckling outwards, as if I was on someone else’s bike. And that person happened to be 5’6”. 

At the turnaround, I counted that I was in 27th or 28th place (I can’t remember now) and my power was still dropping. I continued getting passed until I eventually conceded and sat up in defeat, wondering what the hell had gone so wrong. 

Photo: Mark L. Simmons Photography

I thought the problem might just be a seat height issue, but it was more than that. I’d had the bike built up two weeks prior, but had failed to take any measurements from the previous position on my old bike, hoping that I’d be able to get a bike fit the week of the race, which didn’t happen. When I did get a bike fit a half week after the race, we found that my saddle was nearly an inch too low, a half inch too far forward, and my bars were well over an inch too low.

But during the race, I felt like I should have been able to compensate for my position being off. So what if my seat is too low? I should still be able to push 300 no matter what! I began fuming at myself for being so weak-minded, and got back in the aerobars briefly to try one last time to put out some power. There was nothing there and my glutes ached abnormally in protest.

I stopped to pee, got back on and soft pedaled, got passed by a half dozen age groupers. I decided that I should just give up triathlon, but what would I do to fill the void? I’m not good at anything else. I should just go live in the fucking forest and abandon society. Just wander into the wilderness and never return. I figured I could finish editing my sci-fi manuscripts and try to get them published, but would that be enough to keep me satisfied? My rear tire blew out and snapped me out of my self-destructive thinking. After slowing to a stop and taking the wheel off, I saw that whatever I’d hit had ruined the tire—the long, horizontal cut would have to be patched with a “shoe” ( a piece of garbage or pre-cut rubber that fits between a tire gash and the tube). I dug into my bento box and found a gel wrapper and slid it between the new tube and the lacerated tire and crossed my fingers that it would hold. I still wanted to finish the race for the training benefit of the run. And besides, not finishing makes you (me) always feel worse than simply having a bad race and limping it in to the finish line. 

The gel wrapper shoe held. I stopped to pee again a short while later. More age groupers passed and I decided to go aero and match their speed. I got bored sitting behind one guy so passed him and started riding back up to the other guy, who was about 30 meters in front of me when I watched a wind gust knock him off balance. He swerved left, then right, then left again before fully losing control of his bike and hitting the median to his right (the course had us on the left side of the road/median). He went over the bars and slammed into a palm tree before landing back in the road, his bike somersaulting over him and spilling gels and Co2 cartridges everywhere.

If I’d been in the mix for a top 10 in the race and saw someone crash like he did, I doubt I’d stop. Maybe if it looked like someone’s life was in jeopardy…though I guess it would depend on whether I knew them or not. But here, already half an hour behind, stopping wasn’t a difficult decision to make. I set my bike in the grassy median next to him and told him to try and be still as he lay struggling on the pavement. Ignoring my orders, he managed to push himself up into a squatting position with his hands before quickly losing his balance and rolling backwards onto his back. I grabbed his shoulders as he rolled onto the pavement, keeping his head from slamming back into it. Well, at least he probably doesn’t have a spinal cord injury

He was determined to get back on his bike and finish, which was more than I could say for myself at that point. Insisting that he was fine, he got up and staggered toward his bike, which lay in the road a few paces away from him. I grabbed hold of him as he started to fall over again and forced him three steps to the grass median, where he sat down heavily—fell down heavily is a more accurate statement. I noticed that his hands were shaking, and his eyes were distant—a combination of shock and concussion that I’d seen plenty of times before.

A couple volunteers who’d materialized on the scene went to go get help while I stood over the guy and explained to him that his race was over, that he had a concussion, that it wasn’t worth trying to finish. “You could do permanent damage to yourself if you get back on the bike and crash again, or even push yourself while running. It’s not worth it. You can always do another race later in the year,” I argued.

Eventually a cop appeared and called for a van to come get the guy, who was slowly coming out of the daze he’d been in. He promised he wasn’t going to get back on his bike, which was broken anyways, and—confident that he was in good hands—I threw a leg over my saddle and pedaled the last three or four miles to transition.


Knowing how agonizing it is to “watch” a race on Ironman’s shoddy tracker from 1,000 miles away, and not really knowing what’s going on, I called Adelaide from T2 to tell her that I was alright and that I planned on finishing the race. I wandered through transition, at first jogging the wrong way, until I found the run exit. 

I lucked out by starting my first of three laps as the top four guys (Lioinel, Sam, Ben, and Matt) were starting their final lap, which meant that I had some loud spectator energy to feed off of. I wasn’t exactly being cheered for, but I was sort of next to people who were being cheered for, and allowed myself to absorb the positive energy. I immediately felt better, mentally, than I had on the bike. I even began enjoying myself somewhat.

I ticked off the first four or five miles in 5:26 pace, pretty jazzed about how my legs felt coming off the bike. I’d taken two hours and 45 minutes, about 20 of which was standing on the side of the road, but still—I was running sorta fast!

The motivation to push deep began to fade at the midway point, but I still held things together to come in under 1:15 for the half marathon, and grab about a dozen Maurten gels along the way for a later date. I enjoyed the afternoon with Kevin Portmanwith over a beer or two, then celebrated that night in my Airbnb by myself with a cheap order of fried shrimp and a chocolate bar that Adelaide hid in my bag. 


While the race went horribly, I took solace in the fact that it wasn’t fully due to a lack of fitness, just a lack of preparedness, which might actually be worse. Considering my 15 years of bike racing and triathlon, I had no excuse to show up on a bike that I wasn’t ready to compete on. I guess it did feel good to knock out a race finally. It had been a while. Considering that I ran track in high school, and rowed in college, I believe the 18 month gap I had starting in October of 2019 was the longest I’ve gone without doing some sort of race since I was 13 years old.

Next up is Tulsa. 

Degloved Book Tour

Degloved: A Conversation with the Author at The Open Book and Roundabout Book Shop

The Open Book

January 23rd at 6:30PM Mountain Standard Time (8:30PM East Coast)

How to Attend: Live streaming on Facebook

The first of at least two events this spring to talk about anything and everything related to my book DEGLOVED: Every Scar Has a Story. If you have a question you can DM me or write the question in the comments. We can talk about mental health, PTSD, why bikes are amazing, why community is an important aspect in healing, how to support one another through trauma, and how amazing the body is at healing. Haven’t read the book yet? The Open Book has copies!

Roundabout Book Shop

January 28th at 6PM Mountain Standard Time (8PM East Coast)

How to Attend: Live streaming on Facebook

Join Roundabout Books in Bend and Boulder-based author Adelaide Perr for an engaging conversation about her book DEGLOVED: Every Scar Has a Story, life, living with mental illness and overcoming trauma, and so much more. Discussion will involve a back and forth interview with Adelaide and her husband Kennett Peterson.

More Book Tour Dates to Follow (if you would like to host an event, email Kennett at kennettpeterson@gmail.com)

Purchase Degloved: Every Scar Has a Story

Past Book Tour Events

Colorado Multi Sport, November 11th, 2020.

DEGLOVED: Deconstructed: An ask-me-anything with author of DEGLOVED, Adelaide Perr. If you have any questions during the live stream, please submit them in the comments!

Video of event: