Be Pre­pared For Any­thing

Just in time for the race, the tem­per­a­ture had plum­meted to 20 C, while tor­ren­tial rains soaked the valley. Just wait. It gets worse. By race day, it would dip to be­low zero.

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - Features - BY LOREEN PINDERA Loreen Pindera is an jour­nal­ist and editor for CBC News and an avid triath­lete.

THIS PAST SUM­MER was one of the hottest and dri­est ever recorded in Europe. As I packed for the Iron­man 70.3 race in Zell am See, Aus­tria, in Au­gust, I read about cows keel­ing over from heat ex­haus­tion in Switzer­land, for­est fires black­en­ing Scan­di­na­vian skies and glaciers melt­ing in the Aus­trian Alps.

No won­der it never oc­curred to me to find space in the bike bag for cy­cling tights, toe warm­ers and win­ter gloves.

Fast forward to 24 hours be­fore the swim start: my hus­band, David, and I, along with scores of other triath­letes, are comb­ing through bar­gain bins of last win­ter’s stock at the ski re­sort’s sports shops, snap­ping up ski gloves and hats to slip un­der our bike hel­mets.

Just in time for the race, the tem­per­a­ture had plum­meted to 20 C, while tor­ren­tial rains soaked the valley. Just wait. It gets worse. By race day, it would dip to be­low zero.

We’d ar­rived in Europe two weeks ear­lier, de­ter­mined to avoid raceday jet lag. We’d packed as lightly as pos­si­ble. Ev­ery­thing — street clothes, gifts of maple syrup and all our race gear — was stuffed into our bike bags, which we made sure weighed in at pre­cisely 23 kilo­grams apiece (the limit set by most air­lines be­fore you have to pay ex­cess bag­gage fees).

The bags are soft-sided and prac­ti­cal, be­cause, with a bit of gym­nas­tics, you can fit two dis­man­tled bikes, padded and pro­tected, into al­most any de­cent-sized ve­hi­cle. Once, in Rome, we fit one bag hang­ing out of the trunk of a mi­cro-sized Fiat, the other in the back­seat across my lap.

But a 23-kilo­gram bike bag is still the weight of a small sack of ce­ment. Euro­pean rail sys­tems are cool with bikes, but don’t let any­one fool you into be­liev­ing that Ger­man trains al­ways run on time. We set out from Paris with a stop at Karl­sruhe, with what seemed like a gen­er­ous 13 min­utes to change trains. Our train was four min­utes, then seven min­utes, then 11 min­utes late. With two min­utes to spare be­fore our connection left for Mu­nich, we hauled those bike bags off the Paris train, sprinted along the plat­form, down one set of stairs, along a tun­nel and up an­other set of stairs, heav­ing our bikes aboard the out­bound train just as it be­gan pulling out of the sta­tion.

You re­mem­ber Ross Edgely, that crazy Brit who did an Olympic triathlon while car­ry­ing a tree? Well, I now know what Ross felt like. Our Iron­man had be­gun be­fore we had even ar­rived in Aus­tria.

In Mu­nich, a des­per­ate late-night Google hunt turned up a cou­ple of ul­tra-light­weight fold­ing trol­leys that made haul­ing the bike bags a breeze. Fun was back.

Fi­nally, we ar­rived in Zell. It was 30 C, but­ter­flies flit­ted among the wild­flow­ers in the mead­ows and the only snow in sight was the glacial peak of Kitzstein­horn way off in the dis­tance. From our rented ski chalet halfway up the Sch­mit­ten­höhe moun­tain, we looked down on the lake where the swim was to be held and then be­yond it to a range called the Hochkönig mas­sif, where a 13-kilo­me­tre climb awaited us, guar­an­teed to turn even the strong­est legs to mush.

With the bikes re­assem­bled, we set out on one of our most glo­ri­ous rides of the sum­mer, find­ing our cy­cling form again and manag­ing 800 m of climb­ing over 55 km of smooth as­phalt, through pic­ture-per­fect villages and past moun­tain pas­tures where the fa­mous Pinz­gauer cat­tle hap­pily roam. We were pedalling our way through the Sound of Mu­sic.

That was Wed­nes­day. On Fri­day, the fog moved in. On Satur­day, there was a steady down­pour. When we awoke on Sun­day, we could see our breath. Our host, Maria, knocked on our door, look­ing for­lorn and apolo­getic: we’d be bik­ing through sleet. ALL Iron­man 70.3 Zell Am See, Aus­tria

At the race start an hour later, we learned the sleet had turned to snow, and some parts of the course were flooded com­pletely. Then came word that the au­thor­i­ties had can­celled the bike leg. The steep switch­backs were ice-cov­ered and sim­ply too dan­ger­ous.

In the 70-plus races I’ve done, I’ve seen the power of na­ture: in 2014 in Pescara, Italy, the swim was cut in half due to waves so high they were knock­ing over the kayak­ers who were sup­posed to pro­tect us. In 2012, at the Moose­man 70.3 in New Hamp­shire, it rained so hard or­ga­niz­ers dumped bales of hay in the tran­si­tion zone to help ath­letes slog through the knee-deep

slop to get to their bikes. In the 2007 Chicago Marathon, I made it to the fin­ish line in the hottest run on record, while, just be­hind me, thou­sands were or­dered to stop be­cause wa­ter sup­plies had run out.

Af­ter the an­nounce­ment that the bike leg had been can­celled at Zell am See, dozens of dis­ap­pointed ath­letes dropped out, col­lect­ing their bikes in the rain and walk­ing them out of tran­si­tion.

I didn’t get why. I was still rar­ing to go. It was the first time I had ever hauled my bike across the ocean, not to ride it. But what the heck? The rain meant the lake was flat and, at a balmy 21 C, the wa­ter was the warm­est place we could be. A cou­ple of thou­sand of us min­gled at the shore, so­cial­iz­ing for a cou­ple of hours in our wet­suits as we waited for the gun to go off.

I had a great run, on fresh legs, ex­hil­a­rated by the sight of snow-cov­ered moun­tains all around us as I charged around the lake.

The next day dawned with­out a cloud in the sky. I was in pretty good spir­its, all con­sid­ered. I had not met my goal of con­quer­ing 90 km of moun­tain roads, but I’d had a blast. The ther­mome­ter had climbed to 22 C by the time we packed up our bikes and said good­bye to Zell am See late that morn­ing. The triathlon gods were laugh­ing. I felt let in on the joke.

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