If We Were Riding’ is a weekly triathlon-ish newsletter written by Kelly O’Mara and produced by Live Feisty MediaSubscribe to get it in your inbox every Wednesday morning. You can also read past issues. This episode is Nov. 14, 2018.


The smoke blowing down to my house from the deadliest fire in state history has been so bad the last five days that we can’t really go outside much and we definitely can’t exercise outside. (And if you think it’s fine, it’s only a little smoke, you’re super wrong. I had to read a whole bunch of studies about the long-term health consequences of air pollution for a story and, well, I’m definitely staying indoors now.) It’s been a rough week for our state and it’s not over yet and I still have a race left on the calendar, so I don’t know what to do except keep riding my trainer in my living room with all of my air filters running. Doesn’t it feel like this year needs to be done already?

Big fires everywhere

Sorry, not sorry. Fires are all I care about this week. Last year, when Napa and Santa Rosa burned and friends lost their houses, it seemed like that was the worst it would get. The fires came so far into the city of Santa Rosa, right through suburban housing tracts, so close to home, it seemed crazy. Then back in August, when we had the three of the biggest wildfires on record, that seemed pretty bad too, right? And now, now we have the deadliest fire. Ever.

I think often there is a sense that these things just happen in California—isn’t it a weird place, where we mismanage our towns and run naked through the streets (an actual thing someone asked me once) and succumb to one disaster or another, who really cares. There is a sense it’s always been bad and the West is a wild place and it’s our own damn fault and isn’t it hard to keep track of all the tragedies anyway?

But I’m here to tell you: This new normal is not normal. So much burns now that didn’t used to burn. So many fires burn so hot.

Take a look at the list of top 20 biggest fires in state history or the top 20 most destructive. (Neither list has been updated yet to include the current fires burning, but they will.) So many of the worst ever are from the last 10-15 years. Look at all the reporting done on the number of fires since 2000, the amount of California that has burned since then. How many megafires there are now.

Fires burn hotter now. They don’t always follow the rules they used to. People have moved into areas they probably shouldn’t have too. Land is drier and fire season longer, harder to manage. Even little things that don’t seem like a big deal—a few inches of rain, a few degrees warmer on average—have made a big difference.

The point is: Out here it’s hard for us to pretend this isn’t, on the aggregate, made worse because of climate change. It’s hard to ignore the people who burned to death trying to flee a fire that was too fast to escape, because why? Because we lack the will or desire to fix our mistakes? Because we don’t learn from our hubris?

I’m not just sad, I’m mad. I’m mad at a President who threatens us while people die. I’m mad there is no national media headquartered in the west, so our stories get distorted. I’m mad that the alert system in Paradise didn’t work even though we should have learned by now. I’m mad PG&E keeps getting to be negligent while pipes explode and transmission lines burn and peoples’ houses are destroyed. I’m mad the administration is letting industry roll over environmental regulations when we should be doing everything we can to go the other direction. I’m mad you can survive the worst mass shooting in modern history only to be killed in another. I’m mad and the world is burning and I’m tired of pretending the flames just come without reason, that we aren’t responsible for those people’s lives, for our own.

The climate fight is only over if we think it’s over, and I’m not ready to say this is over, not while my state burns.

Here also are more standard ways you can help.


Triathletes in Miami

I have to admit, I was super confused when I heard national champions were crowned at Miami Man this past weekend. Turns out: it was the long course championships, long course duathlon, long course aquabike, and international distance aquabike. It’s apparently the first time all those things have been contested in one event. So. There you go. In case you were wondering.

The influence of influencers

Everyone knows one of my favorite things is when the New York Times covers something we all knew about already (but just didn’t realize was worth a story in the New York Times). This week’s NYT discovery: “nanoinfluencers.” Which apparently means people who have a nano, ie. tiny, amount of influence but are willing to hawk sponsored products to their niche market. Also known as basically all of triathlon. I know, I know, fitness influencers are a big businessand fancy gyms are literally redesigning their decor to be Insta-friendly. But isn’t it all really the way the world has always worked? Just on a new screen.

Banditing is wrong…

…but maybe everyone could chill out about it. No, you should not bandit races. Yes, it’s a dick thing to do and hurts the event and creates a classic tragedy of the commons problem. And, yes, also, I have 100% done it back in college when I had no money. Runner’s World ran a tongue-in-cheek(ish) piece about banditing races “without being an asshole,” and the internet reacted as if RW had just told runners everywhere to go out and assault strangers. It feels like everyone needs to calm down a little about this? Let’s all agree the guy who has bandited the New York Marathon for 13 years should just go ahead and pay the goddamn entry fee. But (in things we probably will not all agree on) it’s also not the absolute worse thing in the world to go for a run on a route that is part of a race course.



Comments & thoughts

Some thoughts, emails, messages and notes from listeners and readers this week. A lot of people sent me ideas on how to be less nervous before races, so we talked about them on the podcast Friday.

– I think people also felt bad for me after my terrible race, because Jocelyn wrote to say, “Please don’t stop racing even though you had a shitty race.” Sorry, guys, for the wallowing. I won’t be quitting yet.

– Sika pointed out I should have mentioned the first NCAA program at a HBCU—so we talked about it on the podcast.

– And Hillary was laughing at the idea of triathletes signing up for camel rides post-race in Morocco and realizing too late it wasn’t a great idea.

– Plus, Alexis says the newsletter “makes my Wednesday morning brighter.

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