Challenge Penticton: a Tough Decision that Ends with a Smile

I’ve had a lot of people asking me “what happened at Challenge Penticton? You were doing so great and then you just disappeared?” So I thought I might give a quick breakdown of what exactly happened out there on race day, and the story behind my first ever DNF (still hurts to even say it.)

Bike Check-in Day

Race Morning:

I was up at 3am, giving me my 3hr breakfast window pre-race. Everything went smooth in the morning, I was 110% ready to go out and bury myself all the way to the line, my body was tapered and peaked just perfectly. Walking down to the beach for the start, my arms felt limber and ready to swim.


Gun went off, and it was a dolphin diving frenzy. With about 30-40m of shallow water to cover, dolphin diving was the best option. MacCormack went off the front right away, and other than Symonds eventually bridging up and Whyte getting a bit ahead, I made the main pack no problem. As I looked around and noticed Karen Thibodeau’s Nineteen Rogue tiger stripes, Adam O’Meara and Chris Bagg, I knew I was swimming well. The crazy thing was, it felt effortless, easily staying right in the middle of the pack, even in the rough water. We exited as a bunch, and I made a mad dash through T1, knowing how important it was to get out on the bike course first.

The mad dash for a good spot


Coming out of T1 in 4th

I came out of T1 in 4th place, behind MacCormack, Symonds, and Whyte. I immediately settled into my power zone, knowing it would be a long day. In Maclean Creek (about 30mins in,) Chris Bagg and Scott DeFilipis caught me, and we rode as a group through to Righter pass. I was feeling very strong, high power and low effort, very in control. We hit the flat portion of road at the bottom of Righter, and that’s when things started to go wrong…….

I’m third in the line, with Chris Bagg and Scott DeFilipis in front.
Smiling the first 80km with DeFilipis and Bagg

I got that sinking feeling associated with the bouncy, spongy handling of a bike when it’s getting a flat tire. I looked down and thought “okay, no big deal, I can handle this.” I made an emergency stop, put the sealant in the tire, and when I went to use my (brand new) CO2 inflation head, it blew to pieces in my hands. With about 70psi of air or so in the tire, I just got back on and started to go gang-busters up Richter to catch Bagg and DeFilipis. I was just catching Bagg by the top, but halfway down the decent I noticed the tire start to go flat again.


I pulled over, and a motorcycle support was there asap to help me fix the flat. We tried sealing it for a while, and refilled it, but it didn’t seem like it was going to work. Standing on the side of the road watching empty space behind me slowly start to fill with other riders (we had a good 6-8min gap on the next group,) was brutally frustrating. But I knew with 90km left and a marathon, I could make up ground. We got the flat adequately fixed, and off I went. I had started to reel in some of the guys, and once again the front wheel went flat.

“Jesus,” I thought, “what else could go wrong?” Oh, if I only knew.

I spent another good batch of time standing on the side of the road waiting for the moto support, who had to call in the Bike Barn support car with spare wheels. By the time they got there, replaced the front wheel, and had me rolling again, I had spent a total of just over 15 minutes standing roadside.

But that wasn’t going to knock the smile off my face.

With my new training wheel on, I was ready for the headwinds to start; I just got back on task, and kept rolling. I started catching guys who had passed me earlier, and started making up a lot of ground. I was within 8 minutes of my initial group by the special needs station, and was closing in on O’Meara and Toth. By the bottom of the Yellow Lake climb I could see O’Meara, and thought “hell YES! I’m kinda-sorta back in this thing!” Knowing O’Meara was in the top 8 or so, I could still ride and run my way into a good spot. Things were looking up.

Then, suddenly, things started to look way down.

As I stood to get some steam at the base of the climb, I heard the horrific sound of a cyclists worst nightmare: chain-suck. For those that don’t know, it’s when the chain grabs the bottom of the chainring on the crank, and sucks it up past the chain-stay. In the case of my Teschner, past the chain-stay AND the rear aero brake, bending the chain, and locking it up there like a barbed hook in a fishes mouth.

I stood on the side of the road, staring in disbelief that this was happening. It was almost at the comical point now; barring a crash, this WAS the worst thing that could happen. A random series of events beyond my control, that had me standing roadside. Sitting there watching the inevitable train of pro athletes fly by was rather frustrating. Eventually the Bike Barn support vehicle showed up, along with Kelly Hall (the pro athlete coordinator,) and they came up with a solution: they were going to put some parts from my bike onto a Cervelo S2 road bike they had with them (that was a few sizes too big,) so I had some wheels to get home. They assured me it climbed well, and descended like a champ.

God bless those Bike Barn guys, I’m pretty sure I used a good portion of the parts they brought along, and took more of their time on course than everyone else combined.

After another good 20 minutes roadside, I was off. I had made the decision to pull out of the race at that point (with some help and prompting from the Bike Barn guys, who know what it takes to race as a professional,) losing 35 minutes on the bike and standing around doesn’t make for a good day on the run course. Top 10 so far beyond my reach (granted, if I had been able to muster a solid 2:40 marathon I think I may have been able to get there,) I knew that recovering and racing in another iron distance race sometime soon was my best bet. So, I just did what I do best: put my big smile back on and started to ride hard. Climbing Yellow Lake strong, I battled headwinds on my ill-fitting new steed (which, btw, rode and shifted fantastic,) the last 40km of the bike course. Sore in places I wouldn’t normally be sore, I rode through town, cheering on the athletes already out on the run course, and waving to people who were giving me and my ITU antics a funny look and cheer.

I had no intention of running. At all. But as I went through T2, so many friends were volunteering, congratulating me on my race thus far and ushering me through. I pretty much handed off my bike, and the next thing I knew someone was putting my shoes on, turning on my run watch, and giving me the boot out the other side. I’m a loyal person, with a  lot of respect for those that support me and for those that race the iron distance events. DNF has never been in my vocabulary, always seen as a cowardly act of disrespect and weakness. All of a sudden, I just couldn’t bear myself to stop, what with all this support from friends. I couldn’t let these people see me just walk off, just pull the pin and call it a day.

So I just said “f#ck it, let’s go for a run.”

Why not?!? Took me a while to answer that question.

I went out on course, and was cruising effortlessly. Hitting the 5km mark around 20mins, I knew I had a good marathon in me. But then I started to get in my head, and start to ponder the hard decisions that needed to be made.

Lining up a solid high 5
Kelly Hall, our pro liaison, giving a solid high 5

“Why am I still running?”
“There’s no chance of running in to top 10, why keep going and destroy your legs, leaving you useless for racing at least a month?”

I made it to the 7km mark, and made the call. It was a tough one, easily the toughest decision I’ve had to make in this sport. But it was a decision that needed making. Racing as a pro, you need to know when to hold’em, and know when to fold’em. Today the race was calling my bluff. Everything went wrong on the bike, and anyone who’s stood around for that period of time while racing knows your legs and body aren’t the same after. My nutrition didn’t account for all the waiting, and my body was NOT accustomed to riding an ill-fitting bike as hard as I could for 40km. I was still feeling strong, and knew that if I wanted another chance to race to my full potential this year, I needed to pack it in. An extremely strong swim and 180km bike (my power up until the Yellow Lake catastrophe was higher than I was riding half-iron distances last year,) coupled with a brief run was a solid training day and confidence builder. Doing the full marathon would dig me into a pit that would hinder me for the next month or two.

I almost immediately regretted stopping, feeling disrespectful to the race and all those warriors who would be out there until midnight, battling away at the distance to be part of the Challenge Family. I wanted to be a part of the Challenge Family so bad, especially after the welcoming and friendly atmosphere that they imparted on their race. Back at the finish, after chatting with a few people for whom I have a lot of respect, I realized I made the right decision. Olly Piggin and coach Björn told me with incredible certainty I did what needed to be done, and coming from them I started to feel all right. This race was my Superbowl, my Kona, the thing I’ve been focused on during those long hard indoor winter trainer rides, when I’m securely in the pain cave. Having reinforcement from people I trust and admire that I did the right thing just puts the smile back on my face.

I can say with honesty that even though I didn’t finish this year, I had more fun at the event than I did last year. Challenge Family has put on an absolutely incredible community-oriented event, with a large focus on a friendly family and all-inclusive atmosphere. I will become part of the Challenge Family, whether I’m forced to wait until Challenge Penticton next year, or I can somehow make it to another Challenge Family race this year. I’m completely sold on the Challenge races, it shadows last year’s Ironman Canada and it will continue to grow and flourish like Roth has over the past 12 years (growing from 200 athletes in 2001 to 5600 athletes in 2013!)

The moral of the story? Shit Happens. All you can do is keep smiling and move on to the next challenge. Use the experience as a character builder and chock it up to experience. This is the first big catastrophe I’ve had on the bike in 6 years of racing, and over my career it certainly won’t be the last. There is obviously a reason I wasn’t supposed to finish the race, so it’s on to the next adventure. I’m still breathing at the end of the day, and to me that’s always a win.

So what’s next for me? Well, I’ll be enjoying an amazing banquet tonight to celebrate all the accomplishments of the athletes that completed the race and achieved their goals and dreams. I’ll use this as motivation for my next iron adventure, which will be coming sometime soon. I’ll also be sharing my big smile, the same one that never left my face the entire race, no matter how dismal things looked.

Congratulations to all those athletes that raced in Challenge Penticton, Ironman Canada, and Ironman Louisville; whether you achieved your goals and dreams, or just stuck it through and suffered to the end, you are all champions. Special mention to absolute rock star Jeff Symonds of Penticton, who smashed the Challenge Penticton race from start to finish, winning the inaugural race in front of his home town crowd, in typical ‘Gettin Ugly’ fashion. Also, big thanks to the Bike Barn for keeping me rolling all day, they did everything they possibly could!

Happy training and racing everyone, be safe out there!


The poor little fella has no idea what’s coming….

Challenge Penticton: T-2 Days to Kick-Off

Sitting here in OK Falls, legs up, relaxing as hard as I possibly can before the inaugural Challenge Penticton, I find myself energized and compelled to share some thoughts in the last few days before the big race. Like most triathletes that are burdened with the AAA+++ type personality (and a little lingering ADHD from my childhood,) I find it bloody hard to sit myself still for any extended period of time. Unfortunately for us, these big iron distance races require us to taper our activities and energy so our minds and bodies can be completely rested and sharp as a katana blade, leaving us with too much time and energy to get ourselves in trouble (otherwise known as the ‘Taper Crazies.’)

Legs up resting and recovering (as well as fending off ‘Taper Crazies’)

For me, this is usually the case; I can never seem to sit still for long, and seem to get in to things that wouldn’t be coach approved. BUT, like last year at Ironman Canada (my first and only iron distance race,) I seem to be more focused than usual, able to relax and keep my feet as high as possible. After a long season of intermittent health complications, coupled with a few good blocks of training consistency, I feel strong and rested for this race. Spending a few weeks of training blocks on the course here in beautiful Penticton this summer has me confident in my ability, with the course imprinted in my brain like a mental map; a feature that allows me to race in a bit of ‘automatic mode,’ reducing the amount of mental processing required while racing, (as I don’t have to think about what is coming next on the course,) leaving more room to think about my current condition out there, such as “how do I feel? How is my stomach? Am I thirsty or hungry? When did I feed or drink last? How is my power? Who is around me?” etc. It takes a load off the overwhelming amount of stress you put yourself through in an event of this length.

Made it to page 3 of the Penticton Herald with hometown hero and Powerbar Team Elite Teammate Jeff Symonds.

With this instilled confidence, and keeping my motivational factors in mind, I’m ready to roll for sunday. The weather looks reasonably decent, albeit much cooler than I would prefer, with some cloudy periods and temperatures ranging from 14C-26C. Personally I like it hot as Hades, but have found this year I’m able to perform in cooler temps as well. The swim looks like it’s a 50/50 chance of being no wetsuits for the pros, as it was 23C on wednesday. The temperature cut-offs are 22C for the pros, 24C for the age groupers. It’s been cooler the last few days so I’m hoping it gets one degree cooler. If not, no worries, as I have my fantastic Nineteen Rogue SS speed suit (although it’s undecided whether we’ll be able to wear them for the swim.) If no speed suits allowed, my Champion System suit has a drawstring and will work great for the swim.

LOOK! They gave me a CAR!!!

Driving my ‘new’ car in the wednesday parade

Being the first North American Challenge Series race, Challenge Penticton has been doing it RIGHT so far. I’m impressed by the amount of activities and events they are putting on for the athletes and the community, encouraging participation by everyone (including events for the kids!!) The local community makes a world-class race what they are, and Penticton is no different. Everything from the ‘Official Athlete Lounge’ at Brodo Kitchen (that uses as much locally sourced ingredients as possible,) to the contents of the pro SWAG bag (Stuff-We-All-Get; bottles of wine sourced locally from ‘Therapy Wine,’ local honey, and more.) They also encourage athletes to visit local shops and partake in local activities, as well as including local businesses in the expo and promotional flyers. It’s really a win-win for the athletes and community, the way that Challenge has made all their series world class events (and a reason why this event will have 60,000+ spectators!)

Just some contents of the Pro SWAG bag. Excellent local offerings!

I want to express wishes of luck and throw all my best vibes of excellence to everyone racing on sunday in the inaugural Challenge Penticton, as well as ALL my friends and teammates who are racing Ironman Canada in Whistler; I hope everyone has the best day possible, and has more fun than they thought was possible (people still think I’m crazy when I describe and iron distance race as ‘fun.’) Kick some butt, achieve some dreams, and keep in mind that we love doing this, no matter how much it hurts on race day.

To those who want to virtually follow the race, you have a few options:

– use the Challenge Family iPhone/iPod/iPad app:

– check out the Challenge Penticton website for LIVE updates on race day:

Team Ossenbrink presents from coaches Björn and Stephanie!

You know you love the pain; once you realize that it’s going to hurt and you embrace the suck, you will perform your best and enjoy the pain. Happy training and racing everyone!!


ps. a massive special THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to all the supporters, spectators, and cheer squads of all the athletes partaking in these events. Without your support during training and racing, this wouldn’t even be CLOSE to the incredibly positive experience it is. The cheering on course means more than most people understand, us athletes appreciate your die-hard drive to motivate out there!!!

Recover, Build, Recover, Repeat

Three weekends in a row of racing might seem like a lot of racing. Well, you heard it here first, it is a BLOODY HELL OF A LOT of racing! Like a few too many nights spent at a stag party in Vegas, it leaves you feeling depleted, sore, and in shambles. BUT, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. This tunnel seemed to be a bit longer than per usual, but it did indeed have an end.

Only two weeks after Lake Stevens 70.3, I had a 6 day block of training scheduled in Penticton, on the inaugural Challenge Penticton. I took along my trusty steed, and even trustier (look it up) partner in crime, Jenn. It was a fantastic week, including almost 700km’s of riding on the Challenge Penticton course over 4 days, including an incredibly solid solo ride on the course on the last day of camp. Olly Piggin, a friend of mine who lives in Penticton, has a Kiwi professional staying with him for Challenge Penticton, previous Challenge Wanaka Champion Jamie Whyte. We hit the course in the middle of the camp, riding start to finish with a double-take of Yellow Lake (memorable quote as we turned around on the top of Yellow lake to head back down, “from here on out it’s all excellence.”)

All I could think of was Trevor Wurtele’s latest race report video, with a lot of discussion about “pissing excellence.” I was hoping that if I rode Yellow Lake enough times that maybe I, too, could piss a rainbow of excellence.

I’m still waiting.

Trev’s Calgary 70.3 Race Report on pissing excellence

In addition to partaking in some excellence that day, we also got to watch the Ultraman Canada athletes climbing up Yellow Lake in the opposite direction. Ultraman is this crazy double-Ironman distance race over three days, with Penticton hometown favourite David Matheson taking the win AND a new course record (in a time of 21:47:47….that’s 21 HOURS!) I thought the iron distance was tough; these guys and gals take crazy to a whole new level.

Collecting a little bit of salt out there in my new Champion System kit.
Perhaps it was excellence I was sweating?

I was able to get out on the swim course area again, it has to be one of my favourite places to swim. A 4k ass-kicking session (more so mine) with the local crew of Jeff Symonds, Jonathan Caron, Olly Piggin, and Kiwi pro Jamie Whyte, made for one solid morning swim.

A pro swim with Symonds, Piggin, Caron, and Whyte. These fellas can SWIM!

Another incredible confidence building session I had was a 35km run on the Challenge Penticton course; I was rocking my new two-piece race suit from Champion System, and a new set of Pearl Izumi eMotion N1 race flats (from Distance Runwear in Vancouver.) Both were outstandingly comfortable, but the best part was how comfortable and quick I ran the distance, on tired and fatigued legs. The last time I was out on that run course was during last year’s race, and it brings out a lot of positive and strengthening emotions. Maybe there was something in the shoes, maybe something in the legs, but whatever it was I was flying out there. Lets hope I’m saying the same thing after next sunday’s race!

New Pearl Izumi race flats, ready for the marathon course! Comfort AND speed!
Channeled some ‘Team Ossenbrink’ out there

A few days after coming back, I raced in the Kits Challenge, an open water swim race including a 1.5km, 3km, and 6km distance. You wouldn’t need three guesses to figure out I did the only logical option, the 6km. What can I say, I’m a sucker for punishment! With my arms falling off, I went in to the last of four loops and dug myself a nice seat in the pain cave, coming out of the water 3rd male and nearly throwing up. Working on getting myself down to fighting weight, I went ahead and gave myself food poisoning the day before the race. Paring that with a 5.5km swim workout (complete with 3km of band work,) the kind that proves my coach really does love me, makes for a tough race. But I was happy to have the experience, VOWSA always puts on great events.

Took all my remaining effort to hold up that pin. Was bloody heavy!

After all the hard work this season, it’s time yet again for the big taper. This means less training, more time preparing for the big day ahead. I’m happy with the prep so far; I’ve been getting in touch with all my support team and getting last minute things taken care of.

I hope everyone has been having a solid season of training, racing, and absolutely thoroughly enjoying themselves!! Best of luck to everyone racing in the upcoming Challenge Penticton, Ironman Canada, and whatever other trouble you’ve signed yourself up for.

Be safe, and happy training!


About one day’s worth of food during training camp. Epic. Consumption.

The Triple-Decker Clubhouse Sandwich of race weekends: Vancouver Half and Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens Race Reports

Not often I’ve done back-to-back weekends racing. In fact, I’ve only ever done it once before, and that was last year (with these same two races.) They went well, so this year I thought, just for sh*ts and giggles, I’d throw in a third race preceding them. You know how the first went (Squamish report) so here’s a two-for-one of the rest:

Vancouver Half Ironman

This race doubled as the Canadian National LC Championships, and although I was still recovering from illness, I still wanted to perform well. With a few quick guys loading the field, I was ready to give it everything I had.

Elliot out front at the swim start, Can you spot me? (hint: tiger stripes!)


With a 10m, steep hill beach start, we hit the water moving pretty quick, instantly filling my right goggle with water. Not willing to stop, I just closed my eye and kept going. It was, as usual, a battle almost the whole way around the first loop, so instead of stopping to get the water out I kept moving. I figured I could empty the goggle running around the beach buoy. I did, but with my luck the goggle filled up again as I hit the water.


Full steam ahead!


Coming out of the water not far down, I had no idea how my legs would feel on the bike. Coming out of T1, I started to spin it up, and realizing there was some jam there I just thought, “I got nothing to lose here,” and just opened up the throttle. I rode strong and consistent, catching a few guys but not quite making it up to the guys I wanted to, I was happier than the previous race at my power file. Only 1 watt short of my Oliver Half bike, I realized my health was slowly returning.


Hitting the run course in 4th, I just tried to keep moving forward. My running has been rather sub-par the last few months, so I just did everything I could. On a different day I might have been able to go faster, but I gave a good effort. I thought I’d use my short course race flats out there, and they were brilliant. For the first 12km. Then I started to get a nice little foot rub going, and by the end the bottom of my big toe was completely blistered. A 1:18 run was enough to keep me 3rd in the pro field, and I was happy knowing that first and second went to Andrew Russell and Chris Boudreaux, two experienced and bloody quick pros.

Pretty happy to be done!

My new Champion System kit and Gray Cycling Wheels made their debut in Vancouver, and they were both stunning. The kit fit absolutely perfect, and the wheels rode smooth and stable. The focus now became on recovering for Lake Stevens 70.3. I had no idea what to expect.

Gracing the bottom step with Chris and Andrew

Lake Stevens 70.3

Coming back to Lake Stevens for the 4th time, I feel like I needed to have a good race. Yet to have a full race that I was happy with, I thought maybe this would be my year. One of my favourite parts of racing is meeting and staying with homestays; they add a whole new level to the experience. No hotels, no restaurant meals, just a like-minded bunch that open their homes to us athletes, always smiling and offering help. The generosity of homestays continues to boggle my mind, I’m always so blessed to find the best of the best, and for Lake Stevens I’ve always stayed with Mary and Eric Gandee, both emergency service workers and triathletes! How great is that?!?

A foggy swim start. Can YOU see any buoys?


Toeing the start line a little unsure of how my third race weekend in a row would go, Björn and I just set out a game plan to see what my body had in it. The swim course has a convenient cable that runs along the ENTIRE course, making sighting virtually unnecessary (thank God, because it was so bloody foggy you couldn’t even SEE the next buoy!) It started with a bang, and I was pretty happy to stay on Elliot’s feet for a few hundred meters. As the line of swimmers converged along the cable, it started to break apart into packs. I ended up pulling a few guys through the course, which although not the most energy conserving of tactics, a clear swim makes for less of a ‘Battle Royale’ than usual. Coming out of the water somewhere in the top 15, I knew it was time to really go to work.

The Nineteen Rogue never lets me down


Keeping it loose on the bike

My bike seems to be coming along fairly well these days, and our plan involved seeing what I could really do over the course of 56 miles. I had a super fast T1, and came out in front of a few guys. After a fairly smooth, crashless flying-mount (the process of running and mounting the bike without stopping, an example HERE,) it was time to get to work. Pulling away from most of the guys, I just put my head down and started to go. The legs were feeling great, the weather was slightly cool, and I was going all gang-buster on the cranks. After about 20mins, the guy who had been behind me came by on a hill, and I got a look at his number.


“Holy JESUS” I thought, “it’s Chris FREAKIN Legh!!!” (an absolute legend!) Staying in contact with Chris, I decided around the 30min mark to start and push the pace. We continued to keep each other motivated, taking turns setting the pace. I felt like Pac Man after eating a power pellet, chasing down the ghosts to some 16bit music and gobbling them up, shooting them out the back. Eventually we came to Chris Bagg, and he joined in on our rolling party. Nearing the end of the bike, I thought it would be fun to ride outside my skin and try to open a bit of a gap. Really, what did I have to lose? I managed to get a few more seconds out front, and that had me pretty happy. This was the first race in my career that I was actually sad to be getting off the bike, I felt incredible out there. My wattage actually increased over the second half of the bike considerably, with a mean split of 306 watts, putting me in 8th place with the 5th fastest bike split.

After going gang-busters on the bike

Not bad for a buck fifty soaking wet.


Björn and I knew my run has not been my strong point lately, so I went out on the run course knowing it was going to be a battle for survival. Sometimes, in retrospect, we can easily criticize ourselves, being overly critical on our performance. Looking back, I feel that I raced the first half of the run weak, giving a second-rate effort. But the second half, after a decent portion of the field passed me by, I started to dig. The legs just didn’t have a run in them this day, and I put myself into the pain cave pretty deep. My legs were hurting bad by the end, a good indicator that I really did give all I had left. Apparently, three weekends in a row can take a bit out of you?

Finishing in one piece

The most epic part of the race was going out for the second half of the first run loop, only to see Craig Alexander and Luke Bell running shoulder to shoulder, with my teammate Elliot Holtham right on their heels. I couldn’t help but explode with cheers and encouragement!!! He was running like a rockstar, right with them from the start until about 9km into the run. Elliot ended up a fairly close third place overall, a brilliant performance that the whole team is proud of him for, and there was nothing more amazing than having front row seats to witness.

That’s my Boy, Blue!

I was incredibly happy with my race up until the run, performing on the bike like I didn’t know I could, and ending up the 14th pro with a new PB on the Lake Stevens course. I can say that I walked away

with an incredible learning experience, not just about myself but also race strategy, and most importantly with a big smile on my face. I still love this sport as much as the day I did my first race, and knowing it’s a long process keeps me positive and looking forward to the challenges of each new day. It’s great to see such a big improvement on my bike this year, after a winter/spring of heavy bike work.

Hard work paying off.

Fully recovered and sitting here at my training camp in Penticton, I’m training on the Challenge Penticton course (that’s only just 3 weeks away now!!!) Time to go hit the bike, happy training everyone!!!

Be safe,
Nathan Killam