Last month, on July 26th, I raced in my only 2015 iron distance race, at Ironman Canada. It’s a day that I care not to remember, leaving me with a new pain threshold for cold weather; after suffering through hypothermia on the bike, I somehow managed to soldier on and finish the race, 6th overall and top Canadian. When people ask me what it was like out there, I simply tell them this: imagine it’s 8C out, pouring rain harder than you’ve ever seen it (and it rains A LOT in Vancouver,) you’re driving on the highway, sitting on the roof of your car, and you’re naked. Very, very naked. And you’re driving fast.
Not cool. Not cool at all. It even snowed just above Callaghan Valley; a friend of mine who was camping just up from Whistler told me they woke up on the 26th morning to heavy snowfall.
Anywho, as I try to forget those terrifying hours on the bike, I was really stoked to race the half distance at Challenge Penticton. The race directors Mike and Kevin have put together an incredible course, and as half has been my focus this season, I was super pumped. As race day closed in, the men’s pro field grew to end up rather deep, including multiple Ironman and Challenge champions, and even an olympian. Looking for a top 5 finish was a burly goal, but I was ready to take risks and go for it.
Race week was a smokey affair, with the nearby forest fires blanketing Penticton and the Okanagan in heavy smoke. High winds, rain, and cooling temperatures leading into race day cleared it out for us, and we started race day with overcast, but smoke-free skies. I’m not quite sure that I fully recovered from Ironman Canada the month before, as my legs were feeling sore, tight, and heavy the week leading into the race. A little overdone, I was still ready to leave it all out on the course.
I made a good pack for me; not the pack I need to be in, but a good pack based on my past races. Out of the water, I made a few passes coming through T1, and headed out on the bike course confident in my biking ability.
I have been really working on my bike over the last year, and armed with my QR PRsix, Easton Aero55 wheels, and Rotor Q-Rings, I immediately settled into the heavy headwinds. The weather was much colder than I had prepared for (again,) and my legs just felt sapped of power for the first hour on the bike. By the time I made it to Oliver and the big climbs, I was warming up and started to really get into my groove. I committed myself to catching as many guys on the bike as possible, as top 5 would require a fairly epic race from my part. Getting by some incredible athletes such as Jeff Symonds, Guy Crawford, and reeling in Matt Lieto by T2 (made possible by an incredibly hard effort the last 30mins coming back into town,) I knew I had burned some serious matches but was ready to give whatever I had left on the run. Coming into the T2 change tent with Lieto sitting beside me, I was stoked to get onto what would normally be my strongest leg.
Heading out on course only 20m behind Lieto, I ran up to him by the time we hit the Sycamous Paddle Wheeler, 1km into the run. As I gave him a little howdy-do, I got a “NO TALKING, THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS!” Seriously confused, I got a “just kidding,” and we figured we could work together to bring back some guys ahead. My legs were feeling terrible, but we pushed ourselves through the first 8km, ensuring we looked ‘terrible’ as we passed the guys ahead, and looked ‘awesome’ passing the guys behind. We weren’t that far ahead, so we pushed on. Jeff Symonds caught us about 7km into the run, and after some yelling about being the ugliest person we’ve ever seen, he was gone. There was no hanging on to Jeff; he posted the fastest run of the day at 1:13, and got ugly as hell in the process.
As we continued down Main St together, taking turns running into the headwind, I was delighted to receive continual cheering from spectators and athletes (coming in off the bike,) which was a really special part of racing close to home. Lieto proclaimed his disappointment to not receiving any cheers, and some amazing spectators gave him a few too. I even gave him a few cheers, as we needed to push hard to catch anyone ahead, as well as try to hold off the charging athletes behind. As we approached the turnaround at Skaha Lake, Matt let me know we were running a pretty shitty pace. As we turned around, we got a nice little tail wind and I decided we needed to turn it up if we stood any chance of getting back in the race.
By 16km, after a good 15km of literal ‘running commentary’ with Matt, I started to pull away slowly, and committed to running down 6th place. I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. Some of my fastest km’s were the last few. As I came into downtown, Scott Defilippis had reeled me in and made the pass (again, almost the same spot as he caught me last year at Challenge Penticton.) I continued to push, coming into the last km within spitting distance of 7th. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the wheels to run him down, and finished a mere 5 seconds behind him.
I didn’t have the wheels on the run as I had expected; a little overdone coming into the race, I had expected a 1:16-1:18 run, but a 1:21 was all I could muster that day. I am proud of my effort, I left everything out there that day, taking risks to try and make a top 5, but failing to make the result I had hoped for. 8th place in 4:04 on a tough course was a good effort.
Challenge Penticton was the last big race of the season for me. I decided to have a shorter season this year, as there are a lot of big events going on this fall that need some personal effort from myself, and I’ve achieved the short term goals this season that I laid out for myself. 4 big International races: all top 10 (including my first big podium at Challenge San Gil,) 3 of the 4 I was the top Canadian, and I didn’t have any big blow-outs or explosions on the race course (i.e. I was consistent.)
Now it’s time to recover, let the body rest, and have some fun in the offseason with cyclocross, the beer mile (I’m aiming to get into the 5:20’s before next year,) another big move into our new condo, and getting married to an incredible girl that I’ve somehow convinced to ACTUALLY marry me (although we haven’t said “I do” yet, so she still has a chance!) Then it’s a little Christmas Honeymoon to Thailand before I start to ramp it up for the 2016 season. I haven’t decided the exact details of 2016, but my main goal is to race the ITU Long Distance World Championships, representing my country with a solid finish.
I have to give a massive thanks to my parents, fiancee Jenn, and homestay in Penticton; they were amazing and supporting before, during, and after my race. The race organizers did a fantastic job, and I’m really excited to see how their ITU Long Course distance goes next year (3km/120km/30km). It’s sure to be a challenging yet rewarding course.
Lastly, I have to give a shoutout to my entire support team and sponsorship network. You all contributed to the successes of my season in various ways, and give me the ability to continue to race this sport at the professional level! Without you all, you know who you are, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. My deepest gratitude goes out to you!
I hope everyone else has had a great season so far; some of you may be done like me, some may be racing through to Kona World Championships or beyond. Regardless, have a blast doing whatever it is you’re doing, because if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it all wrong!
Have fun and stay safe!