The First of (Hopefully) Many…..Oliver Half Ironman Race Report

Swim: 28:42
Bike: 2:18:01
Run: 1:25:49
Total Time: 4:16:31

1st Overall

A few weeks ago I contacted Joe Dixon of Outback Events, interested and excited to go back to one of the races that started it all: the Oliver Half Ironman. It was the first big triathlon I ever did, which I did in 2008 and 2009 (with a 4:53 and 4:27 respectively.) I decided to do Oliver again as Challenge Penticton is one of my most important races this season, so racing in the same area in potentially similar conditions would be of benefit. The weeks leading up to the race I was excited, but didn’t really have the same kind of focus as I usually do. I also wasn’t quite sure who all would be racing, but I had a pretty good idea from some Twitter banter who might be there. I was pleasantly surprised to see Tom Evans racking his bike, and was incredibly excited to be racing with legendary professional cyclist Axel Merckx (who has ridden in the Tour de France 8 times.) I knew it would be a lot of fun, with Jonathan Caron including some great warmup banter on race morning.

I had the pleasure of yet again staying in Mark Shorter’s Penticton condo, who has been incredibly accommodating every time I head to Penticton and need a place to stay. I slept well the night before, getting to bed early and snagging a solid 7.5hrs of sleep (which is more than I usually get.) I was oddly relaxed, and was overcome by a strange amount of focus. The weather forecast was worse than the emotional roller coaster of a teenage girl, changing almost hourly the days before the race. I had no idea what was coming, but I knew it would at LEAST be fairly warm.

Chilling at the start.

Leaving Penticton for Oliver early, the first thing I noticed was the wind. It was 4:45am, and it was WINDY as heck already. Everything went smoothly to get me lake side; as I stood at waters-edge bantering and heckling with Tom, Jonathan and Axel, I knew what had to be done. The gun went off, and it was instantaneous mayhem. But unlike the usual never-ending washing machine, I managed to break free of the washing machine within 30-40 seconds, swimming alongside Tom and Jonathan. They slowly pulled away over the course of the swim, but I still felt strong and smooth the entire way. The first few hundred meters all I could think was “who the HELL is cruising a boat in front of us?!?!?” There seemed to be this massive chop smashing me in the face as I sighted, and it took a bit to realize it was actually the wind! I knew the bike was going to get a little more exciting than anticipated. I came out of the water alone in third, about 2 minutes down from Tom and less from Jonathan. I got my hustle on to get to T1, which was an 800m run from the lake (no exaggeration either!)


In my new Nineteen Rogue Wetsuit

One of my weaknesses last year was my bike; comparatively speaking, in relation to some of the big pro fields I’ve raced in, the bike is where I usually lose the most time. I’ve been working hard on my bike power, and Björn and I decided it would be a good race to push as hard as possible on the bike. I’m talking tear-your-legs-off, invert-yourself effort. I knew Axel was somewhere behind me, and with two guys to try and catch, I pretty much pinned it from the get-go.

Full Gas, as Jesse would say.

On a mission from the start

I could see Jonathan ahead of me, so I started to push some solid watts chasing. With well over 300 watts bouncing around on the screen, I quickly caught Jonathan, and set my sights on Tom. By halfway through the lap I had caught Tom, and managed to put a small gap on him. But when I got back on the highway, into the headwinds, it was like getting slammed in the face by a wall. The winds were high by then, and Tom managed to pull back up. I decided I would just bury myself into the headwinds, knowing Axel was coming. He eventually caught me in the second loop, coming by with a purpose. I turned it up a bit but it was all I could do to watch him drift away. Coming in to T2, I could see Axel just leaving transition out for the run. Tom and I came in together, swapping our bikes for some runners, and collectively agreed that I did one piss-poor job of keeping up with Axel.

I’ll never forget last year when I came in to T2 at a race, after a rather demoralizing and crushing bike, and Björn was standing there and said one short sentence: “time to do what you do best.” That’s all I could think about when I headed out for the run.

No matter how painful, ALWAYS time to hang loose.

I caught Axel inside the first 1500m, and maintained the lead all the way through. My goal the last few months has been to try and really increase my bike power, and the resulting weight gain (from eating a little bit extra) has had my run legs evading me. Coming in to the race without as much run speed, I just went for it right off the bat. I put myself in the pain cave in the later stages of the run, feeling pretty rough and the wind not doing me any favours. Throughout the whole race all I could think was “push harder, push harder, go go go,” along with the usual voice in my head of Björn yelling “UP UP UP!!!!”  With a couple hundred meters to go, still pushing hard, a guy came up to me on a bike and said “the guy behind you is WAAAY back there, you could probably slow down a little and enjoy the finish a bit more.” I couldn’t help but smile and dial it down a bit, and ran it home with a huge smile on my face.

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It was an amazing feeling to win my first half ironman. I have to give monster thanks to all my support team and network, I’ve had so many people help me that there’s not enough space on this page to list everyone. Björn and my Team have gotten me ready for this, and I hope to do them proud with more solid results this season. I held more watts on the bike than I’ve ever held during ANY distance triathlon (including olympics,) averaging almost 300 watts. At my fighting weight, that’s a huge improvement from last year, and a confidence boost for the year to come. One of the best parts of the day was running in to so many friends I haven’t seen in a while, and a highlight of my career so far is definitely racing Axel Merckx! I mean, who gets to say they raced Axel Merckx?!?!? Talking with Axel at the finish line, it seems he’s already retiring from triathlon. Apparently it’s too hard.

Because, as we all know, the Tour de France is just a stroll in the park.

The legend, Axel Merckx

Next on the block is the Wine Capital of Canada Triathlon (olympic distance) on June 16th, followed by a two week training block in Penticton.

Happy training everyone, stay safe and enjoy the sun!


3 thoughts on “The First of (Hopefully) Many…..Oliver Half Ironman Race Report”

  1. Great write-up Nathan, thanks for sharing. I’ve opted out of the Oliver Half for the last few years, but I think it’s time to give it another go in 2013, your report got me all fired up! Congrats on your first Half Iron victory!

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