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August 30, 1998
2.4mile swim, 112mile bike, 26.2mile run
Penticton, British Columbia

The veterans of Ironman Canada would eventually concede that this year’s race was the toughest ever. It may have been hotter in 1996 and windier in other years but this is the first year that both heat (temperatures approached 37C) and wind would both play a factor. This was evidenced by the number of DNF’s - a record 250 people dropped out - and the slower times: In 1997 there were 103 finishers under 10 hours and in 1998 there were only 23.

But none of this mattered to me, as this was my first attempt at the Ironman distance and I was approaching the race with the attitude that "Ignorance is Bliss". Not that I didn’t prepare fully for the task at hand - I drove the course twice and rode some of the hills before race day - but I didn’t have to fight thoughts like, "Wow, this is much tougher than last year." In the end, I think that was to my benefit.

During race week the weather was beautiful - as is typical for the Okanagan Valley. With only 2.4mm of rain for the entire month of August, I was willing to bet that race day would be dry. And I was right. As well, the winds were calm at 7:00am for race start, leaving the lake smooth as glass.

If you haven’t seen a mass start of over 1700 triathletes before, it is certainly something to behold. It was best seen in the photo I got from the helicopter, though, as my view was that of feet and black neoprene. Overall, the swim wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I think I seeded myself properly, and I was able to deal with the rough-housing in the first few hundred metres. But I never really swam alone, as there always seemed to be plenty of company in my neighbourhood. I emerged from the water in 1:03:58, right about where I expected. That put me in 447th place overall - plenty of people to hunt down on the bike.

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Swim Start
(full size)

Transition went well. I had my cycling jersey on under my wetsuit so once the volunteers stripped off my wetsuit, I was pretty much dressed. If you’re unfamiliar with the ‘strippers’ at Ironman Canada, they are volunteers who literally order you onto the ground and whip off your wetsuit in the blink of an eye. It’s really quite humorous when viewed on a large scale. So on with the shoes, fill my pockets with food and strap on my helmet as I run for my bike. Luckily I’d mapped things out well in advance, because locating one bike in that huge parking lot would have been an all day endeavor otherwise. Onto the bike and off I went...

The early part of the bike is really nice. Apart from one tough climb on Maclean Creek Road - designed to break-up the packs that form early on - it’s smooth sailing for the first 64km. We had a slight tailwind, too, which made for a fast first leg. I recognized the entire route as I had driven it a couple times in the preceding day but on my bike, I was able to enjoy the smell of the apple orchards as we rode by. But all that quickly came to an end at 64km when the course turned onto the first climb up Richter Pass. We realized that the wind had in fact been at our backs and now it was going to get difficult. The climb to Richter Pass is an 11km climb ranging in grade from 6-8%. Nothing killer, but long. Time to sit, spin, and try to conserve energy. Once you crest the top, though, the real ‘fun’ begins because the downhill is scary fast. Fast for some, at least, because I am the wimpiest descender and with the wicked crosswinds wrecking havoc with my deep rimmed wheels, I wasn’t taking any chances. Hands on the brakes, use ‘em whenever I need ‘em. From here on in, the bike is mainly long rolling hills and headwinds until we passed Yellow Lake, at which point it’s a long descent into town. Early in the bike I noticed that I forgot to transfer my PR Bar into my jersey pocket so I was a little bit worried about not getting enough to eat. I had an extra one waiting in my special needs bag (which we pick up at about 120k) so I figured I’d go with gels and my Endura Optimizer until then. As it turns out, I didn’t eat the spare bar and ended up doing the entire race without eating any solid food! Maybe I got lucky, but it worked for me. Anyway, as we approached the second major climb at Yellow Lake (at about 140k) someone told me that I was 198th overall - not bad considering where I exited the water. I don’t know who this guy was or why he took it upon himself to count cyclists, but I assumed he wasn’t making this up and I was thankful for the info.

As we finished the descent and rolled through town I was starting to look forward to running. Anything would be better than riding that saddle any further. Transition was quick - I guess. A volunteer cleaned up my stuff, I made a quick pit stop in the Porta-Potty and I was off…..

I felt really good early in the run. Leg turn-over was smooth and even the slight uphill grade out of town wasn’t too tough. I knew that the course was flat until the 9 mile mark at which point the rolling hills began. The course is out and back, and some of the downhills on the way out were about a mile long which meant the return trip was going to be tougher. I felt really good to the turn around and even during the return trip through the hills. It wasn’t until the course flattened out that I began to tire a bit. I had passed a lot of people on the run, and with 7 miles to go there weren’t many ‘carrots’ left in front of me. I managed to make it back into town - three miles left - and then at least there were some people to cheer us on. I saw Cowman (an ultradistance icon who races in a Viking-style hat) just heading out on the run - how he runs with that horned hat of his in the heat, I’ll never understand - glad I wasn’t in his shoes. The last mile of the run is downhill, in the shade, along main street, through the centre of town and the streets are lined with crowds. Need I say more? About the time I could see the Lakeside Resort - the cue that you’re almost home - I started to hear Steve King cheering people across the finish line. The course finishes with a sharp turn to the left and then 100m through cheering fans. Turning that corner and seeing the finish line is one of the best feelings in the world of triathlon. Finally, I could stop running! I crossed the line in 10:42:18 and 107th place overall (22 out of 191 in my age group). I didn’t pass 91 people on the run, but a number dropped out so that’s how I moved up so far.

Final Splits:

Overall, Ironman Canada was truly one of the athletic highlights of my life. I was able to share it with my wife, my parents and my wife’s parents. And the next day another dream came true as I claimed a roll down spot for the Hawaii Ironman. Only 5 weeks from Ironman Canada, that’s not a lot of time for recovery or training but I’ll be there for sure on the starting line in Kona on October 3rd . Aloha!

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