Ultra520kCanada Day 1, Race Re-Cap, 8:02:50
The journey to the start line of Ultra520kCanada had pushed me to the brink. Somehow I had balanced twenty-five hour training weeks, writing a memoir, and a part-time job. In the past year both the physical and emotional stress had reached new pinnacles. Often, for self perseveration, I had to suppress the emotional stress. I had too much going on, and at times, I hated training. I wanted the race to be over so I could address the issues and pain percolating in my life. And so it was, that I stood at the start line of Ultra520kCanada feeling excited, yet mostly relieved.
I waded into cool waters of Skaha Lake. Each of the thirty-two athletes stood with a kayaker who would guide them ten kilometres across the lake. Despite the challenge of getting to this point, I was ready—I had this.
The horn sounded and the race official started.
Keeping my kayaker on my right, I quickly settled into a rhythm. My coach, Chris Hauth, said to push the envelope on the swim then back off on the bike. Chris assured me that I was fitter than the course. Well, there was only one way to find out.
My world shrunk. I stared back and forth between the murky water and the yellow kayak; a thousand times over, and thousand times again, my hands scooped the water as I glided forward. I felt strong. Then the head games started.
What felt like every ten minutes, I wanted to stop, look at my watch, and eat. And what felt like every ten minutes, I denied this request. Each time I wanted to stop, I told myself that I would stop next time. Next time arrived and again, I said I would stop next time—always next time. I listened to my body: I felt nutritionally solid and therefore I knew any desire to stop was not for food, but because swimming was damn hard.
I continued to swim with ferocity. Finally I decided to stop and eat—after all, I still had a 150 kilometre bike ride to do. I looked at my watch and saw that I had swam 4,600 metres in one hour and twenty-two minutes. I was thrilled to be almost halfway. I took on nutrition before returning to my rhythm.
In the months leading up to the race I had hated swim workouts; I was sick of seeing 100’s FAST. Yet as my blistering pace continued, I understood that those stupid 100’s had been worth it.
I rounded the final buoy and saw the swim exit. Every bit of frustration I had felt during swim workouts went into those final few hundred metres. This was it. As soon as I exited the water I never had to swim again.
I reached shallow water and stood, which was a challenge after lying flat for three hours and eleven minutes. I thanked my paddler and wobbled to transition.
With my mom’s help, I removed my wetsuit, put on my cycling gear, and walked to the mount line where my brother DJ was waiting with my bike. I thanked them both and headed out for the highway.
Twenty minutes later my mom and DJ zoomed by then pulled over at the side of the road. They got out of the car and walked in opposite directions. As I rode by they each held a water bottle for me to grab. At forty kilometres an hour I passed DJ, grabbed the water bottle, then heard the distance thud of said water bottle hitting the pavement. Seconds later I reached my mom, and again, I dropped the water bottle.
Five minutes later we tried again. And again I dropped both water bottles. I was getting low on nutrition. I approached them for a third time, slowed, and successfully grabbed two full bottles.
Swimming and eating was a chore, whereas cycling and eating was pleasurable. I pounded the fluids; I devoured medjool dates like they were going out of style. I was not just eating for today but for tomorrow as well.
As I found my rhythm I calculated my place in the race. I had been ninth out of the water and had passed one person in transition. Eighth place was tenuous; in all likelihood I would be passed by the stronger cyclists. Yet shortly into the ride, I approached another racer. Surprised, I moved into seventh.
I entered Osoyoos, turned right, and headed for Ritcher Pass. Up ahead I saw other crew vehicles and other racers. I kept the perceived effort easy; this was day one of three, and as a first time participant, conservation of energy was key.
By the the top of the pass I was into sixth. At halfway I moved into fifth.
After 100 kilometres of cycling the pad that supported my right arm snapped. Thankfully, I grabbed the pad without dropping it. The ride was going well and I was in a good position. I did not want to stop to fix the broken pad; I wanted to maintain my gap on those behind me. I had less than two hours of racing left. I decided to gut it out. I rode with my right arm three centimetres lower then the left; my right arm dug into the stiff carbon bar.
On the second climb of the day I moved into fourth. It was too good to be true; surely someone would catch me. I knew fourth was as high as I would get: the three racers ahead of me were elites, each with low nine hour Ironmans to their credit.
The final five kilometres to the finish in Okanagan Falls were downhill and technical. After years of racing on both track and road, I knew I could go downhill better than most, and I did. I bombed around corners at 70 kilometres an hour all the while remaining tucked in my lopsided aero bars.
I descended into Okanagan Falls, hung two lefts in short succession, and then I saw the finish line. I heard Steve King, the announcer, say something about fourth place. I crossed the finish line in eight hours, two minutes, and fifty seconds. I was stunned. I was nearly thirty minutes ahead of my projected finish time and I had managed to get fourth. And considering the level the first three guys were at, I felt like I had won.
I rode my bike around circles as I waited for my crew to arrive, all the while in disbelief.