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A Look Back at Ultraman Canada 2011

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On February 1, 2012 invitations were emailed out to 35 out of 75 applicants for this year’s addition of Ultraman Canada, which takes place the first weekend of August in Penticton, British Columbia.

Ultraman is a three-day, 320-mile triathlon that offers no prize money, little media coverage, and no podium. Each athlete, first place to last place is treated the same. Just finishing in Canada qualifies the athlete for a shot at the World Ultraman Championship in Hawaii.

In 2002, I was in Penticton for the 20th Anniversary of Ironman Canada. Dave Scott (six time Ironman World Champion) was giving a presentation and someone asked him if he had ever considered doing Ultraman. Dave Scott answered with, “I like to finish before dinner.”

I had heard of Ultraman and knew the distances were extreme, and at the time, agreed with The Man (as Dave Scott is known) that a three-day event covering 320 miles was crazy.

In late 2010- after a 10 Ironman apprenticeship, an “I think I could do that” moment, and methodically building my race resume- I threw my hat in the Ultraman Canada application pool and was accepted.

When my crew and I stepped into the pre-race briefing and NASA astronaut Alvin Drew stood at the front of the room, I had two simultaneous thoughts. Thought number one, I shared with Kelly, one of my crew members, “This thing’s so f*@^ing hard they have to have an astronaut give the pre-race briefing?”  The second thought I had, I kept to myself, but shared with race director Steve Brown later, “Wow, this is something special.” We’d stepped up from AAA ball to the big leagues in terms of race directing.

At the briefing and following day’s breakfast racers and crews were schooled on the three Hawaiian words associated with Ultraman, "aloha" (love), "ohana" (family), and "kokua" (help).

I knew that my crew was going to be important in my three days, and how important those words would become, and what a deeper meaning they would have by the end of the event. My best friends and frequent partners in endurance related shenanigans were there to support me.

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Day One starts with a kayak escorted 10k swim from Penticton to Okanogan Falls. Skaha Lake was smooth as glass. Twenty-nine starters waded in and started swimming. There wasn’t any pushing or kicking or battling for position that is so common during Ironman swim starts. I placed all my trust in my friend Carrington to choose our course, as he paddled by line of sight to a marker buoy neither of us could see. He paddled a razor straight line (his Garmin read 6.24 miles at the end of the swim). He stopped me at pre-determined times to drink and eat. I maintained an even pace for a 6th place swim finish.

The second stage of Day One is a 90-mile bike ride, which takes place on the majority of the Ironman Canada bike course.  By the time I started climbing Richter Pass the temperature had heated up and the wind had started to blow. My carbon tri-bike with Zipp 404’s was like riding a banana peel when motor homes and semi’s passed, and I spent the majority of my time on the rollers between Richter and the Cawston out and back scared to death. I had gained a spot to 5th place out of transition, but was passed on the outskirts of Okanagan Falls, finishing seconds behind 5th place. After finishing, the weirdest thing happened. Race Director Steve Brown came over and gave me a big hug.

Day Two is 171.4 miles from Skaha Lake to Princeton. The course repeats some of the previous day going to Osoyoos and back to Okanagan Falls. At OK, the course turns up a very steep, but not terribly long climb called the wall, and then returns to part of the Ironman course of Yellow Lake and Keremeos (but backwards). I bonked before Yellow Lake, and I struggled to recover all the way to Keremeos. I had given up on trying to figure out what was wrong with me, stopped talking and hoped that my crew could figure out how to bring me back.  Some well-timed ice cream sandwich therapy started to put me back on track nutritionally in time to battle a relentless headwind from Keremeos all the way to Princeton, a distance of about 42 miles.

The fun doesn’t stop when you get to Princeton; the course climbs (still windy) into the mountains for a final out and back. It’s downhill to the finish. At the end of the day I was sitting in 8th place overall.

I rolled up to the van, Carrington pulled out a chair. I was never so happy to sit down. Steve Brown came over and congratulated me and gave me a hug.

Motel rooms for the athlete and crew are provided by Ultraman Canada in Princeton as is dinner and breakfast for Day Three. Dinner went down easily, but in the morning for breakfast I was nauseated, and my quads were so sore I could barely walk.

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Day Three consists of a double marathon that starts several miles outside Princeton and traverses beautiful mountain topography- not that I noticed, because I was in my own private little hell. During a training accident in early May, I had torn my meniscus and cartilage in my left knee. The limited amount of running I could do leading up to Ultraman and my lack of run fitness showed immediately. My plan was to be start slow and be steady, which worked for a while, and then fell apart.

I was mentally crushed at the halfway point when I found out I was second to the last on the run.  Somewhere around 32 miles, my crew chief Rick pointed at the big elephant in the room and told me what I already knew, fifteen minute miles wasn’t going to get me to the next cut time cut off.  Carrington was pacing me, and doing his best to keep me going. After our little motivational moment together, Rick and Kelly drove about 50 yards down the road. I finally vomited up everything in my stomach for that had been sitting for the last few hours. My stomach re-booted, I slowly started to feel better. There was some on the fly nutrition discussion, and we adopted a strategy that we kept for the remainder of the run. I had no further stomach issues.

All the soreness of the previous two days crept up on me with the subtlety of sledgehammer. I finally relented to taking ibuprophen (which can lead to very bad kidney issues if too much is taken during long endurance events). It kicked in just in time, as we crested the last climb.

Carrington and I slowly started to run people down. In the last seven miles, we passed several runners.  My slow and steady approach paid off, just not as quickly as I hoped.

Carrington ran 49 of the 52.4 miles with me. We crossed the finish line together, just before the 11-hour mark, finishing in 12th place overall.

Steve Brown came over and congratulated me, and gave me a big hug.

The true meanings of "aloha", "ohana", and "kokua" became more evident throughout the event, and I was grateful to be surrounded by my friends during Ultraman. I couldn’t have raced without them.

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The following day, an awards banquet was provided for us with a fantastic spread of food. Crews got up to speak during dinner, and then the athletes were called to the podium and presented a trophy and allowed to say a few words.

There’s so much more to say about this event, so many special things that Steve Brown and company put into the Ultraman experience, not only for the athlete, but also for the crew that there’s not enough room to write it all down. I also wouldn’t want to give away any surprises.

Steve Brown and his Ultraman Crew put on a world-class event, and I can’t wait to be a part of it again.