- Day 1: 6.2 mile (10km) swim (Skaha Lake); 90.3 mile mile (145.3 km) bicycle ( ends at Okanagan Falls).
- Day 2: 171.4 mile bike (275.8 km) from Penticton to Osoyoos to Princeton.
- Day 3: 52.4 mile run (84.3km) from Princeton to Summerland.
Each day has a time cutoff of 12 hours…
I first heard about Ultraman when Joan and I were in Penticton for Ironman Canada last August. I had a great time at the race, except for the swim, which I found to be far too crowded. I’m more than capable of handling myself in the crowded water, though I don’t like using my old water polo skills on all those poor triathletes!
I found the Okanagan Valley to be a beautiful place, and I figured there must be another race to go up that way for. When Steve King mentioned Ultraman while talking during the IMC Awards Banquet, I knew it would be a worthy event to come back to British Columbia’s Wine Country for…
Since Ultraman is an invitational event, you have to meet the qualification standard and be selected for the race. The absolute minimum standard is having done an Ironman in under 15 hours. Since I had that covered and then some; I signed up and waited for the email to come accepting me into the race. When that came at the end of February, I was already well into my training for my first ultra-marathon run, the American River 50 Mile Run.
I started training for the UM swim in early January, swimming nearly every weekend at Redwood Shores and swimming in the pool during the week. My swimming came along pretty well, as my distance slowly grew from 2 miles up past 4 and 5 miles for my longest training swims.
During the AR50, I cramped up at mile 18; but hung on to finish the race. But I pulled a muscle in my hip/lower back a few days later. It took quite a while to recover from that enough to get back to cycling and running. But being able to swim, I seriously upped my swimming mileage such that my 100 time dropped to nearly what I was swimming in college. I didn’t have quite the endurance, but was getting there…
My cycling mileages started to come back up after a few weeks off following the AR50. I got to the point where my longest training rides were well over 100 miles, and even doing back to back long rides, with an eye towards also training for the Furnace Creek 508.
The hardest part leading up to Ultraman proved to be in finding crew members for the race. Getting people to take a week off from work is always difficult, but it seemed more so this time. Perhaps because so many of my friends are racing during the summer; none were able to commit to crewing. Fortunately, Steve Brown (race director) was able to secure a couple of local residents from the Penticton area to crew for me during the race.
Joan and I decided early on to drive to Penticton for the race to make the transport of bicycles up there a bit easier. And since we didn’t have to worry about baggage fees, we didn’t have to worry too much about limiting what we brought with us. This certainly made planning a little easier! We just had to make sure that we had all the gear we needed for the race. And fortunately there wasn’t much we forgot in the end.
We began the journey north on Wednesday morning. After stopping at Lee Mitchell’s place to drop off some gear we had borrowed for Race Across The West, we carried on. We drove up Highway 5 and Highway 97 to Yakima, Washington and stayed the night before continuing on the next morning. We rolled into Penticton and headed off to check in and bike inspections. Then we headed off to the first pre-race meeting, where we also met Lisa Baadsvik, my Penticton-local crew person for the bike and run person. It was good to see some old friends from other races: Erin Berensini, who we had met when Joan was preparing for Race Across Oregon in 2009 and has become a good friend (she was a bridesmaid in our wedding) along with her husband Jimmy (and Jimmy’s dad and Erin’s friend Justin from Stanford were also there to support her); and Juan Craveri was there as well, who I had met at the Furnace Creek 508 in 2010 while suffering in the heat around Shoshone early on day two. He’s aiming to be the first person to do all three Ultramans in the same year (Canada, Hawaii and Wales (which is a new event for this year).
We stayed at the same hotel we’d stayed at for Ironman last August, the Coast Hotel. It proved to be just as good as the last time. They have super-comfy beds, which is always good before/after races! Unfortunately, there water slide was closed this time around, but I guess that’s just the way it goes.
On Friday morning, we headed off for the pre-race breakfast and event briefing. Here we also got to meet Carol Sheridan, who was to be my support kayaker for the swim. It seemed that both of these locals had the humor necessary to crew for an ultra-endurance event. Sometimes the crew needs to go crazy to keep the athlete sane. It certainly makes for a more fun experience for everyone if we all have a sense of humor! At the event briefing, we got the pleasure of watching Colonel Alvin Drew give a slideshow about life as a NASA astronaut and spacewalks and such things. It was inspiring to hear about his path to becoming an astronaut. He certainly seemed inspired by what we were going to do!
After the meeting, I went for a brief spin up to Summerland and back to make sure my bike was running smoothly. I rode about 11 miles in 1/2 hour and felt really good. Then we headed off to the swim course presentation and to the lake to check out the sight lines for the swim and check out the water. The water was absolutely perfect for a long swim. This whole thing was looking to be a fun experience!
We went to The Pasta Factory for our pre-race dinner. I had some cajun alfredo pasta and dry rub ribs, which were both excellent. I felt ready to go. Then we headed back to the hotel and I got a good night’s sleep.
When the alarm went off in the morning, we headed down to Skaha Lake Park at the south end of Penticton. Anticipating a 6.2 mile swim is rather daunting when it comes down to having to do it right now. I just decided to adopt the tactic of not really thinking about how far I had left, just to keep swimming and trust that Carol would get me where I was supposed to go in the straightest path.
I’d had a muffin, a bear claw, a cookie and coffee for breakfast. My plan was to stop every half hour to eat and drink during the swim. Carol would have to signal me when it was time. It’s very important in events like this to keep the hydration and calories coming in.
After the opening ceremony official pictures and last goodbyes for a few hours to Joan, I got into the water and we all gathered for the start. The start line was a line of buoys that marks the outside end of the protected swimming zone for regular beach-goers. At 6:44, Alvin Drew gave the notice that we were a go for liftoff. And he did the final countdown to the start (of course) as if announcing the launch of a space shuttle.
When go time came, I settled into a steady pace. After finding Carol in the kayak, I let her guide me out into the lake and towards Ponderosa Point where the first course marker was (a full 8km into the swim!). About 25 minutes into the swim, I began to get the first rumblings in my stomach signifying that something wasn’t quite right. I kept swimming, trying to maintain my pace and not let it affect me. Every half hour, Carol would signal me to stop and I’d take in water and Perpetuem and later on some solid foods.
A little past an hour into the swim, I realized that there was absolutely no way that I could make it to the outhouse at the transition area. I knew that one way or another, I was going to have to go. I figured that in the grand scheme of things, going in my wetsuit was not really any worse than peeing in the wetsuit (which as all triathlete and surfers know is no big deal). I decided that having it on the outside would be preferable to having my stomach cramping severely. So I went. I don’t think I even broke my stroke to do it, and I felt a little better. But something really screwed up my system that morning. And it plagued me for the rest of the day.
Having an upset stomach certainly slowed me down in the swim. I’d been aiming for a sub-4 hour swim, and came close despite the problems. I thoroughly enjoyed swimming across most of Skaha Lake. You really can’t ask for a nicer place to do a 10km swim! One thing is that my swim stroke severely falls apart after about 4.5 miles. I’ll want to work on that before I do my next really long open water swim. But overall, my swim went well. And I would like to thank Carol for getting me through it, though she didn’t know about the problems I was having. When I came to the end, I insisted on taking my wetsuit off in the water, even though it cost me a couple of minutes tacked on to the swim time. I was just trying to clean myself off a bit before getting into my bike clothes.
Then I had to get out and get onto my bike for the 90.3 bike ride. My stomach was still bothering me, but I got changed and onto the bike. We headed south along Skaha Lake and then through Okanagan Falls and south to Osoyoos. Passing through countless apple and cherry orchards, I headed towards Richter Pass. Joan got me some Immodium at the Husky Station before the turn to go up Richter Pass. I used the toilet there and began to feel a bit better. The long climb up Richter was made a little worse by the heat. It topped out around 89 degrees that day. I was suffering from the stomach problems and the heat. But I managed to carry on.
Near the top of Richter Pass, someone’s crew offered me some watermelon; which really helped to lift my spirits and settle my stomach. My crew was also certainly lifting my spirits. Joan and Lisa both made great cheerleaders while I was suffering out there. Little did I know that they were scheming about better ways to lift my spirits for the following day!
Along the rollers past Richter Pass, I was beginning to feel a little better. Coming into Keremeos, the course went out for a very similar out and back course as that in Ironman Canada. I enjoyed riding through the farmland of the area, and the final flat sections before heading up the climb to Yellow Lake. That climb was much harder than I recalled from the previous year. But I’d also done a lot more swimming before setting off on the bike portion this time around. When I finally got to Yellow Lake, I really enjoyed the final downhill run into Okanagan Falls and the finish line. My total elapsed time for Day One was 10:26:35.
I got my post-race massage and we dropped Lisa off and grabbed dinner on the way back to the hotel. Then I settled in for a good night sleep, hopefully to put the stomach problems of the day behind me. When I woke up in the morning I felt outstanding, like I could ride 171 miles. Which was good since that’s what I needed to do…
The start for the day was at the Marina next to Skaha Lake Park. From there, we rode south along Skaha Lake and out towards Osoyoos. The whole way south, I was feeling great and maintaining a pretty solid pace. I cruised along, enjoying the scenery and the company of the fine people that are drawn towards these sorts of events. The crews and the other races are all super supportive and encouraging, which adds to the allure of doing these events. Suffering is so much better with company, but made even better by good company.
Joan and Lisa were there to feed me and hydrate me every 5-10 minutes, and to help encourage me and the other racers. They even picked up some Timbits (Tim Horton’s take on donut holes) for me in Osoyoos to help feed me. These are the among the easiest real foods to handoff while riding. They taste great too!
From the turnaround in Osoyoos, we headed back north to Okanagan Falls. From there, we headed up The Wall and out towards Yellow Lake. The Wall is a beautiful little 1.5 or so mile climb. The steepest part (as it should be) is at the top. At the top of the climb, Steve King was giving a running commentary over a PA system. Apparently, I was in 7th place on the day at that point. I guess I was having a pretty good start to day two…
Out towards Yellow Lake, the course passed through some beautiful country. The hills west of Penticton are certainly a beautiful place to ride. And you get to see much more of it in Ultraman than you get to in Ironman. From Yellow Lake, it’s a fast descent down into Keremeos and north along Highway 3. After the fast downhill, the road follows the Similkameen River north to Princeton. In this section a headwind started to blow, and seemed to get stronger as I rode to the north.
A few people started to pass me, and I admit that the headwind was getting me down a bit. It seemed to take ages to get through to Princeton, but when I started to get close, the wind finally subsided. I came through Princeton a bit under an hour ahead of the 3:00pm cutoff. I headed up the final climb, and began to get my spirits back. The closer I got to the turnaround, the better I began to feel. I knew there was a long descent to the finish line, and I was anxious to get to that. I had to save some energy, and didn’t push too hard on this stretch since I knew I had to run a double marathon the next day. Imagine having that hanging over your head while doing a long bike ride! Somewhere in here, Lisa broke out her cow costume, which certainly helped to enliven my spirits and the spirits of the other competitors and crews around me. Clearly, she was enjoying herself. It would have been rough going without her and Joan out there supporting me.
After the turnaround, I bombed back down the hill towards Princeton, thoroughly enjoying the descent. I began to realize that I was going to come in faster than 11 hours, and I kept pushing as hard as I could. Coming over the final little hill, I could see the finish line. I sprinted for the line, crossing with a finish time of 10:54:10 (average 15.7 MPH). I finished up my Subway sandwich, some Dill Pickle Potato Chips and an orange soda. It was a good feeling to be down to the last event. I had a massage and then we headed off to the hotel. After showering and foam rolling a bit, we headed off to dinner. We helped another couple of competitors (Wayne and Charlie Llewelling) celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary with some cake after dinner. An Ultraman is certainly a cool way to celebrate 35 years together!
Getting to sleep that night was surprisingly easy considering what lay ahead of me the following day. I was a little sore and tired from the day’s ride; and just hoping I could survive the run on day three! When I woke up, I was surprised at how light and springy I felt on my feet. I knew it was going to be a good day, or at least that I was going to be able to run.
I had not been able to run much in the months leading up to Ultraman. Since running the American River 50 in early April, my longest run had been 11 1/8 miles a few weeks prior to UMC (and part of my 6 day brick workout including over 300 miles of cycling and 6.7 miles of swimming). After waking up and getting ready, we went off to breakfast. I ate and got myself mentally ready to run. We chatted with others about what lay ahead. Everyone seemed a little overwhelmed by what was to come. But everyone seemed in the proper mindset to do it.
We drove out to the start line and the anticipation built to the start. When the start time came, we started off at a jog, knowing full well what it would take to finish this run. My philosophy from the start was simply to keep putting one in front of the other and to maintain a decent steady pace for as much of the time as I could. I knew it would become more difficult the further I got into the race. I was feeling really solid well past the first half marathon, which I ran in about 2:20. This was 31 minutes off of my best time, but well inside what I needed to do. I kept the pace going as much as I could. It started to get difficult, and I began to get cranky and demanding out there. I’d never encountered this before, and I suspect it has to do with being pushed to the limits. Fortunately, Joan and Lisa put up with me. They brought out the cow costume, and danced and generally cheered me on.
I hit the marathon mark at 5:01, and onto the gravel section of the road. The hills became steeper, but the varied terrain was easier on my feet than the pavement had been. Of course, my pace was beginning to slow; but I began to see that I was going to make it. That third half marathon was the hardest of the course. The heat of the day, combined with the fact that it was getting harder and harder to eat and drink conspired to make to suffering increase manyfold.
To get myself through it, I began to think about the reasons I do these things. The foremost is for the friendship of other people who do these things. Earlier this year, I met Jim Swarzman while doing the Central Coast 400k Brevet out of Paso Robles. A month or so later, he was struck by a hit and run driver during the Temecula 600k and died from his injuries. I began to feel as I ran along that his spirit was helping me along. The cooling headwinds made me feel that Jim was helping to ease my suffering.
Getting to the final 5 miles or so, I could begin to see the area where the finish was. It became agonizing to go another step. But I kept doing it. When I finally got to the final turn, I jogged down the hill. When I could see the finish chute, I began to sprint for all I was worth (probably not fast, but it certainly felt like a sprint!).
Coming down the chute, Joan and Lisa joined me in crossing the finish line. It was certainly a worthy journey; though what I had done didn’t really hit me for a few more hours. I was kind of in shock at being done, and having just run my second ultra marathon of the year, and certainly a PR for 50 miles (which I hit around 10:48 or so). I changed into clean clothes and got my post-race massage.
Hanging around and soaking in the glow, I chatted with other finishers. I thoroughly enjoyed the moment. We took pictures and talked about “what’s next?” and other things that normally get talked about after long races. After dropping Lisa off, Joan and I went and got pizza and hot wings and orange soda to celebrate properly. We were celebrating my finish of Ultraman Canada and her first day at a new company, Netflix.
The following morning, Joan headed off to ride the Ironman Canada course plus some, while I headed off for the Ohana Float down the river channel. It was great fun to float down the river in tubes while soaking in the company of family. The motto of Ultraman Canada is “We meet as strangers, we compete as friends, we part as family“. I feel that they thoroughly lived up to that, and indeed I think we made many lifelong friends from this event.
At the awards banquet, many tales were told, and speeches made. It’s the only event I’ve ever been to where the crews and competitors alike are encouraged to get up and share their stories with the rest of the folks there. I gave my shaky version of a speech and accepted my finisher medal from Alvin Drew and got my finisher trophy and jacket as well. It was a great day and a great feeling.
Indeed, we parted as family after the 5+ hour-long awards banquet. And now that I’ve qualified, I’m probably going to go for the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii in 2012…
On Wednesday morning, I slept in while Joan started riding towards Golden, BC. When I woke up, I drove out to find her and support her in her 3 days of riding towards Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. But that’s another story!
Here are my results…
Swim – 4:10:40 (26th/29)
Bike 1 – 6:15:55 (25th /29)
Total Day 1 – 10:26:35 (27th /29)
Bike Day 2- 10:54:10 (18th /29)
Total Day 1&2 – 21:20:45 (26th /29)
Run Day 3 – 11:17:14 (23rd /29)
Total Time – 32:37:59 (25th out of 29 starters)
Official Results Page