The Inaugural Challenge Penticton
I’m excited to say the inaugural Challenge Penticton was a huge success. The Challenge Family put on not just one hell of a race, but one amazing race week. Though I’ll get into that later, the big successes I’m talking about are the race performances I saw from my wife, my training buddies and a few other talented Canadians whose results I follow on a regular basis.
I know it was a rollercoaster year for a lot of the people I train with due to injuries, illness and all the other issues that tend to come up when training for an Ironman. Though I would love to mention all the adversities that a lot of people I know had to deal with, I’ll just focus of my wife, she’s the boss, gotta keep her happy and in all honesty this race was more about her than it was about me as this was her first iron distance race.
Just like last year, the early season brought hip flexor issues for Jenna. Bike workouts had to be modified, we went to Dave at North Shore Road Bike to get her fit adjusted and lastly Jenna made several visits to my miracle worker chiropractor, Dr. John Davis. After about two months of fighting this and training through pain she was back on track. About a month after this Jenna started feeling completely wasted after easy workouts, things weren’t really making sense, she was having symptoms much like I did when I had mono last year. After a visit to Dr. Nina Lange (our naturopath and an all-around awesome person!) and a blood test we found out she was extremely iron-deficient, almost anemic and then began the battle to get those iron levels back up. She eventually had her energy levels come back up but as you can imagine, the story isn’t over yet. On a training ride up in Whistler over the July long weekend she was ripping down the descent towards Pemberton with some friends going 50+ km’s per hour when her front tire blew, this proceeded to catapult her over the handle bars and skipping down the road. She was lucky to walk away with minor scrapes and no broken bones but she suffered a mild concussion. For the next 3-4 weeks she dealt with ongoing headaches and was unable to train. As you can imagine, Jenna started going into some pretty dark places and was starting to question whether she was going to be able to race Challenge, the race she’d spent the last seven months training for.
At this point I felt pretty helpless, I was doing the best I could to try and keep her feeling positive as it’s such an integral part of the healing process. I decided to reach out to a professional triathlete I follow as I knew she had a couple nasty bike crashes recently where she suffered concussions and even some moderate brain trauma. If you follow pro results in the sport then you should definitely recognize who I’m talking about, Meredith Kessler. She’s been a force in the 70.3 and Ironman scene for the last few years and actually won the Penticton race in 2010. To my surprise she got back to me right away and gave me some great advice on how to get Jenna back on track and help her get back to a positive place. Just six weeks after having an age group athlete crash into her at the Eagleman 70.3 where she suffered serious head injuries, Meredith bounced back and won the Vineman 70.3. A week after that Meredith, or MBK as we now know her, won the Lake Stevens 70.3. I shared the story with Jenna and it really helped her realize that a solid result on race day was still possible.
Jenna was able to get back to training by the end of July and did the Ironman Whistler camp with Canwi Multisport. Though she didn’t have the training buildup she had hoped for, she confidently toed the line at the edge of Okanagan Lake Sunday morning and proceeded to have what I believe was the race of her life so far. She got through some very choppy lake conditions, smashed the bike course despite some blustery wind and finished the day with a pretty even split marathon, all while smiling! Ok, maybe not the whole way. She looked extremely focused running down Lakeshore Drive, she didn’t even hear me screaming at her. She was all smiles though when she crossed the finish line in a time of 12:11 crushing her goal of 12:30. I couldn’t be more proud and happy for her; it was her day much like it was mine the year before at this race where I did my first ironman. There’s something truly special about this course and it’s not just one thing. I believe it’s a combination of the history that’s here, the incredible community of Penticton and its volunteers, the incredible beauty of this tough honest course and the fact that it’s three big loops. I’m so glad I chose this as the location for my first iron distance race and I know Jenna now feels the same.
Alright, enough about Jenna! I managed to have a decent race myself too. The swim was slow, I went out with what I thought was the lead amateur pack. I knew we were going an easy pace but I refused to do any work at the front and save my energy for the bike (Rob, Andrew and Kirk, you taught me this the hard way the first race of the season, thanks!). The reality is I couldn’t even see the buoys so I don’t even know if I would have been any use up front. I came out in 1:04 which got me thinking it likely wasn’t going to be a PB day. I burned through transition and was out on the bike.
I cruised out to Osoyoos at an easy pace and still managed to hold 40 km/hr thanks to a bit of tailwind. Going up Richter’s I started to reel in some of the pro females, this was much earlier than last year and got me thinking I might be having a half decent race despite the poor swim. By the out and back I had caught a few more pro women and started catching some of the pro men. By this point I had started picking it up and I felt like an absolute monster climbing yellow lake. I passed Lothar Leder (the first athlete to go under 8 hours in a full) who was clearly having a rough day out there and it got me pretty pumped. I hammered into town and wrapped the bike up in 4:55. Though a minute slower than last year, the conditions were much tougher; this was good for the 5th fastest bike split overall. On the run I felt strong. I ran a pace out to the turnaround that I knew I could hold. I saw Scott Tremblay out at special needs, he threw me a high five and let me know the hard part was over. “Ya right Scott, this is where the hard part starts!” It’s pretty incredible the pickup you get from seeing people you know at times like this in the race, so a BIG THANK YOU to everyone that came out to support us. I started timing from the turnaround to see the gap I had on the next amateur, I had taken the lead about 30kms into the bike. Turns out I still had over a 30 minute lead at this point so I made the decision to take it easy on the run back into town to try and save my legs for the 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas two weeks after Challenge. One big thing to note, though you may be trying to take it easy, every single step of the second half of the marathon in a race this distance hurts like hell! I managed to hold it together and take the overall amateur win. This was a big goal of mine at the beginning of the year so I’m very happy to be able to have pulled it off.
I want to take the time to thank everyone again that came up and supported us, followed us online or left us awesome positive messages leading into the race. We couldn’t do it without you. A big thanks to Dave at North Shore Road Bike for getting my bike dialed in for race day on super short notice. Thanks to Bill at Main Street Automotive for support with race fees and also ensuring my 18 year old Jeep would get us up here. And to our coaches Sean and Tara-Lee at Canwi Multisport, you guys rule!!! I hope the folks in Whistler received the same kind of hula skirt, coconut top crazy support that we did from Tara-Lee from Sean as well.
For those that didn’t attend the event, I just want to ensure you that Challenge did an incredible job with the race and you should seriously consider attending one of their races next season. There were beer gardens, underpant runs, wine tours with the pros and not to mention we got to sit down with Macca and Mark Allen, how cool is that, those guys are LEGENDS!! I’m very excited to see how this race grows and I can’t wait to do it again. You can just tell how passionate Felix is about his events and they truly did an amazing job. One of these days we’re going to have to make the short trip over to a small town called Roth where they hold a Challenge race that people seem to keep talking about.