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Athletes, including Canadian pro Jen Annett, celebrate Ironman Canada weekend with unofficial race

Athletes arrived in Penticton last weekend to celebrate Ironman Canada weekend

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

Last weekend was to have marked the return of Ironman Canada to Penticton, but thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, that return will have to wait until next year. (We sincerely hope!) That didn’t stop a number of athletes from celebrating Ironman Canada weekend in style, including a few who completed the full-distance on Sunday.

The fastest of the four athletes who completed a 3.8 km swim in Okanagan Lake, the challenging new 180 km bike course that features two more  long climbs than the classic Penticton Ironman course and a 42.2 km marathon run was Canadian pro Jen Annett, who finished third at the Ironman European Championship last year (pictured above) and followed that performance up with a runner-up finish at Ironman Canada in Whistler less than a month later.

It was part of a big weekend for Annett, who finished second in the Ironman VR21 pro challenge, which featured an all-Canadian field that raced (virtually on the Rouvy platform) over the first 40 km of the Ironman Canada course.

Annett hadn’t planned on doing the full-distance effort until just a week before. Over a few drinks with friends, she decided she would take on the challenge, despite having only done two swims since March – one of those the 500 m swim that was part of the VR challenge.

“I honestly didn’t have any expectations,” she said. “The goal was to have fun. It wasn’t about competition.”

Fellow pros Rachel McBride and Steph Corker paced Annett through the swim. Annett has been doing about 155 km of the challenging bike course every week over the summer, so she knew what she was in for with that section of the day. For the run she chose to do a considerably more challenging route than the normal Ironnman course would take – she did a double loop that included climbing up Vancouver hill, which provided a challenge, but also kept her close to town where she would receive lots of support.

Related: Kona update – Jen Annett’s tough day

Having “only” been training 12 to 13 hours a week, with her longest run of two hours five weeks earlier, she “knew the run was going to hurt,” but with her husband pacing her while “blasting music” and coach Jonathan Caron helping with nutrition and hydration, she finished the day in 10:02. Considering her best time on the official full-distance course at Challenge Penticton was 9:48, and this was a more challenging course, Annett had a good day.

On Sunday three other athletes, including Triathlon Magazine Canada’s regular contributor Kevin Heinz, also completed the full distance, while many other athletes spent the weekend on different parts of the course. F2C Nutrition set up stations along the Ironman Canada bike and run courses throughout the weekend to support athletes who had made the trip for a training weekend.

While it wasn’t a race, Annett says she’s really happy she completed the big day, especially after the disappointing end to the 2019 season. Early into the Ironman World Championship bike course she was hit by a camera motorcycle, which resulted in a broken rib and a concussion. Then, instead of getting to come back to racing this year, the season got cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have never done an Ironman non-competitively,” she said. “Even for my first one, people told me going in I had a good chance to qualify for Kona. [On Sunday] I was doing it for an entirely different reason, bringing it back to what Ironman and triathlon really is all about.”

Coming into the finish, Ultra520K Canada race director Steve Brown set up a finish line to help Annett celebrate the achievement.

“The feedback was incredible,” Annett said. “This is why I’m involved in this sport – initially I got inspiration from others. It was great to be abel to keep people motivated through this crazy COVID time.”