By Chris Willer
Like triathletes, triathlon races come in all sizes, shapes and attitudes. But, even for those who love long distances, trying to wrap their heads around the Ultraman Canada event which comprises a 10 km swim, 420.2km bike followed by a 84.3km run, can be daunting. The annual race was held on August 2-4, 2014 in the Okanagan area of interior B.C., where new course records were set despite the overwhelming heat which hovered around 33 degrees Celsius.
Ultraman is a global series with races in Florida, Australia and on the Big Island of Hawaii. The World Championships occurs in Kona on November 28 through 30. Ultraman Canada has been hosted since 1993 by race director Steve Brown and his group in Western Canada.
The Race Format:
On Day 1, athletes complete a 10km swim and then transition to a 144.8km bike to meet the daily cut off time of 12 hours. Barry Plaga from the Unites States motored through Skaha Lake amidst calm conditions with a swim time of 2:31:23, clear for first place by 27:25 over second racer Chad Bentley from Canada. Plaga had set 49 minute Ironman 3.8km swim times in the past and he pushed hard to lead the group out of the water. His effort landed him second best race swim behind Australia’s Craig Percival who completed the swim in 2:24:28 the previous year. The third place swimmer was Sabrina Haun, only 39 seconds back at 2:59:27. Over the 144.8km bike ride through what was a familiar course route of Ironman Canada historically and now Challenge Penticton currently, there were some heavy hitters that advanced due to their strong cycling pedigree. Ottawa’s Kevin Willis bested the rest on the bike clocking a time of 4:20:03 for the men while fellow Canadian Yvonne Timewell set a new Ultraman Canada bike record with her 4:44:05 for the women. The previous record belonged to Consuela Lively. She rode 4:56:55 in 2012.
Day 2 saw a concentrated 273.5km bike through a similar topography as Day 1 and while the ratio of mountain climbs to flats was not as challenging as the previous day, the added distance, fatigued athletes, and the heat and wind played roles in testing the racers. Willis swapped the lead with Ultraman expert Jan Svendsen from Sweden and eventually Svendsen crossed the tape in 8:28:51. Willis completed the day with a time of 8:38:00. Third place male athlete, Christian Mendez of Spain had a strong day to finish in 9:04:26 relishing the heat that he was acclimatized to from his training grounds in Barcelona. The women’s race was tight with Timewell completing the day in another record best performance of 9:03:38 besting Amber Monforte’s previously held Day 2 bike record of 9:14:22 in 2009, Amy Van Tassel of the United States came in with a time of 9:14:50, and Stacia Watson of the United States finished in third on the day with a 9:21:03 ride. Timewell and Van Tassel’s strong bikes amounted to them now holding the top race best combination of Day 1 and Day bikes with splits of 13:47:43 and 14:11:08 respectively and besting the previous best clocking for the same by Monforte of 14:12:57 in 2009.
Going into Day 3 and the double marathon from Princeton to Summerland, the women’s race was close with Timewell holding a cushion of only 26:40 over Van Tassel in second who had a gap on Watson of only 18:25. The men’s race was also up for debate with Willis leading Swendsen by 30:08 with Plaga the swim leader and strong contender Mendez, not far off the lead going into the run. Under the heat of the day Van Tassel and Timewell pushed each other to amazing performances. Van Tassel gutted it out and showed spectacular running form with a small, albeit elite crew attending to her needs. Timewell paced herself well and was attended to by a well oiled machine of a crew that included someone running beside her with a pesticide-sprayer-turned-mister and another team member with what appeared to be Face time on her iPhone of Timewell’s supporters back home and in fact turned out to be a pre-recorded fan screaming session! When the dust settled Van Tassel crossed the tape first in a record women’s double marathon time of 7:58:51 with Timewell second in 8:17:34 and Watson in 10:02:01. Both Van Tassel and Timewell broke the run record at Ultraman Canada that had stood at 8:31:13 with Monforte from 2009. In the men’s competition, Willis pushed himself to the limit to score the run victory with a time of 7:33:18, followed by Adrian Walton of Canada in 7:54:26 who pundits felt would grab back time on the day and did, and rounded out by Swendsen with his even split times totalling 8:09:00.
Thee overall women’s winner was Timewell with a couple new course records going to her including a new Ultraman Canada overall record. The quality of the women’s times highlighted, as Timewell stated at the awards night, that “we’ve raised the bar” for female Ultraman accomplishments. Van Tassel with her second place overall in the women’s race also broke Monforte’s previous overall record time. Not to be diminished, Willis extended his lead on the back of the run and finished first overall setting a new World’s best age group record for men 50 to 59.
- Kevin Willis – CAN – 23:32:07
- Jan Swendsen – SWE – 24:37:41
- Adrian Walton – CAN – 25:31:16
- Christian Mendez – ESP – 25:32:12
- Andre Kajlich – USA – 28:04:23
- Yvonne Timewell – CAN – 25:24:32
- Amy Van Tassel – USA – 25:32:29
- Stacia Watson – USA – 27:54:04
- Kayleen Uibel – USA – 28:48:58
- Jodi Mucha – CAN – 31:22:02
American Andre Kajlich set a record at the race as a physically challenged athlete. He swam 10km in 3:43:08 and then rocketed the Day 1 bike course in 5:27:29 securing 11th place on the day. On Day 2 he completed the challenging bike with a time of 9:29:50 and moved up to 10th overall. On the double marathon Kajlich elected not to use his race bike, but rather his marathon wheelchair. He did this to be “fair” to the other competitors and in the spirit of solidarity. To see Kajlich blast ahead on the smooth paved down hills at speed was no less impressive than to see him grinding up mountains on logging roads and rutted gravel sections of the course. Kajlich finished that run with a time of 9:23:56 and an overall finish time of 28:04:23 for 8th position overall. Kajlich has done similar endurance events including the Brazil 135 Ultramarathon.
I completed the race myself and found much inspiration from my fellow competitors who took to heart race announcer Steve King’s words on Day 1: “Aspire to inspire before you expire.”