Categorized | Ironmans, Primary

O “Ironman” Canada

Posted on 20 September 2010

Racetwitch.com ProTeam

I recently did Ironman Canada and wanted to share a summary of my experience, review of the race, and takeaways. For specific course details go to www.ironman.ca

With over 30 years behind Ironman Canada, It remains one of the original and prestigious Ironman races today.  The longstanding history and roots makes it a very special venue.   Ironman races are well known for their support, thousands of cheering spectators, and of course the unwavering help from the volunteers who are the backbone in orchestrating these highly efficient and smooth races.  Ironman Canada is no different.  The warm, welcoming community of Penticton, the organizers, and volunteers were exceptional and played a key role to my unforgettable experience at Ironman Canada.

The Venue And Course

When I first arrived in Penticton, I literally had the chills as I was so in awe of the beauty and majesty of the area.  It was impossible not to feel on top of the world with the intimate surroundings of mountains, lakes, vineyards, fruit markets, and pristine fresh air that just calmed the soul… a refreshing feeling that consoled the nerves with a pending Ironman just days away!

One Big Loop

Most Ironman courses are made up of multiple loops—mostly two and sometimes three on the swim, bike and run.   It can be a logistical nightmare to manage a race of this magnitude with typically about 3,000 athletes and thousands of volunteers and spectators.   What’s unique about the IM Canada course is that the swim is a one 2.4 mile loop and the bike is one long 112 mile loop (the run is an out and back). Hat’s off to the volunteers who are up at 2:00AM setting up the aid stations along the bike course!

I personally preferred the one loop format especially on the bike; it allowed me to soak up hours of spectacular views along the entire course!   Prior to going in to this race, I had no idea that Penticton was truly wine country!  I had been to Banff, CA earlier this year and had heard that wines of Okanagan Valley are being recognized as having some of the best wines in the world—so what a treat to ride through the Okanagan Falls Countryside!

The bike course was by far one of the best. Not only is the course along thousands of acres of vineyards, fruit farms, bountiful lakes and mountains, it is also very challenging with steep hills (along Richter Pass and Twin Lakes) and rolling hills throughout the course.

Deceiving Rolling Hills

Racetwitch.com ProTeam Ironman

I heard Canada had lots of rolling hills, but these were much bigger than your average rolling hills!  I did not expect it be this intense.   Although the inclines slowed the pace,  there were plenty of chances to gain some speed down the descending hills in the earlier part of the course (prior to the rain) and also in the last 10 miles before coming back into town (opposite of Lake Placid IM).

The winding down hills approaching town were ideal, as it helped loosen the legs before the run. The toughest part of the course started roughly around 50K from Richter Pass all the way to the gradual uphill climb to the summit at Twin Lakes (with rolling hills in between).

No Mercy Weather

Ironman Canada is always held in late August which you would think would have optimal weather conditions this time of year! Unfortunately, this was not the case this year!  Much to everyone’s surprise, the weather turned harsh in the back country along sections of the bike course.  The strong gusty head winds, pouring rain, and patches of hail, along with freezing cold temperatures made this a particularly tough day on the bike.

There were many that dropped out after the bike due to the conditions and also due to hypothermia.   Wayne Kurtz wrote an excellent article on Tips how to handle adverse conditions while racing.  Most people back in town had no idea of the dark side…it was a perfectly, nice, sunny day in Penticton!

The Swim and Run

The Swim took place in Okanagan Lake. It was a big mass start like most Ironman races—with the typical mass chaos with 2,700 people in the water at the same time.  I only got hit  and kicked a couple times this year— in the beginning, mid-way around the buoys, and then again at the last stretch with so many swimmers converging and sprinting to the finish.

Just like the bike, this was my favorite swim course.  Though the 1 loop lined with buoys looked very long and daunting, I preferred the one loop.  It allowed me to get into a rhythm and have space in the water (the swimmers were more spread out).   Usually the swim is my most anxious part of the day; but, I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed the swim!  The pristine Lake Okanagan and mountains in the backdrop had such a soothing effect… and I had my best swim here!

The run is an out and back that winds along Skaha Lake.  It was a mostly rolling hills and I thought it was a bit challenging, but overall a very manageable and great course.   I am not sure if I enjoyed the run because of the breathtaking scenery or I was just so happy to be off the bike after enduring those atypical ice cold and rainy conditions!

The best part of the run was coming back into town with thousands of cheering spectators and then running through the shoot and crossing the finish line!   It is still an incredible feeling of accomplishment and excitement— every single time!

A Little Creativity and Flexibility Can Be A Game Changer…

My biggest concern about this race was that it was going to be cold (which turned into reality!) –my hands get unusually and uncomfortably numb and very stiff in colder temps.  Though the forecast predicted mostly sunny and mid 70’s, I did not want to take chances especially having experienced glimpses of cool, windy conditions both days leading up to the race.  Here are 3 last minute tricks I did that saved the day!

Men’s Socks: Since I did not pack arm warmers, a couple of us went to Wal-mart and bought extra long men’s socks.  Rather than cut out the feet, I used this as mittens—it worked great, as it was about 30 degrees on the bike with the wind chill factor.


Newspaper:   I could not decide whether to wear a long sleeve jersey on the bike.  If it got too hot, I did not want to waste time by stopping and taking it off.   In hindsight, I wish I had worn the extra layer.  However, just minutes before the swim start, I ran into a friend of mine who gave me a sheet of newspaper.  I adopted the trick that cyclists do and stuffed the newspaper under my tri top!   Though it was not the same as wearing a warm jersey, I truly believed it helped defend against the bone- chilling wind!

Antibiotic Ointment:  Again, last minute while standing in line at the portable bathrooms, my same friend gave me ointment.  He knew I was wearing new tri shorts and tri top (I don’t recommend), so he suggested I rub the ointment along the seams to prevent chafing.   I took it one step further and lathered my hands with the ointment to protect against the cold water swim.  It proved to be a perfect solution!

7 Takeaways to Maximize Your Ironman Experience

Though Ironman Canada was my 7th ironman, I still learn something new every time. Here are my takeaways, observations, and suggestions to consider when preparing for Ironman Canada—in no particular order.

Travel With A Group- If you are traveling alone like I did, I highly recommend traveling with a professional travel organization.  I hooked up with pro Ken Glah’s Endurance Sports Travel Company.  It made a huge difference in my overall experience—everything from instantly meeting great new friends from all around the world to managing the logistics so you can just concentrate on the race.  Race Twitch Endurance Company will also be providing this service in the near future.

Fly Into Local Airport- if you can get an inexpensive flight, I recommend flying directly to the Penticton airport or another local airport.  The other option is flying into Vancouver and driving 5 hours to Penticton.  I saved $600 by getting a private shuttle with Endurance Sports Travel.

Visit The Vineyards- you are in wine country here in Penticton, British Columbia.  I highly recommend that you plan extra vacation days and tour some of the best kept “secret” wineries.  I have been to Napa and Sonoma several times and was so disappointed that I did not get to visit the Canadian vineyards.

Drive The Course- if you have a car and the time, I suggest that you drive the entire course.   It takes about 2.5 hours, but it is worth it.  Not only do you get to see the course and mentally prepare yourself, you also get an amazing opportunity to absorb and appreciate the magnificent natural beauty of the course.   This is the only chance you’ll get to slow down, take pictures, and even stop and snack at one of the fresh fruit markets along the way.  Just don’t eat too much fruit the day before the race.

Ironman Sponsored Functions- even if you have done several Ironmans, I recommend that you still attend the pasta dinner, expo, and the banquet dinner.  Each race has its own unique experience so why not get the most out it.  It is a great way to meet so many other interesting athletes and hear their personal stories.  In my opinion, each race comes and goes so fast so I like to savor each moment.

Early, Simple Pre-Race Dinner- in the past, I would always go out to dinner with a group of friends and/or family.  This can be stressful because the restaurants are so busy… lines are always long and the service can be slow which can result in a late night.   In my case, I like to eat extremely simple the day before—pure whole foods such as oatmeal and dry pasta.   Fortunately, I found a local deli and the owner actually made a fresh plate of dry pasta (little olive oil) for me to take back to my hotel.  It was perfect!   I ate exactly what I wanted AND was in my room by 4 PM resting and relaxing the day before the race!

Avoid Long Lines—it is inevitable that you will encounter long lines everywhere during Ironman week.  Just plan extra time in advance so you are not late or miss anything important such as registration!  As for the finisher’s tent (post race finishers gear) and next year’s race registration, I highly recommend that you get up early on Monday morning (if you are not too sore) and avoid these long, massive lines.

In summary, I highly recommend that you put Ironman Canada on your “must do” list of races.  The unique combination of breathtaking scenery, challenging course, history, community spirit, and all kinds of activities and attractions make it a perfect destination race.  My goal is do this race again in 2012.  If you are planning on doing Ironman Canada (or other races) please let me know!  I would love to meet you at our next Race Twitch Club Meet-up.  In the meantime, come join us and introduce yourself on our new Meet-Up site for endurance athletes… and stay connected!

To your Successful Race Season,

Laura DeMeo

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