This summer I was lucky enough to participate in two major events, firstly IM Austria and then Ultra520K Canada. Last Year I met a now friend of mine, Rory Bass while undertaking Challenge Roth, a full distance Ironman event in Roth Germany. One morning during breakfast Rory was telling me about a race called Ultraman Canada 520K, a 3- day event that consisted of more than double the distance of an Ironman event; by that evening I had already signed up for this year.
My plan throughout the year was to use Ironman Austria (1st July 2018) as a warm up to Ultra520K Canada. IM Austria is held in Klagenfurt, Austria; it is a truly beautiful place.
IM Austria started with a slow swim followed by an “ok” bike leg. Only a few km in to the run I was already finding it hard. Within 15km, I was walking as much as I was running and the last 15km was barely at walking pace, stopping regularly to try and catch my breath; maybe the cause was nutrition, nerves, illness the week before or a combination of all three. However, after another hard day in the office I finished with a total time of 14:38, definitely no PB this time.
Training continued as we travelled through Europe. The water in the Adriatic Sea is amazing for swimming, great temperature and crystal clear. The scenery on the bike was just as impressive and the air so fresh and crisp.
After a week back at work it was time to head off to Canada for the Ultra520k. This is a 3-day endurance event that consists of:
Athletes are supported by crews including a paddler for the swim, car support on the bike and a pacer on the run if you so desire.
The Ultra 520K Canada is held in Penticton, BC; an absolutely stunning part of Canada. When we arrived in Penticton the surrounding valleys were filled with smoke as a result of the current bush fires; along with the smoke, ash was falling from the sky and covering everything in sight. Over the coming 3 days the smoke got progressively worse and the visibility reduced each day, there were even discussions of changing the course due to the bush fires. We were extremely fortunate to receive some light rain and a change in wind direction the day before the race, this helped to clear up a lot of the smoke and ash.
In the week leading up to the race, we had a number of social events where both athletes and crews were able to get to know each other. It was great to meet other athletes and listen to their personal journeys; athletes ranged in ability from Pro’s, multiple Kona qualifiers, the current Ultraman World Champion, to those similar to myself.
August 3rd: with the car fully fueled and full of nutrition/hydration we set off for Skaha Lake. We arrived at the lake to get set up and ready for the swim start. The conditions looked amazing, I was very happy to see the lake as flat as a mirror. This is where Noah (my paddler), with the help of a compass would begin to navigate me the 10km down the lake, while supporting with nutrition and hydration.
After a welcoming from the Native Indian Syilx Chief we were on our way. About 2 km into the swim the wind picked up and so did the waves, at times it was hard to sight the canoe for the waves, albeit it was only 15m away.
However, thanks to Noah, this is by far the straightest that I have ever swam in my life, outside of a pool. After a quick handshake, I exited the water in 4hrs and 9 minutes, having swam around 10,300m.
My crew were waiting in transition with my bike and after something to eat I was on my way for the 150km ride. The ride made its way into the local countryside and ended in Okanagan Falls, with a total elevation of 1533m for the 150km. Throughout the bike course crews were expected to leapfrog athletes in order to pull over on the side of the road and provide nutrition/hydration. The support for athletes was amazing; every time any athlete passed a crew on the side of the road they were met with cheers and encouragement.
Day 2’s 275km ride started in Penticton, just around the corner from the swim start. It covered some of the same roads as Day 1, an out and back to Osoyoos and then off to Princeton. Day 2 consisted of more than 180km of climbing, 2215m of elevation and the aptly named “Wall”, a sharp climb of 15% at the 100km mark. The Wall had me wishing that I had brought a few more gears and different wheels with me! I finished the Day 2 bike leg in 9:58, just sneaking under the 10-hour mark. Being my first Ultraman, I was conscious not to push things too hard on either of the first two days in the hope that would leave me something for Day 3.
That evening all athletes and crews stayed in Princeton, a small town about 90Km from Penticton. Day 3 started 10km outside of Princeton, on the way to Penticton. The run consisted of a double marathon through what had been described as lovely countryside with a couple of hills.
My plan was to run the first half marathon before the heat of the day kicked in. From that point on I had a run walk strategy to get me across the line. I was conscious of not going out to hard and regretting it later on in the day. I passed the 21km mark in 2:15. As the run continued the last 2 days of cycling started to catch up with my legs. One of the organisers had mentioned the third half marathon is where the run really starts, and that it was full of long winding hills, some quite steep.
During the walk intervals Jodi (my wife) would walk with me, providing hydration and nutrition, while offering encouragement and ensuring that I stuck to the plan. She would then get back in the car and leapfrog me as I ran down the road, this process repeated for 60km. At around 25km the road turned to gravel, only to return to bitumen at the 75km mark. Over the last 20km I was starting to catch and pass people, so my strategy was working. The last 10km on our way down to the finish line outside of Penticton was a pleasant relief as it was largely downhill. My run ended with 85km and 900m of elevation all up for the day in a time of 10:17.
It was great to cross the finish line and be greeted by Jodi and Kathy (my crew), Steve Brown (event organiser) and Stephen King (announcer).
Having undertaken the Ultraman 520K Canada and joined the community of approx. 2500 athletes globally that have completed an Ultraman I can highly recommend this race if you are looking for a challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed this race; so much so, that I have signed up for Ultraman Australia in 2020, Noosa, QLD as well as looking to undertake additional challenges such as the Triple Anvil
The 520k Canada is an extremely well run race that caters for all types of athletes. The Ultraman athletes and crews are an amazing community, the banter between crews and continuous support of all athletes was definitely a highlight of the race.
I’ll leave you with a couple of sayings from the Ultraman community (in good fun).
“Anything less is just a qualifier”
“If it was easy it would be called an Ironman”
A huge thank you to my crew, my wife Jodi and my friend Kathy Pisupati; without you this would not have been possible and would definitely not have been so much fun!