The countdown is on. It is less than 3 weeks til race weekend. Ultra 520KCanada is a 3 day Triathlon that takes place in the Okanagan. Day 1 is a 10km swim in Skaha Lake followed by a 149.8 km bike ride. Day 2 is a 275.8 km bike ride that starts in Penticton and ends in Princeton. Day 3 is a double marathon run – 84.4 km on a back road between Princeton and Summerland. (At least those are the planned routes, but with roads currently closed due to wildfires, the course may change.) Each day must be completed within 12 hours.
No more than 30 applicants are accepted, and this year there are only 15 of us.
Usually, triathlon is considered an individual sport. Where you place in a race is based on how you performed on that day compared to others. In rural areas, the solitary aspect of training becomes especially apparent. With a smaller population base, it’s pretty difficult to find someone else who is doing similar training, at similar distances and paces. (just try to find someone who wants to do a 200k bike ride right after a 2 hour open water swim with you!)
Ultra520kCanada is a team effort. Each athlete brings their own support crew to feed, water, and generally keep you on track. I have an escort in a kayak for the 10k swim. During the bike portions, my crew will travel around the course in a vehicle, and hand out food, water and encouragement. They will take care of any mechanical or medical issues and make sure I stay on course. On day 3, the crew continues to feed and water me and they also take turns running alongside. While I get to rest at the end of each day, the crew prepares everything for the next day (gas in the car, fresh ice, food, etc). There is no way an athlete can complete an Ultra Triathlon without a crew. Even weeks before the event, they are taking care of logistics.
When I first heard about Ultra 520K Canada in 2012, I volunteered. Afterwards, one of the other volunteers asked me to be on his crew for the next year, and I thought it would be a great way to see what would be involved in competing – that is, if I ever decided to try this distance. Being part of his crew was an amazing experience! There were tough moments (when I had my first anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting and spent most of day 1 in the emergency room), nail biting moments (when our athlete squeaked under the cut-off time with less than 2 minutes to spare on day 2), exhilarating moments when he crossed the run finish on day 3 with more than an hour to spare), heart breaking moments (when another athlete had to stop before finishing on day 3 for his second year in a row), and those oh-so-emotional moments during the awards banquet. There was more than one story of crews helping other crews and athletes. Unlike other races, in Ultras everyone is part of the community and helps the others. I knew then that I wanted to try this event, but I had a few other things to do first; including getting back to Ironman World Championships in Kona and reconstruction surgery for osteoarthritis in my second wrist. It’s taken 4 years, but here we are.
As amazing as I know the experience is going to be, it’s a BIG ask to have people give up almost a week of their summer, including a statutory holiday. Lindy, fellow triathlete who is in training for her second Ironman, stepped up right away and is the crew boss. Keith, her husband, with his engineering background and bike mechanic skills, will be a great asset (although I hope not to have to put his skills to use), and Roxy, all round active woman (ski, hike, snowshoe, run, kick box, you-name-it-she-does -it) rounds out the team. Although he won’t be there physically that weekend, my coach has been part of this journey for 8 years. He has never given me any reason to think he did not 100% believe I could do whatever race I signed up for, which is a source of amazement in itself!
I’m so honoured to have this amazing group of people in my life, and I am humbled by their generosity.
Thank you to my team: I couldn’t do it without you.
Carol is a “woman of a certain age” with spunk (she’s 58). She had to apply – and was accepted – to compete at the Ultra520K this coming August (it’s a pretty serious event and she had to prove she was capable of the arduous competition). Over the coming weeks, Carol is sharing her story with us on how she’s come into triathlon, coping and training with arthritis, and that wonderfully female-experience that is menopause.
Check out her first post here.