The Okanagan was the home of two of the biggest and most anticipated short course races of the year this past weekend. The inaugural Canadian Super League race was set to take over Penticton for the entire weekend and The Kelowna Apple was back as the Canadian Championship for Standard and Sprint Distance racers on Sunday. Unfortunately both events were no match for Mother Nature. While Super League was able to get Friday and Saturday (although shortened) racing in, both events had to completely cancel Sunday racing due to the poor air quality that has been brought on by the raging forest fires across the Province of British Columbia and State of Washington. Congratulations to Human Powered Racing athletes Rob Dibden, Kara Hobby and Dominic and Crystal Bergeron who took part in the first ever Super League. If you were ever wondering what Super League was all about, be sure to check out Rob’s Race Report Below.
Across the country in Mt Tremblant, Human Powered Racing athlete Diana Thaxter was racing her second Ironman of the summer. After an “oh so close” finish and ticket to Kona at Ironman Santa Rose, Diana quickly re-focused on Ironman Mt. Tremblant. While preparation went exceptionally well and all systems were firing in the swim and start of the bike, something went awry and Diana experienced intense cramping and muscle spasms that ended her day 20km shy of the bike finish. Despite her best efforts to finish the bike under her own power, Diana’s day ended with a trip by ambulance to get checked out. This was another example of just how cruel Ironman racing can be. Despite the best preparation and having a solid plan anything can happen on race day. Sometimes the body has other ideas and “will” isn’t enough. We know Diana will be back stronger than ever and the next finish line will be the sweetest!
Super League Race Report – Rob Dibden
The first ever Canadian Super League triathlon and the only SLT open to age group athletes took place last week-end in Penticton. I registered for the race last year when it opened. The unique format and fast, furious pace of the race appealed to me. The race was supposed to consist of a 20K time trial on Friday evening, a 300m swim/2.5K run/300m swim/10K bike/2.5K run on Saturday morning and then a 750m swim/20K bike/5K run/750m swim/ 20K bike/5K run on Sunday morning. For age groupers, the times for each day were combined for an overall race time. As the race approached I was generally healthy and fit, and confident that it was better to be a bit under trained than over trained.
I drove to Penticton on Thursday before the race. I arrived early evening to discover ash falling from the sky and visibility so poor from smoke that I couldn’t see Okanagan Lake from Summerland. Hmmm. No word from the event about what was happening due to the poor air quality.
I checked in on Friday afternoon. I asked the volunteers at the check in about contingencies for poor air quality but they didn’t have any information. I talked to a few other athletes who said they had heard that they might shorten everything, but it seemed to me that this was all just rumour.
I went out to Oliver mid afternoon on Friday to check out Area 27, the race track where the time trial was to take place. The smoke in Oliver was worse than in Penticton. The venue was very cool. The track is a windy, hilly 5K road course with few straight stretches and no flat spots. We were to do 3 laps for a total of 15K. At 4:15 I waited with other athletes to get access to the venue and we mostly talked about how bad the smoke was. I met up with team mates Dominic and Crystal while I was waiting. Everyone was pretty worried about the air quality and how it might impact the weekends events.
The start of the time trial was a bit chaotic. There had been very little information in advance about how the race would work so the organizers were announcing instructions and fielding questions right up to the start. The layout on the track was different than it had been described in the instructions and the stagger changed several times prior to the start.
I was ready for a fast TT. The track and the distance suited me. I started mid pack, and pushed hard for the whole distance. I was passing people constantly and no one passed me. I had a hard time breathing and my throat was burning the whole time but I attributed this mostly to exertion as I was working very hard. I crossed the line knowing that I had put it all on the track. It took WAY longer than usual to recover my breathing afterwards. In reflection I think the smoke took more of a toll than I had expected and my time was slower than I had anticipated. At the end I was third in my age group, 4 seconds from second and a time zone from first.
Time to recover. Just before I left they announced a change in the age group race start the next day from 6:30 to 7 am, a welcome extra 30 minutes of sleep and recovery. Back to the B&B to hot tub and stretch.
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I awoke ahead of my alarm on Saturday and headed to the venue earlier than I had planned. The smoke was about the same as the previous day. While I ate breakfast I learned that they had cancelled the races for Saturday in Kelowna. No word from Super League. I arrived early and set up my transition and chatted with other athletes. There was a lot of anxiety about the air quality. About 30 minutes before the race start they made an announcement that they we’re going to shorten the bike and run portions from two laps each to one lap each. This was the first I learned that the courses weren’t actually the advertised distances anyway. The bike was two 8km laps for a total of 16km and the run was two 1.6km laps for a total of 3.2km. Now they were halved. The swim stayed the same. Shit! They also hadn’t figured out how the swim start was going to work. They had a rough idea that it should be based on the TT results from the previous day. They finally announced the start format about 15 minutes before the race was due to start. All these announcements were made over the PA at the beach that was difficult to hear in transition. It resulted in confusion and near panic for some athletes. The swimmers were supposed to start one after another, by gender, in order of the TT finish.
When the race started it was chaos. Everyone ran to the entry at the same time. The water gets deeper gradually at that point on the beach so many people tried to walk as far as possible before starting to swim. This resulted in a wall of bodies that was almost impossible to swim through. The swim course was so short that there was no spreading out before the first turn buoy. Many people all jostling for the same water. It was one of the most panic inducing experiences in my life. Both my swim legs on day two were slow and uncomfortable.
The runs were all about pain management. My lungs burned as I tried to keep the effort just right to go as fast as possible without blowing up. It took me until the turn around to get my running legs on the first run but on the way back I felt smooth and fast.
The bike course on Saturday was an out and back with a big climb going out and a big descent coming back. I had a pretty good ride. The short first run didn’t seem to negatively impact my cycling legs. If anything I was able to go hard earlier than in a typical triathlon where the bike follows the swim. There wasn’t much drafting going on around me for most of the ride although I did pick up a few people that I passed after the top of the hill. A young guy passed me just before the turn around and I rode his wheel for a bit then passed him pack at the top of the hill. The descent was close to transition and my legs felt good heading out onto the second run.
I started the second run in a group of about 6-7 men. A couple looked like they might be in my age group so I really felt like it was a race. I pushed the pace early and managed to gap the rest of the group. I then ran scared to the turn around expecting at least some of them to respond. At the turn around I realized that I still had a bit of a gap and that the group had thinned out. Heading back I kept up my cadence and tried to stay relaxed. As I approached the finish line I heard Steve King announcing my name, “followed closely by (some guy) from Australia” This gave me incentive to actually sprint to the finish line, something I haven’t done in a long time. After I finished I felt like someone had poured hot acid down my throat.
The effort was good enough for 1st in my age group. That put me in 2nd place in the overall rankings and I made had up significant ground on the guy who had won the TT the night before. On checking the results I learned that he had out split me by a little on the swim and bike but I had crushed him on the run. I was about 45 seconds behind and I thought I had a shot at catching him on Sunday for the overall age group win.
I was looking forward to the Pro races on Saturday. Rachel McBride, who rode with us in California, and Nathan Killam, who raced XTERRA Victoria this year, were the Canadians in 1st place after the TT. The pro race was supposed to be a multi lap format that would be fast and fun to watch. Once I arrived back at the venue I learned that the pro races had been postponed due to the poor air quality. I talked to a few volunteers who were complaining that no one was keeping them informed. It was pretty obvious that there was no chance that the air quality was going to improve over the next few hours so I headed back to the B&B for more recovery. There was a lot of discussion among athletes about what might happen on Sunday if the air quality didn’t improve. Most felt that, based on the outcome of that morning, that the race distances would be shortened.
I checked email and social media repeatedly for the rest of the day but there was no information from the race organizers. Finally, at 5:17 on Sunday morning we received an email announcing that the races on Sunday had been cancelled. Disappointing in a way but this was definitely the right call. No point in hanging around in the smoke so I packed up and headed for home.
The Super League format is a very cool alternative to regular triathlons and a welcome addition to the usual types of racing. It was too bad that the air quality had such a profound impact on everyone’s experience but what can you do. I do think that the organizers could have dealt with predictable aspects of the racing sooner so that they didn’t compound the unpredictable stuff. Communicating with the athletes and volunteers is so important when things are changing on the fly. I am sure that the “trial by fire” (literally) of year one will have organizers much better prepared and ready for anything with communication and contingency plans well in place for 2019.