I sent in my application for Ultraman Canada, a six page document stating my race history, results, training plans and goals should I be one of the 40 athletes world wide selected to compete in Ultraman Canada, last December. I then had to wait until February 4th to find out if I was selected.
I can still clearly remember that day: I was so excited to get the invitation to race and send in my confirmation. I felt like I had won the lottery.
My training went really well, in spite of being very time consuming and difficult, reaching up to 20 to 25 hours a week. It was tough given a busy schedule, and the fact many training sessions involved distances that were new to me. Swimming in the lake for 2-3 hours, riding over 200 kms on several occasions and running for four, five and six hours at a time instead of my usual three was really tough!
When I stood in the water of Skaha Lake on the south end of Penticton on July 30th, surrounded by some of the best endurance athletes in the world, I was very intimidated and not sure I could even finish this race. I had never swum the full 10 kms before, and the seven or eight km swims I had done in Sylvan had only been followed by a short bike ride of one hour, not the 145 kms that was ahead of me on race Day #1! I had never ridden my bike 275.8 kms, which I would do on Day #2, and I had never run 84.3 kms, the schedule for Day #3
That said, my first goal had been met! I had trained well, and made it to Penticton injury free and ready to race! My amazing crew of my wife, Hilary, and my friends Cathy Forner, Shelley MacAuley and Steve Matejka were all ready to go!
We had endured two days of pre-race meetings (over 13 hours), the truck was full of supplies and the gear was ready!
Of 40 athletes invited, 35 accepted the invitation, and by race day only 29 made it to the start line.
July 30th, on a cloudless day in Penticton, family and friends had gathered to witness the start as we dove into the cool waters at 6:45 a.m. to start the grueling 10 km swim to OK Falls. I worked to pace myself; steady and not too fast, and to remember that it would be a long three days. At the same time, I wanted to do my best.
I quickly got into my usual steady rhythm with Hilary and Cathy (my friend and co-coach of the Sylvan Lake Masters Swim program) in the kayak beside me. Their job was to guide me in a straight line to OK Falls right up the middle of the lake. They made the trip fun by putting on wigs and funny hats and goofing around with my Kermit the Frog puppet – which all really helped to pass the time. All I had to look at was green water, the sun and the kayak, and with ear plugs and a swim cap on, I couldn’t hear anything, so their efforts really helped to break up the long swim and keep me smiling.
We stopped every 30 minutes so I could drink electrolytes in order to stay hydrated and replace some of the calories burned. My goal was to finish the swim in 3.5 hours, so when I came out of the lake in 3:16, seventh overall, I was thrilled!
My arms were so tired I could hardly lift them anymore, and my back was really stiff from being in one position so long, but I put that behind me and quickly got ready to ride. It was great to see and hear my family and friends cheering me on in the background and I sped off to the 145 kms waiting for me!
One of my other crew members, Shelley MacAuley (who did her first Ironman in 2010) had prepared my bike and transition perfectly. I rode smart all the way to Osoyoos by working to stay on an easy pace and remain very aware that this was a long and difficult ride, with two really big mountains to get over.
I was having so much fun racing, and was so happy with the swim result that it seemed like a blink and I was at Osoyoos where the ladies were waiting for me. I stopped for a sunscreen re-application and more recovery drink. The temperature had climbed to 30˚C by then and details like this were critical!
I rode up and over Richter pass (a steady climb of around 40 minutes), while enjoying seeing all the other race crews as they zoomed up to get ready for their athletes. My crew met me about every 25 kms to provide fresh recovery drink and water.
My goal was to take in 250 to 300 calories per hour of a recovery drink containing electrolytes plus maltodextrin and dextrose (sugars). I would be burning up 600 to 900 calories or more per hour, so it was imperative to put at least part of those calories back in to reduce the deficit.
As the day got hotter and hotter I had to work hard to stay hydrated and cool. My crew really helped by providing ice to put down my jersey and cold water filled sponges at each stop. With some of the new tricks I learned about nutrition from past Ultraman athletes, we were able to finally resolve my long standing stomach issues and I was able to actually race hard, without all the suffering I have gone through in the past.
I rode hard up the back of Yellow Lake Pass and flew down the front side passing several athletes along the way, crossing the line in the third fastest bike split of the day and feeling great! My friends Rob, Mary Ellen and Jessica were there with an Iced Capp to celebrate!
My crew was super excited, as was I, and we enjoyed some rest time at the finish line. I got a massage and had some food, then soaked in the lake to help my circulation. We all headed back to the house to get the truck and gear ready for the next day and get everyone fed. This is where I made a mistake that caught me the next day: I didn’t eat enough the first night after the race. In order to maintain my energy levels each day I needed to get in over 6000 calories after each day’s effort, and I only managed about 3000 Saturday night. Of course, we didn’t realize this until half way through the next day. With all of the prep work, we didn’t manage to get to bed until 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. came pretty fast!
Race start on day two was at 6 a.m., with medical check in at 5:15 a.m. The nurse checked every athlete for weight, blood pressure and heart rate to ensure we were staying within healthy limits each day. Day #2 was the long bike ride: 275.8 kms passing over some pretty tough terrain!
I started off playing smart by riding easy for the first 100 kms keeping my heart rate at around 120 BPM or lower. I finished that section in around three hours before tackling a part of the course called ‘the wall’ which is named so because of a difficult section of winding road that is only a few kms long but very steep!
The section from OK Falls to Yellow Lake covers about 23 kms and rises over 3000 feet in elevation. We were lucky with the weather on Sunday because usually the upper valley is an oven, but we had cloud cover to give us some relief. It’s a long, lonely grind and finding my crew stopped at the side of the road every 25 kms was always a welcome relief.
I made the summit and as I flew down towards Keremeos, I found myself in third place!
This is where the race got really, really hard for me. The fact that I had not eaten enough the night before, plus the extremely rough, bumpy, seal coated, pot-holed, rotten pavement on this 70 km long section of the race, plus the crazy long weekend traffic roaring by on the two lane highway, plus the powerful head wind was brutal!
I was so hungry, and had been for hours. We were about 200 kms into the day and approaching seven hours when I knew I had to pull over and stop. I knew that I was just digging a hole that I would never be able to crawl out of, and the daunting thought of ‘a double marathon tomorrow’ was very much on my mind. At about 201 kms into the course I saw the crew truck and pulled over. I told them I had to stop, not quit, just stop. I just had to get off my bike and sit down. I climbed into the passenger seat of the truck and reclined the seat. Aaaah! It felt amazing to stop moving for a minute. Hilary and Cathy were on either side of me in a flash asking what I needed. Hilary brought me a 1500 calorie drink that we had brought in the ’emergency food’ drawer, plus a banana and a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I feasted and relaxed. I left the truck after 15 minutes, feeling refreshed and ready to power through the last 75 kms!
When I roared into Princeton smiling, and said “I feel awesome!” and told them that I had dropped another rider who tried to draft me, they all laughed and Cathy said, “Scott’s back!”.
I flew out of Princeton and off to Allison Lake to hammer out the final 60 kms. I still had a 30 km uphill section of highway with more headwind before I reached the final turnaround and I had to really dig in. I roared around the turnaround and pressed into the pedals hard to make up lost time.
I started to really make gains and soon I could see the sixth place rider ahead of me: Nick Mallet from Australia, 2x Ultraman Canada winner. I knew he had seen me and I could tell that he was not going to let me catch him, because no matter how much I pressed, he pressed too and the gap never closed. I was happy with that, and crossed the line in seventh place on the day. With my combined times from Saturday, I retained my fifth overall placing in the race. I felt absolutely amazing and was so happy!
My crew was shoving food in my face the second I got off my bike, as Shelley had done the math and knew why I ran out of energy seven hours into Day #2. Supper was a double plate feast of pasta, chicken, steak, veggies and lots of water and iced tea.
Day #3 is a double marathon that starts in the foothills near Princeton and winds along a back road all the way to Summerland. The first 30 kms or so are all up hill and about 50 per cent of the course is gravel road.
I was expecting to be really nervous about the run, and to some degree I was. Mostly, I was excited and relaxed, which seems odd, but I had come to a place of serenity knowing that I had made it through the first two days okay and there was no longer any pressure.
I knew I wasn’t the fastest runner and there were some people around me that would absolutely tear this run up. I didn’t mind because my goal was strictly to finish and I was having a great time. I knew that worst case scenario, I could walk and jog 84 kms in under 12 hours if my body held up and at this point I couldn’t imagine anything else.
It was kind of funny standing on a lonely stretch of highway just before 6 a.m. on Monday morning. An odd little section of road that had been vacant 30 minutes earlier, was now suddenly overrun with people and vehicles.
The temperature was 6.5˚C and I was wearing shorts and a tech shirt, with a running cap and thin gloves. The athletes from Cuba, Spain, Argentina, Australia, Texas, Utah, California, Florida, Brazil etc. were freezing cold and huddled in blankets, toques and sleeping bags, while I was quite comfy! I did my usual warm up drills, and in no time at all, the gun went off and we ran up the winding road into the fresh morning air.
I chatted with Vince for a while (an athlete from Kelowna) and soon I had moved off ahead of him and was by myself. The leaders had torn off ahead and I was happy to just run my pace, the pace I had trained for, and that I knew I could hold for a long time.
My crew and I had agreed to meet every 4 kms, and 22 minutes into the run, there they were. I was a little surprised that they wanted to hand me my fuel belt (a belt that holds water flasks and has a pocket for gels), as I had figured that I would run without it for a while. They told me that in the crazy busy morning everyone had forgotten about filling the ice cooler so they had to drive back to town. I ran off and they zipped to town. I wasn’t worried, as I had two flasks of 200 calories each, plus a gel, plenty of food for an hour of running! After a while, I grabbed a flask and drank — straight water. I tried the other one — also straight water. Uh oh! It was a simple mistake, the bottles looked the same and the recovery drink was colorless. So there I was, worried and doing the math: I was over an hour into the double marathon and had only taken in 100 calories. I should have been at 300 at that point.
Another 15 minutes went by and I was starting to get quite hungry so I asked another crew if they had a gel they could spare — they grabbed one and ran to catch me and give me the gel. It’s one of the greatest things about this event, the race is to finish, and we all help each other to do so. My crew had helped a couple of other athletes and I know several athletes had helped out in different situations along the way.
Not until 1:47 into the run did my crew catch me and I admit, I was a little stressed but mostly very relieved to see them. They had gotten lost finding the start line road plus it took a bit to get ice, and then with all the athletes on the road, they couldn’t really drive fast.
My crew was amazing. They were flying to get me back on track with my nutrition and get me caught up! By the next stop 4 kms later, everything was going perfectly.
The running was definitely hard, the first 30 plus kms of the course are up hill, and I was certainly feeling the fatigue of the previous two days, but I couldn’t help but smile! The country I was running through was so beautiful, the weather was amazing and in spite of being sore and tired, I felt great.
I had set myself a goal, that if everything was okay, I wanted to run the first marathon in 4:30. Just as my feet started to really hurt and things started to really ache beyond where I could block them out well, I heard the voice of Steve King (the race announcer) and knew I was getting close! To hear his voice in the distance could take a half dead triathlete and revive them for just a few more kilometres, not matter what the pain! In my case, I started smiling. I came around the corner to the end of the first marathon to hear Steve say I was in sixth place (even he seemed quite surprised, which I took as a compliment!) and I could see my crew set up as planned with an ice bath for my feet, and my buddy Steve Matejka, getting ready to run the second marathon with me, as my pacer (athletes are allowed to have one person run with them in the latter part of the run as a safety measure). At the truck, I kicked off my shoes stuck my screaming feet into the ice water and as much as it hurt, it felt great!
After about 6 minutes we set off to run another marathon! Steve King noted that my long stop had “cost me about four spots in the race, but that it would probably pay off later”. It was sure nice to have Steve Matejka along with me now and someone to talk with. The first 42 kms I had been basically alone, just the sound of the woods and my feet to listen to. Music of any kind is not permitted due to safety concerns, so the long days can be a mental challenge as well as a physical one.
Steve and I chatted about all kinds of things. As the day wore on, the temperature got into the mid 20s so I changed to a white shirt at one stop and began the work of keeping my hat wet to help wick away the heat and stay cool. We passed a few of the athletes that had gone by during my foot soak. Soon we were back in sixth position.
We had some great, friendly cheering going on from the other crews as they leap-frogged along and waited eagerly for their runners.
Soon the serious hills arrived during the hardest part of the course at around 50 to 55 kms in. We had to walk quite a few times, as there was just no way to keep running. My hips started to really talk to me and the pain was getting pretty intense. I had discovered in my training that as much as I feared the really long runs I realized that once I hit my pain threshold, it never really got worse, I just had to mentally hang in there.
In spite of that, the pain was really starting to wear on me, and Steve suggested I try a few Advil. It is allowed during the race, and although I had never done so, I decided to give it a try to see if it could just take it down a notch. I called out for it at about km 60 and sure enough, within 30 minutes, the pain in my hips and legs eased a tiny bit, just enough to allow me to keep pushing the pace instead of backing off.
The crew had also put ice packs in my shoes and I changed into cold shoes about every 8 kms or so, which helped my angry feet feel a little less pain. Steve and I plugged along and pretty soon we arrived at the critical section of the run: 70kms, the point at which the course throws you off the mountain. After about seven hours of running, the course heads pretty much straight down towards Summerland.
As much as the pounding is hard on the legs, and my toes were getting hammered into the front of my shoes, it was an exciting feeling. I started to believe I could really do this, and finish well too. I switched to a short sleeve shirt to proudly wear the Sylvan Lake Tri Club logo brightly on the front and the miles ticked away.
One of my amazing Penticton friends and her daughter drove up the mountain in their car and started screaming and cheering like crazy when they found us! They leap frogged us for a few kms playing music loudly and waving, yelling and celebrating. Then my coach and his wife came up the mountain and it was hilarious to see the shock and pleasure on his face at where we were and how well we were doing.
Although each step was tough and my body was screaming, I was grinning and with every step — more and more excited and happy. Steve and I ran the last 10 kms in under an hour, which thrilled me.
As we entered Summerland, the crew truck took a short cut to the finish line. This allowed us all to finish together and celebrate the moment as a team. It was a truly amazing moment! Tears, hugs, joy, and some wobbly legs. My friends were there and they too were tearing up as witnesses to the effort. It was so cool.
I have to say, I owe it to my crew and my coach, without whom this never would have happened. My coach helped me get ready and my crew truly made it possible in every way for me to race to my full potential.
I am also thankful for all the other crews and athletes who shared knowledge, gels, support and whatever else was required to make this the best race of my life!
Finally, I am incredibly thankful for all of my friends, the great people of Sylvan Lake, and members and staff of Best Body Fitness for their support, Facebook posts and messages.
I said when I entered this race that my goal, as always, was to try and inspire others to find their own greatness simply by letting my passion shine, and by showing others what is possible with hard work and dedication. Ordinary people can do amazing things and the only limits that exist are the ones we create for ourselves.